An appreciation of the author Colin Wilson (1931-2013) - philosopher, critic, novelist
The Dial Press edition of
The Sex Diary of Gerard Sorme
An essay by Colin Stanley
'Of one thing I am certain. The sexual force is the nearest thing to magic—to the supernatural—that human beings ever experience. It deserves perpetual and close study. No study is so profitable to the philosopher. In the sex force, he can watch the purpose of the universe in action.' (1)
Thus wrote philosopher-novelist Colin Wilson’s alter-ego Gerard Sorme in the 1963 novel published by Dial Press in the US as The Sex Diary of Gerard Sorme. An investigation of sex on a fictional level, it was written in 1962, just two years after the infamous ‘Lady Chatterley Trial’; a time when authors and publishers were tentatively starting to push the boundaries of censorship. In his autobiography, Dreaming to Some Purpose, Wilson revealed that the novel was initially proposed by Maurice Girodias, editor of Olympia Press, the Paris publisher who specialised in ‘obscene’ books: “The idea appealed to me. In 1962, the police were still able to seize any book they considered indecent. And I liked to be allowed to write frankly about sex.” (2)
When he mentioned this to his UK publishers, Arthur Barker Ltd., they asked to see the manuscript and offered to publish it in a slightly amended version as Man Without a Shadow: the diary of an existentialist, Wilson’s preferred title. Even so it still had to be cleared in court before it could be sold in England. The Dial Press edition, however, was published unexpurgated resulting in a court case in Boston USA, where the book was described as obscene. The judge, however, “…disagreed, saying that it was no worse than Henry Miller or Lady Chatterley....” (3)
As was often the case, Wilson attempted to demonstrate that the ideas presented in his non-fiction could be employed in a work of fiction. Thus the novel was released at the same time as Origins of the Sexual Impulse (volume 5 in his ‘Outsider Cycle’). Wilson then went on to write another fictional exploration of sexuality: God of the Labyrinth (aka The Hedonists), the last in the ‘Gerard Sorme Trilogy’, in 1970. In a note at the end of the novel, Wilson defended himself against an allegation in a daily newspaper that he was a writer who aimed at larger sales by spicing his books with episodes that would have led to prosecution in less liberal times. He argued:
“Is there any reason why civilised adults should not, if they are so minded, read about sex with feelings of detachment, or humour, or even a certain involvement? If we can say that a thing is “shocking”, without meaning that it is ugly or wicked, then it seems to me an excellent idea to use it to shock as many people as possible, until it has lost its shock-effect, and can be seen calmly and without distortion. In a really civilised society—and we are still some distance from it—there will be no forbidden books, or forbidden ideas.” (4)
The following is a list of words, phrases, sentences, whole paragraphs that appear in the Dial Press edition but were expunged from the UK edition. This gives some idea of what was deemed unsuitable, by the UK censors, at that time.
p.14: the word “fucking” is replaced by “f—ing”
p. 21: “I recall an old joke I heard at school that expresses this aspect. A newly married husband was too shy to touch his wife, so she guided his hand to her sexual regions, then said: “Now do something dirty”—so he emptied his bowels.”
p.22: “fucking her” is replaced with “he was having sex”.
p. 28: “…and had apparently rubbed some kind of cream on herself that made entrance very easy”
p. 30: “cunt” is replaced by “body”
p. 31: “…and that he had an orgasm inside the wife”
p. 31 “orgasm” again omitted.
p. 32: “No you can’t fuck me now, there’s not time. Masturbate when I’ve gone” is replaced in the UK edition with “No you can’t have me now, there’s not time. Use your imagination when I’ve gone.”
p. 37: “she examined my member critically”
p. 38: “I knew nothing about female anatomy, and had always imagined the vagina to be situated further forward.”
p. 39: “…grasped my overheated member as if it were a door handle and…lowered herself onto it.”
p. 39 “…the feeling of her vagina, closed around me, might have been a warm glove, or my own hand.”
p. 39 “After the second time it no longer hurt her…after the sixth time she complained of soreness.”
p. 39: “I produced contraceptives”
p. 45-46: “Oct. 28. Dennis Paulham came last night, bringing with him a bottle of some peculiar cocktail that someone had given him; I was feeling tired, so to discourage conversation gave him the sex diary to read. He read avidly without saying a word for an hour. Dennis is a curious little man; he must be nearer fifty than forty, and yet looks like a willful schoolboy, with his round face and snub nose. And yet at his age, his sex experience has been negligible. He was particularly excited by my account of the woman who excited me by pressing against me in a crowd; and told me that he had once had a similar experience, but that it had led to some unpleasantness.
He then told me a number of things that struck me as so interesting that I set them down here. His most amusing story was about a prostitute in Notting Hill. Dennis saw an advertisement on a board near the station, the usual “Attractive girl wishes to do modeling work.” He phoned her up, and went over to see her. He said, she was horribly unattractive, with a face like a horse and a figure that suited it. He felt embarrassed, and took her out for meal. Afterwards, they returned to her room; he wanted an excuse to go home, but couldn’t think of one. As soon as they got in, she stripped off her clothes and climbed into bed, and he reluctantly did the same. But it was useless, he simply felt no desire. After she had tried to excite him, without success, for ten minutes, she said that she had just the thing for him. She went to a cupboard, and took out a machine! He said it had a large wheel and various electric wires that ran to two small leather straps. The girl buckled the straps around his limp member, and turned the handle. Immediately, small bolts of electricity shot through him, and achieved the desired effect almost immediately. She hastily unbuckled the straps, and leaped into bed, but by this time his interest had vanished and he had subsided again. Once more she buckled the straps and turned the handle; once more Dennis demonstrated his manhood; but as soon as she unbuckled the straps, the excitement vanished. After a few more attempts, she gave up. He left her some money and promised to return the following day, but never did.
I asked him if he had had any more experience with “machines,” and he launched into a rambling story about a homosexual he knew, who had taken him to a kind of Turkish bath somewhere in East London, where he was astonished to discover that a large proportion of the clientele were big, athletic-looking men who might have been army drill instructors. Apparently the most extraordinary things went on under cover of a blanket of steam. When Dennis revealed that he was not particularly inclined for these exercises, the proprietor offered to let him try a “machine.” Dennis was a little vague about the nature of these machines, except that they were ostensibly “massage machines.” He looked at one of these, and complained that it was filthy, showing very obvious signs of the use to which it had been put. At this, the proprietor looked surprised, and explained that his clients insisted on their being filthy, they would simply refuse to make use of a “clean” machine. Dennis grabbed his clothes and excused himself.”
p. 55: “To my amazement I managed to get in without much trouble, but it obviously hurt her like mad….After about half an hour, I could move without hurting her too much; finally I had to withdraw quickly.”
p. 58-59: The story about the porter and the nurse is different in both US and UK editions with “When you get up close you can see the hairs on her fanny” deleted from the UK edition.
p. 69: “contraceptives” replaced by “preventitives”.
p. 168: Father O’Mahoney from the US edition of Ritual in the Dark is mentioned. In the UK editions his name had to be changed, for legal reasons, to Father Carruthers.
p. 195: “…one day a young window-cleaner was washing the outside of the windows, sitting on the windowsill with his legs in the room. Cunningham started to unbutton his trousers, and when the man looked startled, said: “Look, I’m awfully sorry, but I have an irresistible impulse to make love to you.” The man said cheerfully: “That’s all right guv, you go ahead,” and went on cleaning the window!”
p. 211: Sorme makes love to Diana “several times” whereas in the UK edition he just “made love to her”.
p. 239: “Someone once wrote a novel about men trapped in a bunker, with enough food and drink to last for years, but no hope of escape, and about how they turned into animals. On the other hand, someone once wrote of the Tarot pack that a man who was kept in solitary confinement, with nothing but these cards would be able to acquire the whole sum of human knowledge through them. Well, if human beings are still half animal—as pessimistic philosophers never tire of pointing out—it is because we have all been confined to a huge bunker; with enough hardship to keep us wide awake, and enough amusements to occupy our leisure but no inspiration to prevent our becoming worthless and lazy. Civilizations have developed on the human need for self-assertion; and have col1apsed when that need wore itself out; religions have been created to explain the mystery of man to himself, and have died when the ignorance and prejudice that sustained them has been dispersed, But still man is basically in a meaningless universe, with no guide but a bundle of instincts which civilization dilutes.
And yet, again and again, in the sexual orgasm, I have felt that the solution is nearer than we think—that if that intolerable light would only persist for ten minutes instead of dying in a few seconds, man would know every secret of his own being, would fuse into a united whole instead of living as a mass of divided emotions and half-completed insights.”
This is replaced by “Life would cease to be pointless, freedom would no longer be a burden—the awful freedom of a man lost at sea with no compass” in UK editions.
1. Wilson, Colin. Man Without a Shadow (50th Anniversary edition) Kansas
City: Valancourt Books, 2013, page 24.
2. Wilson, Colin. Dreaming to Some Purpose. London: Century, 2004,
3. ibid., page 249.
4. Wilson, Colin. God of the Labyrinth. London: Mayflower Books Ltd.,
1971, page 286.
* Colin Stanley speaking at the First International Colin Wilson Conference at the University of Nottingham, UK, in 2016.