This classic book of erotica is, alongside Story of O, the most famous French underground novel of the late twentieth century and a work of seductive literary merit.
It begins with nineteen-year-old Emmanuelle’s flight from London to join her husband in Bangkok. On the airplane, she is seduced by the passenger seated next to her. By the time they land, she has indulged her irrepressible and insatiable sexual appetite, embarking on an odyssey of hedonistic sensual discovery that takes her from the arms of her husband to intimate encounters with the wives of his business associates, to further explorations wherein the philosophical and aesthetic facets of eroticism are expounded and enacted to the fullest degree.
Intoxicating and intelligent, Emmanuelle, which has sold hundreds of thousands of copies since its initial clandestine publication in France, follows one woman’s liberation from unconscious to intensely conscious sexuality. It is as pertinent today as it was four decades ago.
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Emmanuelle Arsan is the pseudonym of Marayat and Louis Jacques Rollet-Andriane. Emmanuelle was initially revealed to be written by Marayat, in order to conceal the identity of her husband, a French diplomat stationed in Thailand. Several more novels were published under the Emmanuelle Arsan moniker, including Emmanuelle II.
Lowell Bair (translator) translated Madame Bovary, The Count of Monte Cristo, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and The Phantom of the Opera, among many other novels.
Emmanuelle boarded the plane in London that was to take her to Bangkok. At first the rich smell of leather, like that preserved in British cars after years of use, the other worldly lighting, and the thickness and silence of the carpets were all she could grasp of the environment she was entering for the first time.
She did not understand what was being said to her by the smiling man who was guiding her, but she was not upset. Although her heart may have been beating faster, it was only from a sensation of strangeness, not from apprehension. The blue uniforms, the thoughtfulness and authority of the personnel assigned to welcome and initiate her—everything combined to create a feeling of security and euphoria. A new universe was going to be hers for the next twelve hours of her life, a universe with different laws, more constraining, but perhaps more delectable for that very reason. The vigilance of freedom was replaced by the leisure and placidity of subjection.
The steward led her to her seat. It was what would normally have been a window seat, but there was no window. She could see nothing beyond the draped walls. It made no difference to her. She did not care about anything but abandoning herself to the powers of that deep seat, drifting into drowsiness between it wooly arms, against its foam shoulder, on its long, mermaid lap.
An English stewardess leaned over her, her blondeness made Emmanuelle's long hair seem still more nocturnal. They were both dressed nearly alike, but a brassiere showed through the English girl's blouse, while the slightest movement revealed that Emmanuelle's berasts were free under hers. She was glad that the stewardess was young and that her eyes were like her own—flecked with gold.
Emmanuelle tried to think of something to ask that would please her. Maybe she should show an interested in the plane. But before she could speak, two children—a boy and a girl—pushed aside the velvet curtain that separated Emmanuelle's row of seats from the row in front. They looked so much alike that one had to assume they were twins. Emmanuelle noted at a glance the graceless, conventional clothes that stamped them as English schoolchildren, their reddish blonde hair, their expression of affected coldness, and the haughtiness with which they spat out brief words to the stewardess. Although they were apparently only twelve or thirteen, their confident manner created a distance between them and her that she had no thought of reducing. They sedately planted themselves in the two seats across the aisle from Emmanuelle. At the same time the last of the four passengers for whom the compartment was reserved came in and she returned her attention to him.
He was at least a head taller than she was. His hair and mustache were black. She liked his amber-colored suit. She judged him to be elegant and well-bred, two qualities that, after all, covered most of what one hoped to find in a fellow passenger. She tried to guess his age from the wrinkles at the corners of his eyes—forty, perhaps fifty? He would be more agreeable, she thought, than the two pretentious children.
[. . .]
Emmanuelle's knees were bare in the golden light shining down from overhead, and the man was staring at them. Under the invisible nylon, the movement of their dimples made agile shadows in the toasted-bread color of their skin. She knew the excitement they caused. They seemed more naked than ever under the spotlight which had been turned on them. She felt as if she were coming out of the water after a moonlight swim. Her temples throbbed faster and her lips filled with blood. She closed her eyes and saw herself not partially but totally naked, and she knew that once again she would be helpless against the temptation of that narcissistic contemplation.
She resisted, but only to increase the joy of gradually slipping into surrender. Its nearness was announced by a diffuse languor, a kind of warms consciousness of her whole body, a desire for abandon, for opening, for fullness; nothing very different from physical satisfaction she would have felt from stretching out on the warm sand of a sun-drenched beach. Then, little by little, the surface of her lips became still more lustrous, her breasts swelled, and her legs tensed, attentive to the slightest contact. Her brain began experimenting with images. They were disconnected and formless at first, but were enough to moisten her mucous membranes and arch her back.
The steady, subdued, almost imperceptible vibrations of the metal fuselage attuned her body to the frequency. Starting from her knees, a wave rose along her thighs, resonating on the surface, moving higher and higher, making her quiver.
Phantasms assailed her—lips pressed against her skin, genitals of men and women (whose faces remained ambiguous), penises eagerly rubbing against her, pushing their way between her knees, forcing her legs apart, opening her sex, penetrating it with laborious efforts that enraptured her. One after another, the plunged into the unknown of her body, thrusting into her unendingly, sating her flesh, and endlessly emptying their semen into her.
Thinking Emmanuelle was asleep, the stewardess cautiously tilted back her seat, transforming it into a bed, and spread a cashmere blanket over her long, languid legs. The man stood up and pushed his seat back to the same level as hers. The children had already dozed off. The stewardess wished everyone a good night and turned off the ceiling lights. Only two purple night lights prevented objects and people from losing all shape.
Emmanuelle had abandoned herself to the stewardess's care without opening her eyes. Her reverie, however, had lost none of its intensity or urgency. Her right hand now began to move over her belly, very slowly, restraining itself, descending toward her pubis. The thin blanket undulated above it. Her finger tips, pushing down on the soft silk of her skirt, whose narrowness made it difficult for her to spread her legs, found the bud of flesh in erection that they sought and pressed it tenderly. Her middle finger began the gentle, careful motion that would bring on orgasm. Almost immediately, the man's hand came down on hers.
She stopped breathing and felt her muscles and nerves tighten, as though her belly had been struck by a jet of ice water. Her sensations and thoughts were suspended, like a film when the projector has stopped, leaving a single image on the screen. She was neither afraid nor offended. She waited for what was going to follow her collapsed dreams.
The man's hand did not move. Merely by its weight, it applied pressure to her clitoris, on which her own hand was resting.
Nothing else happened for some time. She then became aware that his other hand was lifting the blanket and drawing it aside. It took hold of her knee and felt its curves and hollows. It rose slowly along her thigh and soon passed over the top of her stocking.
When it touched her bare skin, she started for the first time and tired to break the spell. She sat up awkwardly and turned halfway on her side. As though they wanted to punish her for her futile revolt, the man's hands abandoned her abruptly. But before she had time to react, they were on her again, this time at her waist. They deftly unfastened and unzipped her skirt, pulled it down to her knees, then moved up again. One of them slipped under her panties and caressed her flat, muscular belly, just above the high mound of her pubis, stroking it as though it were the neck of a thoroughbred. Its fingers ran along the folds of her groin and across the top of her pubic hair, tracing a triangle whose area they seemed to be estimating. The lower angle was very wide, a rather rare feature that had been appreciated by Greek sculptors.
Then the hand forced her thighs to spread further apart. It closed over her warm, swollen sex, caressing it as if to soothe it, without haste, following the furrow of its lips, dipping in lightly between them, passing over her erect clitoris and coming to rest of the thick curls of her pubis. As they moved to and fro between her legs, the fingers sank deeper between her moist membranes, slowing their advance, and seeming to stifle the sob that was rising from her throat, she panted with desire as the man brought her closer and closer to orgasm without letting her reach it.
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