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The collective term for materials of an erotic nature, and particularly for prose or verse narratives of sexual fantasy ranging from explicitly pornographic novels to jocular poems on sexual subjects, whether or not these are illustrated pictorially. The term was for a long time a booksellers' euphemism for such forbidden materials. Within this broad category are works of genuine literary distinction categorized as erotic poetry, including some of the poems of Catullus and Ovid, Marlowe's narrative poem Hero and Leander (completed by George Chapman, 1598), Shakespeare's narrative poem Venus and Adonis (1593), and several French lyrics by Paul Verlaine. Erotic fiction in English includes John Cleland's Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure (1748–9; popularly known as Fanny Hill), once an underground classic but now legitimately published in scholarly editions for students; and D. H. Lawrence's novel Lady Chatterley's Lover (1928), a banned book until a landmark legal verdict in an obscenity trial in 1960. The much-disputed boundary between erotica and pornography is not open to settlement by dictionary definitions, but shifts according to the climate of public opinion. Since the 1960s, written texts have been not only less subject to sexual censorship but increasingly marginal to the image-dominated pornography industry proper; so that fiction that would once have counted as pornographic is now called erotica, and more than ever marketed in anthologies addressed to lesbians and heterosexual women as well as to men.

Subjects: Literature.

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