Religion in the Age of Enlightenment


Enlightenment, erotic literature, religion, France


In France, the Age of Enlightenment was also an age of literary levity that saw a proliferation of erotic and pornographic narratives in which philosophy often fused with sexual gratification. The famous Choderlos de Lados with his Liaisons dangereuses (1782) and the infamous Marquis de Sade, along with authors such as Crebillon and Vivant Denon, epitomize this moment in French literary history, when erotic freedom paired with intellectual liberty. This "libertine" literature, as it is known, is characterized by its focus on fleshly desires and pleasures. The subject matter of libertine novels, short stories, poems, and paintings is the rendezvous that brings together the characters for an initiation into, or a celebration of, erotic delights. Indeed, lovemaking is often described as a religious ceremony. Why is this so? Why should lust be narrated with a religious lexicon? Why should lovers express rapture through imagery that is normally associated with the church? Why should fornication be orchestrated as a ritual?