The libertarian adventures of the Abbé Desfontaines, aka Dom Bougre (‘boulgre’ is French for ‘bugger’), the Porter of the Paris Charterhouse, recounted in the Histoire de Dom Bougre, Portier des Chartreux, became the best-selling erotic novel of the eighteenth century.
In France it was published under a variety of titles – Histoire de Dom B— (1741), Histoire de Gouberdom (1772), Le portier des Chartreux (1784), Mémoires de Saturnin (1787), and Histoire de Saturnin (1908). Translations into English appeared under a similar variety of titles, including The History of Don B (1743), The Life and Adventures of Silas Shovewell (1801), and The History of Father Saturnin, Porter of the Charterhouse at Paris (1827). Set in a landscape of religious lust, the novel advances the idea of a close link between happiness and the free expression of sexuality, characterised by the liveliness and false naivety of the very readable text. Sex with and between clergy, monks and nuns is the order of the day, and the more that clergy and doctors rail against masturbation the more it is celebrated as an easy way of achieving pleasure.
The authorship of this erotic classic is attributed to Jean-Charles Gervaise de Latouche (1715–82), who as well as being a writer was also a lawyer at the Parlement de Paris. As well as Dom Bougre, he is also thought to be the author of Mémoires de Mademoiselle de Bonneval (1738) and Lyndamine, ou l’optimisme des pays chauds (1778).
The Borel-illustrated version of Latouche’s novel was published under the title Mémoires de Saturnin, and published in two volumes ‘in London’ (though probably in Paris), in an attempt to avoid French censorship.