Vampire Fangs, Chastity Belts, and Other Sexy Symbols in Literature
by M.M. Genet author of The Clever Courtesan
The first time I ever saw a chastity belt was in the movie The History of the World, by Mel Brooks. The beautiful Madeline Kahn was wearing a metal, armor-like version that kept my adolescent self at the time wondering what could be its purpose if she wasn’t headed into battle.
Later, in college, two history professors gave a lecture/debate on whether the device was real or fake. Both gave compelling reasons for their cases. It has only been in the last few years, with the help of the BBC, the Guardian news and the collaborative work of several international museums that the debate has been settled.
Chastity belts were a joke devised during the Crusades. Several historical accounts have confirmed that men on their way to fight in the east joked about “locking up” their wives and hence their fertility until the men returned home. All the same questions that I had as a teenager were sited as logical reasons why the infamous belts would likely have killed a woman after a week; hygiene being the most pressing concern.
Never the less, the belts have become an icon of oppressive nature of patriarchal societies; a symbol of what a society at the time was thinking, but never the less needed a symbol or a joke when talking about it. Symbols representing uncomfortable sexual issues have a deep, rich history in literature. Some of them are things that as our modern society presses forward may just take for granted.
When Dracula was published in 1897, the book came out a time when sexuality was only hinted at with the greatest discretion. Society at the time required Bram Stoker to write his famous Gothic novel in such a way that Dracula’s seduction of his victims merely suggested penetration. Stoker required Dracula to alter his victims, seducing them, without ever committing the sex act with them. In a stroke of genius, Stoker invents the lethal fangs of his vampire. Today, an entire genre of horror owes everything to his ingenious creation.
M.M. Genet is the author of The Clever Courtesan. The book takes readers on a wild ride through the eyes of Cassandra Flemming, a Lady of Keys. Fighting the norms of Victorian high society, Cassandra challenges all the rules when it comes to women, power, sex and power of a lock and a key.