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Monday, June 05, 2006

Consensual Incest in the Novel

Posted by Scott Eric Kaufman on 06/05/06 at 09:09 PM

A friend writes:

Are there any serious literary treatments covering the subject of consensual incest?  During a debate recently, I overheard (over-read?) someone saying that since consensual incest was such a taboo theme, there have never been any serious authors who take up the subject.  Well, that statement alone seems silly.  Authors are always seeking out controversial topics to explore, but I couldn’t come up with any decent examples.

That does seem silly. 

[Spoilers follow]

My friend came up with Ada and Oedipus Rex—although I’m not entirely sure that one was “consensual” in the way he means—to which I could add Ian McEwan’s The Cement Garden and A.S. Byatt’s Angels and Insects.  Since Angels and Insects works as a gently parody of the Victorian novel, I ventured that even if there are no explicitly consensual examples of incest, Byatt’s novel at least points to the topic being a concern.  I haven’t read enough Victorian literature to prove or disprove that statement, though, so I leave that up to you experts.

P.S.  Thanks to everyone who’s taken a moment or two to wish me well.  I won’t be posting quite so often for the next couple of months—this short bleg defines “the occasional post"—but it’s nice to know I’ll be missed in the interim.


The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy, which won the Booker in (I think) 1997.

By on 06/05/06 at 09:50 PM | Permanent link to this comment

If you think that Richard Wagner counts as a serious author (he certainly thought he was...) then
Die Walkure would be an example.

By Rich Crew on 06/05/06 at 09:51 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Pierre, or the Ambiguities

By on 06/05/06 at 09:52 PM | Permanent link to this comment

How did I post a reply seventeen minutes before your post’s timestamp?

By on 06/05/06 at 09:53 PM | Permanent link to this comment

It would sort of depend on your definition of incest, I think.  First cousin marriage is pretty common in the english novel.  I gather Americans are a bit revolted by that thought.

By on 06/05/06 at 09:55 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Does Ian McEwan’s “Cement Garden” count?

PS First cousin marriage is not limited to novels of course. Just a couple of generations back in my family.

By tom s. on 06/05/06 at 09:58 PM | Permanent link to this comment

The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy.

By on 06/05/06 at 10:00 PM | Permanent link to this comment

oops - I see you already listed it. Sorry.

By tom s. on 06/05/06 at 10:04 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Byron’s Cain, no?

By A White Bear on 06/05/06 at 10:05 PM | Permanent link to this comment

sorry about the re-post; didn’t think the first one went through.

By on 06/05/06 at 10:18 PM | Permanent link to this comment

If you want to count films as “literary,” there’s Lone Star.

By bitchphd on 06/05/06 at 10:41 PM | Permanent link to this comment

John Irving does incest in like all of his early novels, right? Hotel New Hampshire, Cider House Rules…

By CR on 06/05/06 at 10:50 PM | Permanent link to this comment

I have to stop reading this now.  Nobody needs to be reminded of The hotel New Hampshire.

By on 06/05/06 at 10:56 PM | Permanent link to this comment

No one needs to feel guilty about repeating material after my “Spoilers Ahead” warning.  There’s no telling whether you’re the one whose experience is gonna be spoiled, after all.

Now, I can’t believe I forgot the Roy or Lone Star, which was one of my favorite films of...my freshmen year of...high school, yeah, that’s it, high school

As for the Irving, CR, I can honestly say I don’t know since I’ve never read him.  (I have giant gaps, I tell you, giant.)

However, the combination of Sayles and Irving made me smack my forehead—a painful proposition in my current state—and scream, Khan-style, “Faaaaaaaaaaaaaaulkner!“ I’ve only written, what, fifteen? twenty? papers on his novels?

By Scott Eric Kaufman on 06/05/06 at 11:04 PM | Permanent link to this comment

And now, CR, given Laura’s warning, I won’t be reading any anytime soon.

By Scott Eric Kaufman on 06/05/06 at 11:05 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Man without Qualities. Ulrich and his sister, Agatha, engage in one of the longer and most philosophical courtships in literature.

By roger on 06/05/06 at 11:38 PM | Permanent link to this comment

V. C. Andrews (Flowers in the Attic, etc.)!  OK, not serious.  And maybe not even literature.  But just thought I’d mention my crappy junior high reading.

And no one needs to be reminded of The Hotel New Hampshire, because if you’ve read it, the incest scene is seared into your brain.  They not only have consensual incestuous sex, they have it *repeatedly*.

I’m still traumatized.

By Dr. Virago on 06/06/06 at 12:37 AM | Permanent link to this comment

Kathryn Harrison’s The Kiss is not only the story of her consenusal relationship with her long-estranged father, whom she meets after the age of consent, but since it is not a novel, I suppose it doesn’t count. Poe’s Fall of the House of Usher.

By Catherine Liu on 06/06/06 at 01:12 AM | Permanent link to this comment

I don’t remember--was A.S. Byatt’s Angels and Insects consensual?

By joel turnipseed on 06/06/06 at 04:10 AM | Permanent link to this comment

Interesting question, especially since so many, ah, “non-serious” authors take such an active interest. The quantity of “erotic” incest fiction in archives like ASSTR is staggering; and fan communities are happy to jump on the bandwagon and ruin those cherished childhood memories with, say, hot Brady on Brady action. ("Here’s the story / Of a man named Brady / Who was busy [nudge nudge wink wink] with three boys of his own...")

There was some controversy a few months ago when a fan asked the actors who play Fred and George Weasley in the Harry Potter films for their thoughts on “twincest” fanfiction. I imagine the situation was rather uncomfortable.

I’m not sure that mainstream authors actually do seek out taboo subjects to write on. (By definition?) Controversial, yes; taboo, no. How many serious literary treatments are there of consensual paedophilia? Bestiality? There are things that people just don’t want to (admit to wanting to?) read about.

By Oedipa Maas on 06/06/06 at 04:27 AM | Permanent link to this comment

Thomas Mann, “Blood of the Walsungs”

By John Holbo on 06/06/06 at 04:54 AM | Permanent link to this comment

Your faithful administrator, who is not nearly so well read as he should be, considering he’s administrating a literary weblog, would like to throw Eugenides’s Middlesex out there for consideration. I don’t know if that’s considered simply “popular” fiction or if it might be considered “serious”, but it did win a Pulitzer. So there’s that, for what it’s worth.

By Valve Administrator on 06/06/06 at 05:40 AM | Permanent link to this comment

From the point of view of canon law, would gay incest be twice as bad as normal incest and normal gay relations (additive), or is incest such a transcendant abomination that it can’t be added to? Alternatively, since some of the reasons against heterosexual incest don’t hold for gay incest, is gay incest somewhat less detestable? Or does those factors even out? Or are two transcendant abominations worse than one.

My sister, brother and I really need to know this, so please answer as soon as possible.

By John Emerson on 06/06/06 at 06:55 AM | Permanent link to this comment

There’s also One Hundred Years of Solitude (Gabriel García Márquez).

By on 06/06/06 at 09:12 AM | Permanent link to this comment

I read The All of It by Jeannette Haien in my first freshman English course at college.  I’m not sure if it counts as serious or not, but I figured I might as well add it since I read it for a class!

As for Faulkner, once, when I was at a party hosted by friends of my grandparents, they heard that I was an English major and randomly gave me a book one of their acquaintances had written.  I opened up the book to a random page to look at it and be polite, and out popped this lovely anecdote about Faulkner.  Apparently, at one time when he was a screenwriter in Hollywood, he went to a script development meeting for a new movie.  The screenwriters were all trying to work out what kind of problem there could possibly be that would keep apart the protagonist and his love interest at the beginning of the movie, which, of course, they would overcome before the happy ending.  Faulkner looked up and suggested, “they should be siblings.”

By on 06/06/06 at 11:06 AM | Permanent link to this comment

Someone mentioned Byron. “Manfred” counts, too. Unless you don’t count that as “serious”—it’s so overly serious it’s ridiculous.

By on 06/06/06 at 01:05 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Donna Tartt alluded to an incestuous relationship between Charles and Camilla Macaulay in The Secret History

By on 06/06/06 at 03:12 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Samuel Delany’s forthcoming Shoat Rumblin, His Sensations and Ideas

And I’d suggest it’s important that that the incest in Cider House Rules is not consensusal, because it demonstrates the amorality of the father, and the incest in Hotel New Hampshire is not repeated, becuase their goal is to go at it for a single day so as to get it out of their system.

By on 06/06/06 at 05:07 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Charles and Camilla were twins, no less. ba-ZING.

By on 06/06/06 at 05:30 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Since someone busted out with John Irving...Heinlein had his main character go back in time and nail his own mother in Time Enough For Love.

Which...um...we were talking serious treatment of consensual incest, yes?

Ok, I’ve got nothing.

By on 06/06/06 at 07:38 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Roger, I’m only about half-finished with the first volume of the Musil...and have been so for about a year now.  I haven’t even come across a hint of that yet.  That the courtship can still be “long” six hundred some odd pages into the novel flabbergasts. 

Oedipa, I’m not sure if slash fiction counts, but that’s only because I’m working with his criteria, not mine.  That said, the Brady bit is golden.  (Also, settle a long-standing argument for me: “your” name is pronounced sort of Southernly, like “Oedipa Mah Ass,” isn’t it?  What with Pynchon’s feelings about psychoanalysis and all.)

Chris, who am I to belittle contemporary literature?  I’ve been posting about comic books more than anything else lately.

Nada, (smacks own forehead) yes, there is.

Vierran, only Kafka outstrips Faulkner in the dark wit department, so that anecdote doesn’t surprise.

Greg, I think I read the Tartt on an airplane years and years ago.  I remember liking it but thinking, “What’s the big deal.” That said, I do remember some dark inklings of incest in there.

Josh, the forthcoming Delany novel?  Something you’d like to share with the class?  Also, I think a strong, sensible argument could be made that at its core no incest is consensual no matter what the parties involved claim.  There’s too much...other stuff involved for the consent to be untainted, I would think.

[Note: That link would’ve gone directly to a recent post I’ve written, but for some utter rational reason, links with the word “rape” in them are blacklisted.  Go figure.]

By Scott Eric Kaufman on 06/06/06 at 07:41 PM | Permanent link to this comment

No sexual behavior is consensual, Scott. There’s always already too much other stuff.

By John Emerson on 06/06/06 at 09:12 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Georges Bataille reported incest with his mother, but it wasn’t consensual.

By John Emerson on 06/06/06 at 09:39 PM | Permanent link to this comment

I have to stop reading this now.  Nobody needs to be reminded of The hotel New Hampshire.

Totally agree. I shouldn’t have brought it up. But JI is, or at least was, totally fixated on the theme of voluntary incest…

But then again - spawns an idea for a nifty post hereabouts re: the embarrassing shit that one reads during ones formative stages as a lit person. The stuff that one won’t cop to now, that’s been purged from the bookshelves.

I read all of Irving during the middle of high school. The first author I’d ever taken up in this way. And one can laugh, but that’s the sort of thing that one does when 1) one’s English classes are crappy and 2) one’s parents’ bookshelves are stocked with stuff like Hors d’oeuvres by Martha Stewart, The Joy of Stress, an Illustrated History of the Yankees, and a copy of Jonathan Livingston Seagull that was a wedding gift way back when.

From Irving, somehow, to Kerouac, Ginsberg, Henry Miller, and then, in college the Great Leap Forward into Joyce, Eliot, and the like…

Anyway.... My back pages…

By CR on 06/06/06 at 11:45 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Heinlein had his main character go back in time and nail his own mother in Time Enough For Love

And a character go back in time and nail him/herself before a sex change in “...All You Zombies”.  But maybe that shouldn’t count, since neither instance is aware of what’s going on.  (Though a third instance is.  It’s a weird story.)

By ben wolfson on 06/07/06 at 12:33 AM | Permanent link to this comment

"Xan Meo was on his way to realising that, after a while, marriage is a sibling relationship - marked by occasional, and rather regrettable, episodes of incest.” -Martin Amis, Yellow Dog

By on 06/07/06 at 03:21 AM | Permanent link to this comment

D.M. Thomas’s Charlotte (2000) depicts an incestuous relationship between a father and a daughter (who impersonates her late mother) and another between a mother and a stepson. The latter couple are no other than Jane Eyre and Rochester’s forgotten love child Robert from the West Indies. Like Byatt’s Angels and Insects, Charlotte is (in part) a parodic pastiche of Victorian fiction.

Joel: the affair between the brother and the sister in Angels and Insects is consensual. However, there are more unpleasant sexual encounters in the novel, like the rape of a young servant girl.

By on 06/07/06 at 06:16 AM | Permanent link to this comment

In one of John Varley’s stories the main character has sex with himself; which is to say, with a clone of himself.  Does this count as incest?

Not sure that the novel is the main forum for this consensual incest thing.  English Romanticism is more like it: not just (as commentators note above) Byron’s Manfred and Cain, but also Shelley’s The Cenci and most of all, the Romantic poets themselves ... Wordsworth sleeping with his sister Dorothy, Byron with his sister (or was she a half-sister?) Augusta and so on.  I’ve never been clear in my head why the English Romantics are so fascinated with the whole incest thing.

By Adam Roberts on 06/07/06 at 07:45 AM | Permanent link to this comment

Speaking of the English Romantics, one would have to add P. B. Shelley’s Laon and Cythna; or The Revolution of the Golden City (1817).  He eventually took out the (brother-sister) incest and published his vision of failed revolution as The Revolt of Islam.  It’s not read much these days, and only excerpted in the Norton Shelley.

Also, there have been a number of interesting and inconclusive discussions of incest and the English Romantics over on the NASSR-List.

By on 06/07/06 at 09:19 AM | Permanent link to this comment

The German poet Georg Trakl is thought to have been terribly darkened by his memory of an actual incestuous relationship with his sister. The blackness of Trakl’s poetry is sometimes carelessly thought to be a function of his WWI experience, which was horrible, but almost all of his poems were written before the war began.

By John Emerson on 06/07/06 at 09:20 AM | Permanent link to this comment

Oedipus schmoedipus… at least, if we take a moral rather than a purely performative definition of “consensual”.  By which I mean that both parties must know what it is they are consenting to for the consent to be valid.  The crux of Oedipus Tyrannos is that Oedipus & Jocasta did NOT consent to incest, and when it was revealed that that was what had been going on, O. was so appalled that he blinded himself.  (Which makes Freud’s appropriation of his name so very odd; a true Oedipus Complex would mean an instinctual horror at the idea of sleeping with your mother.) (Aristotle’s assertion that “in the best sort of tragedy” and in particular “the Oedipus”, peripeteia and anagnorisis are almost simultaneous is also pretty odd, when you consider that by the time light dawns on Oedipus, the audience has already been shouting ‘Behind you! BEHIND you! She’s your MOTHER!’ for quite some time. But that’s another question.)

By Michael Bywater on 06/07/06 at 09:41 AM | Permanent link to this comment

I like Michael’s idea very much.  Somebody should write a play with a Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead-to-Hamlet-type relationship to the Oedipus Tyrannus, concentrating on the audience, and called DUDE! SHE’S YOUR MOTHER!

By Adam Roberts on 06/07/06 at 02:24 PM | Permanent link to this comment

I haven’t read it, but Henry Roth’s “Mercy of a Rude Stream” has lots of incest in it.

By on 06/07/06 at 03:05 PM | Permanent link to this comment

This is so obvious that it must be wrong, but I always thought Anais Nin’s incestuous relationship with her father was consensual, at least in some sense.  But I’ve never read anything she wrote, so I don’t know if that’s true or even if she counts as a “serious” writer.

By on 06/07/06 at 04:52 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Josh said: the incest in Hotel New Hampshire is not repeated, becuase their goal is to go at it for a single day so as to get it out of their system.

Well, I meant “repeatedly in one session.” They do have intercourse over and over again to the point of pain (for the reader as much as the characters).  I was trying to be oblique to prevent giving away too much.

And I thought of another novel where there’s a sort-of consensual incest episode:  Geek Love.  Though Arturo doesn’t consent to his sperm inseminating the narrator, she does get their other brother, Fortunato, to procure the sperm, so while there’s no sex involved, there’s an incestuous desire of sorts and a weird incestuous triangulation.

By Dr. Virago on 06/07/06 at 06:30 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Iain Banks’ “A Song of Stone.” Which counts as literature, in contrast to the trashy sf novels of his near-cognate, Iain M. Banks.

By Henry on 06/07/06 at 08:38 PM | Permanent link to this comment

The Hotel New Hampshire certainly was the predominant memory I have of literary consensual incest. Does the fact that the scene didn’t distrub me mean I’m disturbed? I mean, these lovers—Fannie or Frannie, isn’t it? and of course John—were as star-crossed as any of, say, Thomas Sutpen’s children. Just because they were aware of their siblinghood doesn’t make it any less pathetic, does it? And anyway, they were, like, soulmates. And God wouldn’t make any two people soulmates if He didn’t mean for them to have sexual relations, would He? So they did the responsible thing--and broke the taboo for one day only. And besides: everyone knows that having sex until it hurts is a failsafe way of ending the desire to have sex. (Also, good birth control.)

Anyway, the real thing I wanted to say was: I’m watching the first season of Lost--now come on, if we’re gonna have that discussion, this is serious literature at its finest. And I’ve just watched the episode where Boone’s and Shannon’s past is elucidated. How about that for consensual incest? See, we can get all kinds of tricky.

By Rodney Herring on 06/07/06 at 10:49 PM | Permanent link to this comment

I never read Geek Love, but when I saw it reviewed it looked Hotel New Hampshire-ish.

Katherine Dunn is another ex-schoolmate of mine. I’ve only met her a few times. She projects well in person but I don’t like her vibe. She wrote a Wonkettish column in Portland for about ten years, but with less ass-fucking.

By John Emerson on 06/07/06 at 11:10 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Scott, you don’t even get to Agatha until the first page of the second book—in a chapter aptly entitled, the Forgotten Sister. Musil, of course, never finished the novel, but I don’t think it is too much of a spoiler to say that six to seven hundred pages further on, something definitely happens to Ulrich and Agatha. Musil’s famous Essayismus has, by this time, become so dense that it is a bit diffficult to peer through the conceptual fog. However, trust me. And be grateful that the English translation doesn’t even attempt to encompass the fragments of M.W.Q., which according to George Steiner amount to about 20 000 manuscript pages.

Ah, I can’t resist a typical Steinerism about the brother-sister theme:

“The Man Without Qualities” is the narrative-psychological apex of an easthetic of brother-sister relations - an aesthetic that takes its modern guise in Byron, in Shelley, in Baudelaire’s incantation to mon enfant, ma soeur. Specifically, Musil follows on the mythology and, one can almost say, the politics of love between brother and sister set out in Wagner’s “Ring”. Musil presses toward a new intensity of metaphysical and ethical valuation the ancient intuition that a brother’s passion for his sister, a sister’s for her brother, can alone satisfy the ache of eros for total oneness. Love between organic strangers, however vehement, cannot abolish the paradox of solitude, of the unbridgeable. Love between those whom blood and inheritance conjoin fuses the needs of narcissism (self-love) with those of total intimacy with another. “Now I know what you are: you are my self love.” And this very insight, being communicable, defies aloneness.”

By roger on 06/07/06 at 11:32 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Henry is undoubtedly writing ironically about Banks and his trashy SF, but if anyone is thinking of reading Banks, please don’t start with _A Song of Stone_.  It’s one of his worst books (although _Canal Dreams_, _Whit_, _The Business_, or _Inversions_ may take the prize for the worst, depending on taste).  If you don’t want to read SF, start with _The Bridge_.  If you do, start with _Use of Weapons_.

By on 06/08/06 at 12:04 AM | Permanent link to this comment

Lawrence Durrell’s Alexandria Quartet

By on 06/12/06 at 01:33 AM | Permanent link to this comment

Max Frisch, Homo Faber (though it’s oedipus-like in being unknowing)

By on 06/12/06 at 02:33 AM | Permanent link to this comment

Penelope Lively, Moon Tiger

By on 06/12/06 at 05:03 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Guy Gavriel Kay has a fantasy novel called “Tigana” in which a brother and a sister have sex and the sister says breathily “Oh, what have we done?”.  Not high literature, maybe.

I can’t believe no-one’s mentioned EA Poe.  Not only did the man marry his 14-year-old cousin, “The Fall of the House of Usher” is about a brother and sister.

I ditto 100 Years (what a mess) and ...All You Zombies.  The previous poster fails to mention that the main character is banging not only zhirself, but also zhir mother, because zie’s zhir own parents.  And the one who recruits zhirself into the Time Travel Corps and puts it all in motion.  Heinlein appears to have thought “Hmm, assuming time travel, how closed of a loop can I make it?  Could I have *no other characters*?  Dude.”

Mythology, especially Eyptian, is replete with sibling incest.  Earth and Sky, twins, have the major gods, who then pair off.  The royalty continued this tradition for generations, leading to some interesting medical problems.

By on 06/13/06 at 12:00 AM | Permanent link to this comment

For what it is worth, my mother, when I was an adult, out of the blue said, it is every child’s fantasy to have sex with one’s parent, and what joy it must be to have that fantasy come true. Mother had a stepfather that she loved very much.
Why is there an automatic assumption that incest is somehow damaging?
Lastly how come no one mentioned “Ada” by Nabokov, which is a long lyrical fantasy of incest.

By on 06/25/06 at 09:11 AM | Permanent link to this comment

Sex with ones’s parent?
Consensual incecst?
Liturature and longing?
A great and fertile field to plow.

By on 07/01/06 at 08:27 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Intensity of emotions involving incest.
Father-daughter. No real special emotional intensity. Happends a lot in many different cultures.
Yet there is a Russian ballad about “Kudeyar Ataman”, an outlaw, who raped the mother, and 16 years later raped his own daughter, unknown to him. And in a fit of guilt, became a monk. An unusual story.
Sibling incest: come on, we grow up in families, and we never play with sis’s pussy?
Most intense:
No real literature on that subject.

By on 07/06/06 at 08:44 PM | Permanent link to this comment

maybe this post is too old...This wont fit everyone’s definition of serious writing (and these are not novels either) but the Alan Moore ( a “serious”, “literary” writer in my book) wrote a graphic novel called “Smax”, where the main charecter is in a partnered relationship with his sister. Also the pulp noir writter Jim Thompson wrote a short story called “The World, Then The Fireworks”, where, in a very hot scene, a brother and sister are shown to be the objects of each others desires. And there’s the novels “The Cement Garden” and “War Zone”, both written by men named Ian.

By on 07/31/06 at 01:19 AM | Permanent link to this comment

L.P. Hartley’s Eustace and Hilda?

By ailbhe on 08/05/06 at 09:36 AM | Permanent link to this comment

One Hundred Years of Solitude, by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, won the Nobel Prize for Literature and has incest between an nephew and his aunt.

By Hunter Hutchinson on 11/11/06 at 01:31 AM | Permanent link to this comment

Forbidden Flower by Nancy Friday; Flesh and Blood by Pete Hamill; Garden of Sand by Earl Thompson.
I didn’t see these posted. Hard to believe that they aren’t included, but maybe I just overlooked them. My favorite literary theme.

By on 11/26/06 at 11:32 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Just finished reading Mary Shelley’s “Mathilda”, supposedly a thinly-veiled story about her father Godwin and herself.  It deals directly with incest, though the father admits his passion and then dies.  While initially appalled by her dad’s passion for her, it takes no stretch of the imagination to see Mathilda would eventually have agreed to the relationship in order to keep him in her life if he hadn’t killed himself.

“Mathilda” is not a great novella but its subject matter is shocking enough that it wasn’t published until 1959, partly because Mary asked her dad, of all people, to publish it and he conveniently “lost” the manuscript for many years.

By on 12/04/06 at 02:06 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Homo Faber, by Max Frisch, central protagonist undergoes tragic paradigm shift and a good study for eros, philos, agape trichotomy…

By on 04/19/07 at 11:14 PM | Permanent link to this comment

There are numerous examples in the writings of American author Guy Davenport

By on 04/26/07 at 05:59 PM | Permanent link to this comment

I was going to suggest Wagner as well (VERY serious indeed ;) )

Besides The Secret History and Flowers in the Attic, does anyone have any more examples of serious, consensual, brother/sister twincest? No fanfiction, please...this subject is one of my biggest interests and favorite themes, and I’d appreciate any suggestions. I just stumbled upon this page so I’m sorry if it seems like I’m intruding...Thanks for your help.

By on 06/20/07 at 10:24 PM | Permanent link to this comment

"Spitting Image”
Paul Theroux
The lust and fantasy of an older sister for her brother.

By on 06/21/07 at 02:13 PM | Permanent link to this comment

I’ve only just found this discussion - wonder if anyone’s still visiting?  This subject has fascinated me for years.  One day I’ll get around to writing the novel I want to read...In the meantime, I’ll add to the list ‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore, by John Ford (though it’s a play), Family Outing, by Alison Habens, and A Spell of Winter, by Helen Dunmore.  The latter two are contemporary novels.  Dunmore is also well known in the UK for her poetry .

By on 07/18/07 at 08:00 AM | Permanent link to this comment

In fiction, “The Happy Hunting Grounds” by Nana Tepper is a story of consensual incest between a Dutch brother and sister.

In real life, I suspect that consensual sibling incest may be more common than most people would think.

By on 07/20/07 at 07:34 AM | Permanent link to this comment

Check out Andrei Makine’s “The Crime of Olga Arbyelina”. It is about mother-son incest, although it isn’t very graphic. I enjoyed it, anyway, as it is good literature by a Russian author living in France.

By on 10/23/07 at 09:13 AM | Permanent link to this comment

Given the vast amount of “family” sex-letter magazines it would suggest more interest, associated fantasy, and even likely more actual incest than reported in studies, literature, or or media.  The taboo scares off real discussion.

By on 12/05/07 at 02:49 AM | Permanent link to this comment

Hmmm. And yet, this thread has probably become one of the most useful things on the internet, regarding incest themes in literature/books. Good work, people!

I also wanted to point out, someone mentioned ‘This World, Then the Fireworks,’ as a short story. It was also made into a movie with Gina Gershon and Woody Harrelson as the lovers/siblings.

By on 03/02/08 at 09:10 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Very well described sibling relationship in “Relations” by Caroline Slaughter

By on 03/16/08 at 11:07 PM | Permanent link to this comment

What about Gabriel García Márquez? There is certainly aunt-nephew incest in One Hundred Years of Solitude. If none of you have read García Márquez, may I suggest you do? I read it in the original Spanish. However, the English translation is outstanding. And if you like Faulkner, then you will love García Márquez.

By on 06/18/08 at 02:26 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Ada, or Ardor--by Vladimir Nabokov

The story revolves around the consensual relationship between brother and sister Van and Ada Veen.  There is also some mention of incest taking place between Ada and her sister Lucette (along with flirtations between Van and Lucette).

By on 08/13/08 at 02:03 AM | Permanent link to this comment

I wrote a book that explores consensual incest; as well as the side effects of the non-consensual activity. It’s called, THE BREVITY OF THE SELVES (ISBN-13: 978-0-6151-6685-8). The incest doesn’t start out in the consensual context, of course; but it was amazing to see the main character evolve into someone who could rationalize the idea. I mean, people always ask what motivates a person to kill… but really… what motivates a person to willingly hump a blood relative? I find the question intriguing, to say the least.

BTW—I’m ACHING for someone to review the book. If you are interested, please email me and I will send you a PDF copy immediately. thanks!


By LiNCOLN PARK on 08/21/08 at 02:34 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Spitting Image (it is supposed to be the Spit And The Image, the author was ignorant) has already been mentioned.
In the mid sixties I recall reading two books: one translated from French called the “The Garden” which deals with sibling incest, the other, written by an Isreali called “The Fume Of The Poppy” which alsomhad an inc est them. Has anybody read them?

By on 08/21/08 at 10:41 PM | Permanent link to this comment

there is also Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter by Mario Vargas Llosa, which sort of counts as incest. It’s also a aunt-nephew relatonship, like garcia marquez, but they are related only by marriage...still a great book, though.

By on 09/07/08 at 02:17 AM | Permanent link to this comment

Can anyone tell me where i can find “ spitting Image “ ? i looked with google and this is the only site that actually mention this novel .

By on 03/08/09 at 02:24 PM | Permanent link to this comment

PePe, “Spitting Image” is apparently actually a chapter of the book “Picture Palace” by Paul Theroux.

I want to thank everybody who contributed to this thread. I just spent two hours adding the majority of these books to my Amazon wishlist. Consensual incest is my favorite literary theme and it’s ridiculously hard to find recommendations for it. I’m glad I’m not the only one who finds it fascinating.

My very belated contribution: “The Dreamers” by Gilbert Adair. An American exchange student gets entangled in the incestuous relationship between a French brother and sister during the Paris street riots of 1968. There’s also a movie adaptation starring Eva Green.

By Mindy on 01/22/10 at 03:56 AM | Permanent link to this comment

Mindy, when i read it it was called The Holy Innocents. I like that original title more, for many reasons.


By on 05/10/10 at 08:08 AM | Permanent link to this comment

I urge you all to get hold of a copy of Repeat It Today With Tears, by Anne Peile, recently published in the UK by Serpent’s Tail.  I’ve just finished it, and I’m sitting here feeling physically winded. 

The journal/newspaper reviews acknowledge the beauty of the writing and the unsensational handling of the story (father-daughter), but still there are almost audible intakes of breath over the subject matter.  My only quibble about the treatment of it by the author is that one party to the relationship has to be constructed as being somewhat unhinged to make the novel palatable to the reading public.  Read it anyway - you won’t regret it.

By on 02/04/11 at 09:54 PM | Permanent link to this comment

I would take issue with the idea that THE CRIME OF OLGA ARBYELINA would be suggested as a example of a literary treatment of “consensual” incest.

The incest (between a single mother and her son) begins when her son drugs her tea. He does this repeatedly, and when she becomes pregnant (it happens) she is more than slightly confused how she came to be in that condition.
Later in the novel, she does become aware that her son has been having sex with her, but she has started to quietly lose her sanity, and her ability to give consent is compromised by her perceived slip from reality.

A much better example of consensual incest can be found in the novel THE DEEP GREEN SEA by Robert Olen Butler. The participants are father and daughter (both adults) who become passionate lovers without realising their true relationship until it is far too late.

By on 05/15/11 at 10:18 PM | Permanent link to this comment

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