Adam Gopnik has a characteristically fine piece about C.S. Lewis (tip of the hat to Arts & Letters Daily). But I do not think it is altogether fine. There is, for instance, this:
Lewis writes about his last school, Malvern, at such length, and with such horror—with far more intensity than he writes even about serving on the Western Front—that it’s clear that the trauma, coming at a time of sexual awakening, was deep and lasting. It seems to have had the usual result: Lewis developed and craved what even his Christian biographer, Jacobs, calls “mildly sadomasochistic fantasies”; in letters to a (homosexual) friend, he named the women he’d like to spank, and for a time signed his private letters “Philomastix”—“whip-lover.”
Interesting enough, perhaps, but Gopnik's next sentence strikes me as rather a stretch: "A bright and sensitive British boy turned by public-school sadism into a warped, morbid, stammering sexual pervert." How do we get from "mildly sadomasochistic fantasies" to "warped, morbid, stammering sexual pervert"? Pornography played a significant role, apparently, in the life of Philip Larkin. So that has to be taken into account in trying to figure the guy out. But there doesn't seem to be much evidence that Lewis was epecially preoccupied with sexual fantasies. Everybody has such, I presume, from time to time, but most people do not obsess over them.
I happen to be one of those people who thinks that, thanks to the pernicious silliness of Dr. Freud, a burden of significance has been placed upon human sexuality -- in its strictly physical manifestation -- that is far greater than it can comfortably bear. I've had my share of sexual adventure -- for which I am quite grateful -- but I really can't say that sex has been much of a determining factor in my life or on my character. Moreover, for all the importance conferred upon it in modern literature, after four decades of book reviewing, I am here to report that it usually doesn't come off very well on the printed page.
The ribald -- Henry Miller at his best -- often comes off quite well. But I can't be the only one who finds Lady Chatterly's Lover risible. And Lawrence is better at describing sex than most.
It isn't sex, in the sense of physical coupling, that makes for great literature; it's passion. There's a wonderful story by A.E. Coppard called "Judith." Here is its opening sentence: "This is the story of a great lady who did a great wrong to a mere man, a man so nearly insignificant and uncouth as to be almost unworthy of the honour." Coppard's is a story of passion. Of course, sex is involved, as it could hardly not be. But the story would not be so grand were it just about sex.
A good example of what I mean can be found in the films of Eric Rohmer, in particular My Night at Maud's and Chloe in the Afternoon. If you're up for swimming against the brackish current of Freudian cliche, rent them.