I ran across an article a few days ago about a floating party in London called Torture Garden. Like the Killing Kittens parties, Torture Garden pops up at various upscale venues and caters to a posh crowd. It's older than Killing Kittens, though. Torture Garden has been around for a quarter of a century, it seems--- all the back to the lost world of the Nineties.
It's a fetish party for S/M, of course. The article (at the Tatler.com site) tells us that the girls there are mostly rogue debs and young professionals, and that the female participants seem to be having much more fun than the males. I'm not sure about why, mind you. It may be the fancy dress thing, the chance for rogue debs and junior solicitors to wear spandex and leather. I've always found upper and upper-middle class English to be far more thrilled with fancy dress than Americans. Americans aren't good at costumes or playing dress-up, though the why remains an essay someone needs to write. Fancy dress, then, and a chance to explore being a bit of a domme--- the article emphasizes that the girls are enjoying giving orders to being pleasured, both by hapless males and by other girls.
Torture Garden--- that's from the Octave Mirabeau novel, of course. The novel came out in 1899, and it's been around and in print ever since. There have been expensive editions for erotica collectors, and there was at least one graphic-novel version in the 1990s, done in some faux-Aubrey Beardsley style. There's some irony here, since by all accounts "The Torture Garden" was intended as an attack on European colonialism and the hypocrisies of justice and punishment, and it's remembered only as erotica.
I'll admit to not having read the novel. I've always liked the idea of collectible erotica and classic s/m, and I'd known the title for years when I first saw a card catalog card (yes, that long ago) for it in the library at university. Somehow, though, I never got round to reading it. No particular explanation, no clear reason. "Torture Garden" is one more of those books (like, say, Louis-Ferdinand Celine's "Journey to the End of Night") that I've always meant to read...someday.
Well, at least I knew the literary reference in the Tatler article about the Torture Garden parties. Years of expensive education have left their mark. What I must do, though, is ask a friend in London Town if ever she's been to a Torture Garden party. She'd have connections in the right social set, and she does rather fancy bondage. I'd be interested in hearing any stories from the garden.
Oh, you can hear a sigh there. The Tatler article made it very clear that even if I had the entry fee, I'd be no more welcome at Torture Garden than I would be at Killing Kittens. I quite realize that whatever happens at those venues would very likely never live up to my hopes and fantasies, but there is something depressing in realizing that after a lifetime of imagining stylish and darkly elegant sex, you're simply not good enough to be allowed into the parties. I'm almost certain--- dreadfully certain ---that I'd be overcome with social anxiety and body shame at any such parties, but it's still depressing to think I'd never be allowed inside.
The worst of that is the nagging feeling that somehow reading the novels and seeing the films that gave me a sense of what sex and the erotic could be was all a waste.
I will have to ask my London friend if she has any stories from Torture Garden, or if she knows anyone who's been. I'll never go to Torture Garden, so (much like with Paris), I'll have to rely on travelers' tales.