My First Smut is a recurring feature where we talk about our formative smut experiences. These short confessionals may include such details as: What book did you read? How old were you? Were there other people involved? What made the experience special? What role does smut play in your life?
This week, romance author Jeanne Oates Estridge talks about the influence of E.M. Hull’s The Sheik.
My first smut was the original bully romance, The Sheik, by E.M. Hull. Published in 1919, it was later made into a movie. A silent movie, starring Rudolph Valentino.
By the time I came across it, nearly fifty years had passed since its debut, but it was still scandalous, at least to thirteen-year-old me. I gobbled it down in a breathless afternoon.
The story revolves around Diana Mayo, a young Englishwoman whose parents died when she was an infant. Her 19-year-old brother, not sure what to do with a girl child, took the easy route and raised her as a boy. Utterly fearless even as a small child, and she grew up strong-willed, independent and totally unaware of the limitations of being female.
When she turns twenty-one, she decides to make a trip into the desert, accompanied only by a caravan of hired locals, despite dire warnings from pretty much everyone.
The night before she leaves for her month-long sojourn under the stars, a male friend asks to kiss her. She replies, “No. That’s not in the compact. I have never been kissed in my life. It is one of the things I do not understand.”
Ahmed, the titular sheik, is actually the son and heir of a British earl with a propensity for domestic violence. His very pregnant wife escaped into the desert, where she was rescued by a gentle sheik who protected her and raised her child as his own. After learning the truth of his heritage, Ahmed vowed to make an Englishwoman suffer the way his mother suffered.
Cue Diana Mayo. On her second day in the desert, her caravan hands her over to Ahmed, who hauls her back to his encampment and forces her to become his mistress.
“Why have you brought me here,” she asked, fighting down the fear that was growing more terrible every moment.
He repeated her words with a slow smile. “Why have I brought you here? Bon Dieu! Are you not woman enough to know?”
My little adolescent heart raced. I couldn’t turn the pages fast enough.
By today’s standards, the book is dreadful. It’s racist, misogynistic, elitist, stunningly non-consensual, and, even though the door (or tent hanging, as the case may be) remains firmly closed, pretty salacious. It ends, as all romance must, with the couple living happily together (although it feels like Diana has to get an emotional lobotomy, giving up all her courage and independence, to make it work).
To this day, dark romance is a guilty pleasure of mine. I trace that back to reading The Sheik when I was young and impressionable.
Connect with Jeanne
Thanks to Jeanne for sharing! Apparently you can get The Sheik for only 99¢ on Amazon, so maybe we’ll have to read the book that launched a thousand Harlequins.
Jeanne’s latest book, The Demon’s Secret Baby, released on Tuesday. Holly really enjoyed the first two books in the series, and is excited to read it! Watch this space for a review coming soon.