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The great misconception about classic literature is that it represents a quainter, less sexualized time. A time when men were men, women were the property of men, and everyone sort of daintily posed next to harpsichords before dying quiet deaths. But the truth is that literature has always been written by, well, writers, and writers back then were exactly the same kinds of people that they are today. That is, some of them were as violent, racist, and sex-obsessed as any blog-hosting YouTube commenter, and they absolutely put that shit into their work.

6
Andrew Marvell Writes About Worms Eating A Dead Lady's Vagina

Hulton Archive/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Andrew Marvell's "To His Coy Mistress" came out between 1649 and 1660. It's about a guy who's trying to woo a nice young lady to fall in love with him as soon as possible, ideally before his transfer ticket expires and he gets double charged for his bus fare. The first few lines are:

Had we but world enough, and time,
This coyness, Lady, were no crime
We would sit down and think which way
To walk and pass our long love's day.

Sounds sweet, right? Who doesn't love planning a mild hike? But wait, what does "while there's still time" mean? Why did we introduce a ticking clock into this narrative? Maybe the lady in question has some romantically fatal disease, like in a Nicholas Sparks novel.

Terry Wyatt/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images
The man responsible for 67 percent of your girlfriend's tears.

The Insanity:

Well, the only apparent "disease" she has is the disease of mortality, and we have all vastly underestimated how much Andrew Marvell wants to bone this girl. Displaying a clear understanding of the kind of imagery that gets women in the mood, Marvell follows the traditional death-obsessed poet's line of "we'll both eventually die" to its logical conclusion:

Thy beauty shall no more be found,
Nor, in thy marble vault, shall sound
My echoing song; then worms shall try
That long preserved virginity,

Godfrey Kneller
The virginity part is symbolic of fleeting life, and Marvell needing to jerk off more regularly.

No, you're not misunderstanding the text by applying some perverse 21st-century lens to an innocent 17th-century poem. Andrew Marvell 100 percent just said, "You should let me have sex with you, because hey, eventually worms are going to eat your vagina, and I'm better than worms." Did they have restraining orders back then? Or is this poem the reason they were invented?

Thomas Rowlandson
"Excuse me, constable? Yeah, it's the 'marble vault' guy again."

5
John Donne Compares His Dick To A Flea To Get A Woman To Have Sex With Him

Hulton Archive/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

You might not recognize John Donne by name, but he's the guy responsible for some of classic literature's most famous dreary phrases, such as "Death Be Not Proud," "Ask Not For Whom The Bell Tolls, It Tolls For Thee," and "No Man Is An Island." But those works were in the later half of Donne's life, when he was sick and/or on his deathbed, listening to a whole lot of The Cure. John Donne's early works were all about weird sex metaphors. "How weird?" you may ask, expositorily. Well, imagine David Cronenberg drawing a hardcore pornography flip book on a stack of missing person fliers.

The Insanity:

In "The Comparison," Donne contrasts the girl he loves with the girl his friend loves, and does so with arguably the grossest lines in the history of classical poetry:

Rank sweaty froth thy mistress' brow defiles,
Like spermatic issue of ripe menstruous boils

ulkan/iStock/Getty Images
"Thine mudflaps doth sag below for miles."

He uses the pus from infected vagina boils to describe his friend's lady, which, by pretty much any standard, is only slightly more artful than a tired "yo mamma" joke. Also, it doesn't even rhyme. But perhaps the weirdest thing in Donne's holster is a poem called "The Flea," which is about him trying to woo a woman who isn't feeling it:

Mark but this flea, and mark in this,
How little that which thou deniest me is;
It suck'd me first, and now sucks thee,
And in this flea our two bloods mingled be.
Thou know'st that this cannot be said
A sin, nor shame, nor loss of maidenhead;
Yet this enjoys before it woo,
And pamper'd swells with one blood made of two;
And this, alas! is more than we would do.

National Portrait Gallery
"Have you tried talking to women without the fucking hat?"

Donne, tapping into a longstanding notion of romance, laments that they each let the flea suck on them, when (see if you can follow the complex literary use of metaphor here) they should be sucking on each other. When that ploy somehow doesn't work, Donne follows it up by noting that the blood-engorged flea is not unlike his swollen boner. You know, a parasite.

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4
Macbeth Pauses For A Soliloquy About Erectile Dysfunction

Hulton Archive/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Shakespeare's Macbeth is considered one of the greatest tragedies ever written ("tragedy" is a term here meaning "a story in which everyone dies"). It's full of hauntings and insanity and beheadings, which is to say it's super dope but about as bleak as the fourth season of The Wire. Not a lot of jokes or japes to lighten the mood in Macbeth.

HBO
Though we'd pay good money to see a dramatic reading by Senator Clay Davis.

The Insanity:

Except for one inexplicable scene in the middle of the play wherein a drunk doorman delivers a protracted lecture about the horrors of whiskey dick:

Lechery, sir, it provokes, and unprovokes;
it provokes the desire, but it takes
away the performance: therefore, much drink
may be said to be an equivocator with lechery:
it makes him, and it mars him; it sets
him on, and it takes him off; it persuades him,
and disheartens him; makes him stand to, and
not stand to

This character does not appear before giving this speech, and after it is finished, he is never seen again. It has absolutely no bearing on the plot, and in fact it hinders the progress of the story by holding up two characters who are busy trying to discover the King's dead body. Shakespeare shoehorned in a 13-line speech about how alcohol makes you want to bone and cruelly paralyzes your wiener at the last minute.

Pieter Borselaer
"This aside is brought to you by Dr. Jonathan's Swift Stiff Love Potion."

This is a case where we'd like to think if Shakespeare had an editor, they'd have politely suggested, "Hey, maybe we don't need to bring this whole thing to a screeching halt so this guy can complain about how liquor makes his wiener all floppy?" But then Shakespeare would be all, "I AM WILLIAM FUCKING SHAKESPEARE! You think I need your advice? I've invented hundreds of new words, you fartling wiffleshit."

3
Voltaire's Candide Is A Rape-Filled Horror Show

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Candide, Or Optimism is the most famous novel by stuffy French author Voltaire. It was published around 1759 and concerns itself chiefly with a philosophical movement called (you guessed it) optimism, which was very in vogue at the time. The basic thesis of optimism was "Everything happens for a good reason."

Now, if most people hear "Everything happens for a good reason" at a funeral or in the wake of a large-scale national tragedy or whatever, they shrug it off and go on with their lives, thinking the person who dispensed that bit of wisdom is either trying to be nice or a thunderous idiot. Not Voltaire. Voltaire took personal fucking offense to optimism, and made a crusade out of thinking up the most horrific shit humans can endure and writing all of it down in Candide.

Baquoy
"Chapter 11: Teriyaki jerky."

The Insanity:

So much horrible shit happens in Candide that it'd be impossible to fit it all in one entry. The book is like a more graphic version of Requiem For A Dream, only where Requiem had a clear message about the misery of addiction, the only thing even vaguely resembling a moral in Candide is "Maybe try gardening?"

This is a book in which the characters are exhaustively ground into submission by every cruel twist of fate imaginable, the joy being wrested from their souls bit by bit. Here's a typical excerpt:

We had a very pious and humane Iman, who preached an excellent sermon, exhorting them not to kill us all at once. "Only cut off a buttock of each of those ladies," said he, "and you'll fare extremely well; if you must go to it again, there will be the same entertainment a few days hence[...]" [W]e underwent this terrible operation. The Iman applied the same balsam to us, as he does to children after circumcision; and we all nearly died.

Wiki Commons
"And that, kids, is why you shouldn't have any optimism."

So yeah, a bunch of women have their butt cheeks sliced off and nearly die from infection, because no send-up of a fad philosophy would be complete without a healthy dose of ass cannibalism. Voltaire didn't stop there, though. Here is the litany of horror he unleashes on his characters, whose only crime was being created by Voltaire:

- Two get gang-raped
- Two contract syphilis (one of them loses his nose, eyes, and penis)
- One contracts the black plague
- Three are sold into sex slavery
- Two are disemboweled while still alive
- One is hanged;
- Two are sold into regular, nonsexual slavery
- All of them are robbed at some point
- Three see their entire families get raped and murdered

Also, at one point 30,000 people die in an earthquake, and two ladies fuck some monkeys.

Jean-Michel Moreau
The monkeys then get shot and die.

The story ends with this exchange:

"I want to know which is worse, to be ravished a hundred times by pirates, to have a buttock cut off, to run the gauntlet among the Bulgarians, to be whipped and hanged at an auto-da-fe, to be dissected, to row in the galleys -- in short, to go through all the miseries we have undergone, or to stay here and have nothing to do?"

"It is a great question," said Candide.

GeorgiosArt/iStock/Getty Images
*Wink at the camera*
Fin.

If you haven't figured it out yet, Voltaire hated any and all glasses that were half full.

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2
T.S. Eliot Wrote A Bunch Of Insanely Racist Poems

John Gay/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

T.S. Eliot is probably most famous for The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, The Waste Land (which he didn't actually write), and the poems that inspired the musical Cats. Despite that last handicap, he managed to win a Nobel Prize for his poetry.

The Insanity:

But Eliot also wrote less highbrow stuff, such as a collection of 40 poems which he sold to a friend for $140 at age 34. He begged that friend to never publish them, and for good reason: When someone inevitably did publish the poems, it turned out they included anti-Semitic poop jokes and racist borderline pornography. One critic flatly said, "They're not worth reading," which is honestly the most gentle criticism one could level at them.

Harvest Books
"This is the way my legacy ends. Not with a bang, but with a *fart noise*."

Let's start with Eliot's poem about a dude named King Bolo and, more germane for our purposes, the size of his bodyguard's genitals. Elliot is known for his incredibly high standard of polish and innovative style in his published work, but in his unpublished poems, he's more like Doctor Seuss on a federal watch list:

King Bolo's swarthy bodyguard Were called the Jersey lilies A wild and hardy set of blacks Undaunted by syphilis. They wore the national uniform Of a garland of verbenas And a pair of great big hairy balls And a big black knotty penis.

King Bolo and his Big Black Queen, Those two prodigious basterds, They swarmed aboard Columbo's ship, In a rattling fire of assturds.

Lady Ottoline Morrell
Something tells us he started with that last line.

In case you got lost amid all the powerful imagery, this is a poem about an army of massively-dicked black men shitting their way aboard a white man's ship. And Elliot isn't referring to Peter Falk's delightful 1970s detective series. "Columbo" is Christopher Columbus, who frequently pops up in Eliot's underground poetry collection in verses that involve poop and sex. Don't ask us why. We don't know why, and T.S. Eliot is dead (a cunning maneuver to ensure that no one would ever be able to ask him).

And if you were worried that Eliot's shitty worldview might not extend to women, fear not. In "The Triumph of Bullshit," Eliot repeatedly tells his female critics to stick it up their asses:

Ladies, on whom my attentions have waited If you consider my merits are small Etiolated, alembicated, Orotund, tasteless, fantastical, Monotonous, crotchety, constipated, Impotent galamatias Affected, possibly imitated, For Christ's sake stick it up your ass.

Ellie Koczela
Looks like he got this poem mixed up with his symptom search on Web MD.

All of this coming from a Nobel prize winner. Prestigious indeed!

1
Ernest Hemingway Hid References To Butt Stuff In All His Work

Hulton Archive/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

If you were required to read Ernest Hemingway in school, you've probably read A Farewell To Arms, which is about an ambulance driver drinking himself cirrhotic with his army friends and getting a woman pregnant, or his Nobel-Prize-winning The Old Man And The Sea, which is about an old man waiting for a fish to die.

His first novel, The Sun Also Rises, is about a guy who loves bullfighting and got his dick shot off in World War I (seriously). Basically, his books were about grizzled-ass men doing grizzled-ass shit, both noble and ignoble. Which is what makes that scene in his autobiography A Movable Feast in which he and his wife cut their hair exactly alike really stands out:

When we lived in Austria in the winter we would cut each other's hair and let it grow to the same length."

So they got matching haircuts. What's surprising about that?

John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum
"Which anniversary is matching pubes?"

The Insanity:

Well, turns out Hemingway had a very specific sexual thing about androgyny. A Farewell to Arms has the exact same scene. And so does The Garden Of Eden, his last, unfinished novel, where things go well beyond matching haircuts. In it, the main character's wife is named Catherine (the same as the main character's wife in A Farewell To Arms), and Papa Hemingway tells us that Catherine demands experimentation in their lovemaking -- she wants them to pretend that she is the boy and he is the girl. In case that is any way unclear, he spells it out for us:

He lay there and felt something and then her hand holding him and searching lower and he helped with his hands and then lay back in the dark and did not think at all and only felt the weight and the strangeness inside and she said, "Now you can't tell who is who, can you?"
"No."

You've just read about Ernest Hemingway getting fisted by someone who has their hair cut to look exactly like him while he pretends that he's the woman and she's the man.

Lloyd Arnold
You may check that off your bucket list.

Now let's compare that language to a line from The Sun Also Rises:

His sword went in and just for an instant he and the bull were one.

Now, we're not saying that Hemingway's obsession with bullfighting was a prolonged metaphor for butt stuff, but that's probably exactly what it was. Not that there's anything wrong with that. It's just that "butt play" isn't the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the name "Hemingway." But it wasn't the first thing that came to mind when you heard the name "Kanye West," either. If their examples help us all be more open about that sort of thing, then so be it.

J.C. Breen lives and works in New York. To read some of his short fiction, or his first novel (free of charge), click on this son of a bitch right here.

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