Archivy etc.

opinions, occasional rants, and sometimes things that have nothing to do with archives at all. Nothing here should be assumed to be reflective of my employer's opinion(s) nor should it be assumed that at anytime afterward, this is what I still think.

Archives Uncut (NSFW)

Please, read this first.

The text as it appears below is the script I used when presenting this paper at the Society of American Archivists meeting in Austin TX in 2009. With one exception: I made some slight wording changes to the section on publishing history based on further review of the non-fiction sources on that topic and updated the bibliography accordingly. The paper has not been updated to include more recent contributions to the genre, though many have been added. The commentary in the footnotes, citations, and the bibliography were not provided to the audience at that time but are included here. The bibliography should not be assumed to be a comprehensive listing.

One last note. The energetic reader may wish to travel off to the book site of their choice to look at the original covers for some of these volumes. Axler, Krentz, and the ones published by Harlequin would probably be most appropriate and were the ones I chose to display during the presentation.

Still up for this?

Here you go.

Archives Uncut: Sex and Sexuality in Archival Fiction

The following paper is not appropriate for listeners under 18 or those who are uncomfortable with explicit language regarding sexual activities and attributes.  If you are an audience member who fits into either of those two categories, I suggest you leave at this time.
  
Thank you for coming.

A few prefatory words:

First, while the definitive work on archives and archivists in fiction is yet to be written, some statistical assessments and analyses exist in the professional literature.  Given the time constraints today, I will be proceeding from the assumption that the audience is familiar with these works, despite their dated nature or incomplete and inaccurate conclusions. Second, this paper will be dealing solely with fiction in novel, novella, or short story form.
 
The paper will be structured as follows: first, a review of the literature and the publishing climate relevant to the development of this study.  This will be followed by the meat of the paper: a review of the image of the sexy archivist which will then be followed by brief reviews of the sexual activities of fictional archivists and sex in the archives.

By literature review, I mean a discussion of the types of novels consulted in the creation of this paper as well as an assessment of the publishing history of the materials.  The novels consulted come from a variety of genres, including mystery, adventure fiction, speculative fiction, and so forth.  A number of them come from fiction labeled as erotica.  In regards to erotica, the past two decades have seen significant proliferation in the availability of highly-explicit sexual fiction for a broader array of audiences.  While pornographic fiction has always been available to those who knew where to seek it out, very often from small, independent mail-order presses for those in more rural areas and from small, specialized bookshops in the largest urban areas, over the last several years it has become much more widely available from mainstream publishers and booksellers.  In either a causal relationship or some sort of a feedback loop, more and more new books are being published that fit into this category.   The audience has also changed: the most explicit of sexual fiction predating the 1990s was usually aimed at a male audience.  This is no longer true.  Though romance novels—whether the ubiquitous Harlequins or historical bodice rippers such as Gone with the Wind—throughout the 1970s and 1980s have always had a strong sexual component, they were much more likely to contain only brief descriptions of sex scenes noted more for use of metaphor and euphemisms than for clarity regarding the act described.  This is no longer the case in much of the romance genre, which in a telling development, in many imprints have changed genre names from romance to erotica or some merger of the two words such as romantica.  I’d also like to note that the vast majority of the items considered in this review are oriented to a heterosexual and primarily white audience, suggesting that some things have not changed that much, after all. 

Despite the recent trending toward more explicit sexual description in mainstream novels, one should not assume that my comments today are based on works published in the last 10 years only or solely materials that can be categorized as sexually explicit.  Some novels with content relevant to this paper date to the 1970s, such as William Peden’s 1973 Twilight at Monticello, Robert Heinlein’s 1973 Time enough for love or Marian Engel’s 1976 Bear.   Other novels such as Evelyn Berckman’s Fourth man on the rope or Heather Cochran’s Return of Jonah Gray while containing material relevant to this study, could not easily be characterized as sexually explicit.

Yes, Virginia, there is a sexy archivist.  Actually, there are several.  Mostly females but at least two males: Cooper Boone of Jayne Castle’s Ghost Hunter[1] and Adrian Padgett of Elizabeth Bevarly’s Overnight Male, both romance novels in the more traditional sense.  In the interest of time, I’ll describe Bevarly’s hero. 

Mr. Padgett is an archivist for a cloak-and-dagger federal agency and first meets the secret agent heroine and his new partner when she breaks into his Georgetown home to engage in a little thinly disguised bondage in order to let him know who will be the dominant in their working relationship.  Since this is a romance novel, i.e. the goal is love, not lust, he of course gains the dominant status and she’s the one who ends up handcuffed to the bed.  Here’s Adrian:
“She guesstimated his age as mid-thirties, even though there was an air about him that suggested considerable life experience.  His thick, dark brown hair hung almost to his shoulders and was shoved straight back from his forehead by a careless hand.  Behind trendy, black-framed glasses his eyes were even darker than his hair, and the lower half of his face was shadowed by more than one day’s growth of beard.  Slumped against the doorjamb as he was, she could only guess at his full height, but it certainly topped six feet.  And every last inch of it was very nicely put together.  (author’s emphasis). Broad shoulders strained at the seams of an otherwise baggy white T-shirt, and black hair sprang from the deep V-neck.  Loose, dark blue striped pajama bottoms ended in bare feet, feet that were large enough to make her wonder about another fabled part of the male anatomy whose size was often compared to those, ah, appendages.  One big hand was settled indolently on his hip, while the other cradled a half-empty snifter of something the color of rich amber.” [Bevarly, 15-16]
Both heroes , Castle’s and Bevarly’s, wear glasses, both mid-thirties.  Both powerful, physically and mentally.   Typical romance hero types, with a sensitive, intellectual side portrayed ably by their choice of profession.  On to the women. 

Main characters include Karen Heyward, the primary character of Zara Deveraux’s Velvet Touch, who is described as “a woman from a Rossetti painting—tall, full-breasted, with an almost barbaric beauty, an exotic bloom who captured attention wherever she went, admired, envied, even disliked, but never ignored.” [Deveraux, 428], Jessica Blair of Vanessa Shaw’s Wakening Heart, Faith Verdejo (one of the few African-American women in the literature) in Mayra Santos-Febres’ “Faith in Disguise,” and Marisol, the Latina narrator of Fabiola Santiago’s Reclaiming Paris.  Minor characters include Glenda Tyler of James C. Work’s Tobermory Manuscript noted for wearing clothes from “Distractions of Hollywood” [Work, 52], Laura Purse of David Williams’ Murder in Advent, and Serena Blackstone in Lani Aames’ Lusty Charms.  These women have little in common.  Faith Verdejo is a highly educated, incredibly intelligent, and seriously disturbed woman who has a tendency to destroy the rather vulnerable men she pulls into her sphere.  Jessica Blair is the classically pretty but shy and tentative widow.  Karen Heyward is out for a good time and will take on anything and anyone who might be able to provide it, and Laura Purse is the confident woman who wishes to be kept in a grand style and is training up the man whom she plans to have do so.

Perhaps the sexiest archivist in fiction, and this is primarily based on the volume of books written with this character in it, would be Brigid Baptiste, the archivist-turned-renegade outlaw in the speculative fiction (formerly known as “men’s adventure fiction) series written collectively under the name of James Axler: the Outlanders series.[2]  With 45 books already printed in this series and an average of two to three a year being released, the popularity of these books should not be underestimated. [3]  Ms. Baptiste is described thusly in most of the books, but this particular wording is in Savage Sun:
“She was tall, full breasted and long limbed.  Her willowy, athletic figure reflected an unusual strength without detracting from her undeniable femininity.  An unruly mane of long, red-gold hair spilled over her shoulders, framing a smoothly sculpted face with a rosy complexion dusted lightly with freckles across her nose and cheeks. There was a softness in her features that bespoke a deep wellspring of compassion, yet a hint of iron resolve was there, too.  The color of emeralds glittered in her big eyes.” [Axler, 34][4]

I should note that there is no sexual appeal attributed to the individual’s role as archivist. With Jayne Castle’s hero, the woman allows herself initially to be attracted to the hero because she believes him, not powerless, but safe.  She dumps him upon his move to a CEO position but later takes up with him again and finds she doesn’t mind the more powerful character after all.  With Bevarly’s hero as well as the women archivists, it seems to be the contrast between the job and the individual that provides the sexual tension.  Perhaps a natural outgrowth of the naughty librarian stereotype, the archivist cum hottie serves as a less obvious but still clear contrast for those authors who wish to avoid the more clich├ęd character. 

The reason I’ve provided more detail about the Brigid Baptiste character is that her character serves as an excellent transition into the third section of the paper, that of archivists engaging in sexual activities.  The truth is, for all her sexiness and desirability as documented over, and over again in the Outlander novels, Ms. Baptiste never engages in sexual activity except in an occasional flashback, dream sequence, or while having an out-of-body experience.  Having said that, fictional archivists, sexy or not, do indeed enjoy sexual activity. 

While there is a correlation between the personal appeal of an archivist and the amount of sex in which the archivist engages, one should not assume this to be uniformly the case.  One exception is the archivist in Heather Cochran’s
Return of Jonah Gray, in which the archivist maintains a sexual relationship with the main character for the majority of the novel despite having several traits and attributes not normally regarded as sexually appealing, including being obsessive-compulsive, having not only a fascination with insects but a tendency to talk about them at length even while eating out, and serving as an archivist for a branch office of the Internal Revenue Service.

Of the novels that include either explicit sex scenes or mention of archivists engaging in sexual activities, the vast majority of them are female/male pairings, with only a few novels describing homosexual acts, some multiple-partner activities, one novel dealing with bestiality, and one novel with acts undetermined but represented as sordid.  The traditional romance, mystery, and non-genre fiction novels are more likely to portray archivists engaged in monogamous and relatively vanilla sexual behaviors[5], while the speculative fiction, erotica, and pornographic novels are more likely to depict archivists engaging in a broad variety of sexual behaviors with multiple partners, some sequentially, some concurrently.

Though many fictional archivists are portrayed as having rather active sex lives, for the most part those activities do not take place within the archives.  Of all the novels consulted, only four novels actually portray sexual activities (8 individual sexual acts) occurring within an archival repository all of which are heterosexual activities between two adults.   Three of the acts taking place in the archives are intercourse between two archivists, four acts are between a librarian and an archival user, and one involves an undercover investigator portraying a librarian and a library board member. Only half of the scenes involve straight intercourse.[6]

So why in the archives?  One very traditional aspect of the more graphic sexual fiction has always been venue.  Discoverability, or the profaning of sacred places are both factors in venue choice.  Both of these correlate directly with the stories in which sexual activity takes place in the archives. In the three of the eight scenes—that is, the sexual events with two archivists participating—this is clearly the case.  No particular titillation (for the participants anyway) comes from a fear of discovery, but from the venue itself.[7]  This is logical given that professionals would presumably view their workspace as more forbidden a venue for such acts than others might.

In the remaining five incidents, those not involving archivists, the archives are not particularly attractive—barely more than old storage areas—so clearly not so much a forbidden locale as a place where the participants are in danger of being caught.   In three, and possibly four of the scenes, the participants are nearly caught. In the fifth, the danger specifically noted by the characters goes unrealized until later when the male participant’s sister lets him know she’s aware of what he’s done by asking him “Can’t you take her anywhere nice?” [Carr, 293]

In summary, several things can be stated.  Fiction authors are portraying archivists as sexual creatures working in sexualized locations. Not only are archivists sexual creatures, but they explore their sexuality, engaging in diverse acts, venues, and partners. Including the occasional bear. 

Thank you.



[1] Jayne Castle also writes under the pen names of Jayne Anne Krentz, contemporary romance, and Amanda Quick, historical romance.  The Castle novels are speculative romance.
[2] Aimed at the semi-adult male market (i.e. lots of weapons and sex), yours truly finds them strangely mesmerizing and surprisingly well-written.
[3] In a peculiar turn of events, the James Axler publisher Worldwide Books shares the same exact address in Don Mills, Ontario as inhabited by that old warhorse imprint in romance fiction, Harlequin Books.
[4] In what might be considered an oddity, but may have something to do with the street address of Worldwide Publishers, this very wording or something similar to it appears—sometimes multiple times—in every novel in the series.  While repetitive language may be a method of providing continuity in a series written by a number of different authors, the formulaic aspect is also a long-derided aspect of Harlequin romances.
[5] The most glaring exception to this particular generalization is one of the oldest books in this bibliography, Marian Engel’s Bear.  A work of non-genre fiction, the title indicates all.
[6] 4 straight intercourse, 2 acts of fellatio, 2 masturbatory scenes.  Of the last, one could question its inclusion in this grouping as the scene includes the librarian engaging in masturbation at home while fantasizing about intercourse in the archives.
[7] Notably, however, for the author and for the reading audience, this is not quite the case.  In two of the three scenes, a hidden voyeur is watching unbeknownst to at least one of the participants.

Novels consumed:

Aames, Lani. Lusty charms.  Akron, Ohio: Ellora’s Cave, 2003.
Axler, James. Savage Sun. Don Mills, Ontario: Worldwide Press, 1997.
Baker, James Robert. Tim and Pete. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1993.
Berckmann, Evelyn. Fourth man on the rope. Garden City: Doubleday, 1972.
Bevarly, Elizabeth. Overnight male. Don Mills, Ontario: Harlequin, 2008.
Carr, Susanna. “Wicked Ways.” In How to be a wicked woman. New York: Kensington Books, 2004, p 173-317.
Castle, Jayne. Ghost hunter.  New York: Jove Books, 2006.
Cochran, Heather. The return of Jonah Gray. New York: Mira, 2007.
DaCosta, Portia. In too deep.  London: Black Lace, 2008.
Deveraux, Zara. “Velvet touch.”  Reprinted in Erotica omnibus five. London: X Libris, 2004, p. 425-676. (copyright 1996.)
Engel, Marian. Bear.  Boston: Nonpareil Books, 1987. (copyright 1976.)
George, Catherine. Love lies sleeping. New York: Harlequin, 1987.
Gill, Bartholomew. Death of an ardent bibliophile.  New York: William Morrow & Co., 1995.
Haley, Jocelyn. Shadows in the sun.  New York: Harlequin, 1984.
Heinlein, Robert. Time enough for love. New York: Ace, 1988. (copyright 1973.)
Krentz, Jayne Anne. Sweet starfire. New York: Warner Books, 1986.
Peden, William. Twilight at Monticello.  Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1973.
Santiago, Fabiola. Reclaiming Paris.  New York: Atria Books, 2008.
Santos-Febres, Mayra. “Faith in Disguise.” In Juicy Mangoes. New York: Atria Books, 2007, p. 54-85. 
Shaw, Vanessa. Wakening heart.  Leicester, Great Britain: Linford, 2000.
Sumner, Penny. End of April.  Tallahassee: Naiad Press, 1992.
Williams, David. Murder in Advent. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1986.
Work, James C. Tobermory manuscript. Unity, Maine: Five Star, 2000.

Non-fiction works:

Cornig, Martha, Ed. Libraries, erotica, and pornography. Phoenix AZ: Oryx Press, 1991.
Gertzman, Jay A. Bookleggers and smuthounds: the trade in erotica, 1920-1940. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2002.
Kendrick, Walter. Secret museum: pornography in modern culture. New York: Viking Penguin, Inc., 1987.
United States. Attorney General’s Commission on Pornography. Attorney General’s Commission on Pornography: final report. Washington DC: Government Printing Office, 1986.
United States. Commission on Obscenity and Pornography. Report of the Commission on Obscenity and Pornography. Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1970.



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