Steven Marcus

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For the British actor, see Stephen Marcus.

Steven Marcus is an American academic and literary critic. He is George Delacorte Professor Emeritus in the Humanities at Columbia University. One of the founders of the National Humanities Center, he is a former fellow (1980–82)[1] and a current trustee.

Marcus is notable for his book The Other Victorians: a Study of Sexuality and Pornography in Mid-Nineteenth-Century England (1966). In this book Marcus analyses a number of Victorian pornographic fictions and memoirs, including The Romance of Lust, My Secret Life, The Indices of Henry Spencer Ashbee, and William Acton's work. The study is psychological in nature, and relies on the theories of Sigmund Freud. Among its claims to fame is to have coined the word "porntopia" - to describe the world as seen through pornographic literature. Marcus describes pornotopia as a place where “all men … are always and infinitely potent; all women fecundate with lust and flow inexhaustibly with sap or juice or both. Everyone is always ready for everything” (p. 276). In conjunction with the novel The Romance of Lust, Marcus uses the word vector to satirize the depiction of sex acts in a certain type of pornographic literature. According to Marcus the emotional deprivation rampant in Victorian (and contemporary) society is reflected in characters who do not interact with one another as real, thinking, and feeling persons, but merely engage in unrealistic mechanical sex acts and positions.

In a review of Marcus's book for the journal Victorian Studies, the historian Brian Harrison argued that Marcus aims to seek out "the common characteristics of pornography at all times", but draws only from samples ranging from 1828 to 1884, disregarding the pornography of the 20th century completely. Harrison also challenges Marcus' viewpoint, which is at times permissive, and at times moralising and pitying, but not, according to Harrison, objective.[2]


  1. ^ Fellows of the Center, 1978–2009
  2. ^ Harrison, Brian. "Underneath the Victorians". Victorian Studies, Vol. 10, No. 3 (March 1967), pp. 239-262, esp. p. 248-249.