Forget champagne and candlelight dinners, writers—from Colette to Casanova to Raymond Chandler—and their significant others haven’t played by the book when it comes to seduction. Joni Rendon and Shannon McKenna Schmidt are the authors of Writers Between the Covers: The Scandalous Romantic Lives of Legendary Literary Casanovas, Coquettes, and Cads.
Successful wordsmiths seduce readers with unique storylines and scintillating prose. These creative writers mastered seduction off the page, too. For them, novelty and naughtiness were the ultimate aphrodisiacs.
Colette and Bertrand de Jouvenel
E.L. James wasn’t the first writer to recognize the erotic power of words. Colette used her novel Cheri, the tale of a young man’s carnal awakening at the hands of a retired courtesan, to seduce her teenage stepson. Foreshadowing her intentions, the forty-seven-year-old gave the boy a signed first edition of the titillating tale. Soon afterward she informed him, “It’s time for you to become a man,” and barged into his bedroom to deflower him. The one-night seduction morphed into a five-year affair.
W.B. and Georgie Yeats
Georgie Yeats faked more than orgasms. While on her honeymoon with poet W.B. Yeats, she was devastated to discover he was pining for another woman. Rather than retreat, she seduced him by falling into a trance and pretending to succumb to a bout of automatic writing. As though dictated by a spirit, she sent her husband otherworldly assurances that he was meant to marry her and that having sex would keep the spirits happy. The technique worked so well—even curing his impotence—that Georgie used it to her carnal advantage for years.
Mary and Percy Shelley
A cemetery was the ghoulish backdrop for Mary and Percy Shelley’s brief, secretive courtship. She wooed the poet beside the grave of her mother, renowned feminist Mary Wollstonecraft, by reading aloud from her mother’s works. Percy revered Wollstonecraft, and the allure of her legacy heightened his attraction to her daughter. When the lovers eloped, Mary Shelley was already pregnant with a child allegedly conceived on her mother’s grave.
Casanova and the Women of Venice
Legendary Italian seducer Casanova is rumored to have eaten more than fifty oysters a day to boost his sexual prowess. He also used the mollusks in his seduction arsenal, feeding them to his lovers and “accidentally” dropping them down quivering bodices. His ultimate aphrodisiac was the “lascivious and voluptuous game” of exchanging them in a partner’s mouth, drenched in saliva. “What a sauce that is,” he enthused, “which dresses an oyster I suck from the mouth of the woman I love!”
Allen Ginsberg and Neal Cassady
Before Beatnik muse Neal Cassady—the first great love of Ginsberg’s life—was featured in the poet’s sexually explicit Howl, the “Adonis of Denver” inspired a clutch of fevered love poems. Cassady was unmoved by Ginsberg’s literary seduction but didn’t let his admirer’s efforts go to waste. He passed off the poems as his own to win over his future wife, Carolyn.
Gustave Flaubert and Louise Colet
In a fever of passion for poet Louise Colet, French novelist Flaubert resorted to the tried-and-true gift of flowers…with a suggestive twist. In a love letter, he enclosed a rose plucked from his mother’s garden and naughtily instructed Louise to “put it quickly to your mouth, and then—you know where.”
Raymond and Cissy Chandler
Routine domestic tasks were anything but in Raymond Chandler’s home, where his wife, Cissy, performed housework in the nude. Contrary to appearances, the ex-model wasn’t acting out a porn fantasy. Instead, her au naturel dusting and vacuuming maintained her svelte figure. Cissy was a devoted practitioner of the Mensendieck system, which advocated doing chores in the buff to promote good body mechanics—and one assumes, a healthy sex life.