Cover image for The erotomaniac : the secret life of Henry Spencer Ashbee
The erotomaniac : the secret life of Henry Spencer Ashbee
Gibson, Ian.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Cambridge, MA : Da Capo Press, 2001.
Physical Description:
xv, 285 pages ; 21 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
HQ472.G7 G53 2001 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

On Order



Henry Spencer Ashbee (1834-1900) was a prosperous and respectable Victorian gentleman, a family man who counted among his many friends the celebrated adventurer Sir Richard Francis Burton. But he was a gentleman with a secret-one so delicious that he rented a separate apartment to contain it. Within the well-appointed chambers of Gray's Inn, Ashbee concealed an astonishingly vast collection of erotica and pornography, thousands of volumes strong. Ian Gibson, the acclaimed biographer ofLorca and Dali, now turns his attention to the hitherto little-known Ashbee, a man who happily supported his wife and four children but spent his spare time meticulously cataloguing such risque titles as Miss Bellasis Birched for Thieving and The Marchioness's Amorous Pastimes. And with exclusive access to Ashbee's diaries and his family's archives, Gibson has uncovered evidence that Ashbee may himself have been the author of the notorious My Secret Life -the true" autobiography of an unnamed Victorian gentleman and his sexual adventures. With his celebrated touch for evoking both his subject and his subject's era, Gibson has created a telling and provocative portrait of a fascinating character and the no less intriguing age that made him possible."

Author Notes

Ian Gibson lives in a village near Granada, Spain. His Federico Garcia Lorca: A Life won numerous awards and was named a best book of the year by the New York Times and the Boston Globe.

Reviews 1

Choice Review

Gibson's biography of this Victorian curiosity concentrates on Ashbee's mania for erotica but at the same time gives the reader a view into the puritanical constructs and constrictions that Ashbee attempted to expose and undermine. Writing under the pseudonym Pisanus Fraxi, Ashbee (1834-1900) put together extraordinary compendia of printed erotica, Index Librorum Prohibitorum (1877), Centuria Librorum Absconditorum (1879), and Catena Librorum Tacendorum (1885). Otherwise a fairly conventional businessman, Ashbee traveled the world, partly for business, partly to extend his collection of erotica, and he maintained membership in various clubs and scholarly organizations, published regularly in scholarly journals, and supported a large family. He was very successful and learned, and he possessed the values and prejudices of a true British colonialist. In short, he was racist and sexist. Set against this, Ashbee's hidden interest makes for intriguing reading. Interesting too is the discussion of Ashbee's circle of "erotomanics" and fellow bibliophiles. Since Ashbee was reticent in his diary and the record of his life is sketchy, Gibson had to pick a side visible through published material. Intertwined in Ashbee's story is that of his left-leaning son, Charles, and his rebellion against his father's authority and prejudices. Recommended for large collections serving graduate students through faculty and for general collections. B. Wallenstein CUNY City College