The Woman Thing: The Erotic Novels Of Harriet Daimler

The provocative writing of the Olympia Press’ most notorious female novelist.

Harriet Daimler was the foremost female writer for the Olympia Press, with five books to her name: Darling, The Pleasure Thieves (with Henry Crannach), Innocence, The Organisation and The Woman Thing.

The ‘dirty books’ by the ex-pats in Paris were often semi-autobiographical. Daimler, whose real name was Iris Owens and was an American poet, is reputedly the model for Margo in Candy author Mason Hoffenberg’s Sin for Breakfast, a novel constructed around the writing of porno paperbacks for an Olympia Press-type publisher in which the main character learns how to twist the real into fiction by a female smut writer. Or, as she says:

“Take an ordinary woman novelist, what does she do when a couple of her main characters go to bed with each other? She describes a couple of kisses, she mentions that the girl’s ‘soft bosom is heaving strongly’ and that the man is looking at it and feeling ‘intense desire’ and then he takes her in his arms and that’s it – the next thing you know, it’s the following morning and they’re getting up and the sun is shining. Well, the women who write like that have it easy. They skip the hard part – the true part. They don’t say what the characters really felt and did. That girl with the ‘strongly heaving bosom’, her pussy was getting wet too; and the man with the ‘intense desire’, he had a big hard-on, and what were they going to do about it was going to be a hell of a lot more fun and more important than that little row of dots in the book would lead you to believe.”

In Darling, Daimler holds back on nothing. Comparable only to Pauline Reage, Daimler triggers Grace’s sexual awakening with a rape and then proceeds to pile on Grace’s demand for brutal sexual abuse as she searches for herself, ploughing her way through a column of men, always explicit in her narration, until she finds her rapist and completes with an act of climactic revenge.

The counter to Darling is The Woman Thing (aka Woman) in which Martha, an American woman living in a rundown Parisian hotel with a Scotsman, spends her time fucking and talking, or more accurately, arguing, as she seeks to discover whether their relationship is based on sex or love. An in-joke in the novel would suggest that Macdonald is based on Alexander Trocchi, even though the Trocchi biography, The Making of a Monster, suggests that his relationship with Iris Owens was not sexual.

Daimler’s strength lies in the fact that she is more than a porno writer. She has created female characters who are real and strong. The critic Seymour Krim notes, regarding The Woman Thing: “it’s one of the few books written by an American in which the man and woman actually like each other.”


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