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When people think of James Joyce, they invariably think of his massive literary breezeblocks Ulysses and Finnegan's Wake. Thus, their reaction upon discovering the letters he wrote to his chambermaid, mistress, and later wife Nora Barnacle - and the letters he wrote back - can be quite a shocked one. Forget that Ulysses was the first novel to be printed in with the word "cunt" in it; forget his descriptions of the sea as "scrotumtightening" and the stream-of-consciousness sex scene from the point of view of Molly Bloom, they are simply rendered aghast that anyone in 1909 should call his paramour his "darling brown-arsed fuckbird" or describe how he wants to perform cunnilingus on her. The popular image of the Edwardians and Victorians was that they were sexually repressed and only did it with the lights out in the missionary position. This could not, as Joyce's letters proves to us, be further from the truth. They maintained that pretence in public, but after dark engaged in some of the most incredible sex practices - some of which even people today would consider beyond the pale. Anyone for coprophilia or flagellation, both of which are covered in Joyce's letters?

Thought not.

The thing is, though, that in 1909, there was no widely available and reliable phone system, no AOL Instant Messenger, and no e-mail. Thus, no cybersex, phone sex or other method of synchronised self-pleasuring over distance. Hence, they used the postal service for such things. Hell, with postal chess and postal Diplomacy flying round, some bright spark probably had postal sex way beforehand. And besides, we don't know just how many other couples who were apart from a while wrote such similar letters to each other. Indeed, Nora's letters to James (which, apparently, were more explicit than his to her) have not survived, so...

Explicit is also the right word to describe the Joyce-to-Nora letters; since they feature elements of masochism, buggery, and in one particularly, erm, interesting, passage, Joyce asks her to masturbate while she takes a crap. Not only that, but he also describes how her farting sounds, "not like the wet windy fart which I imagine fat wives have." Indeed, upon my discovery of these letters, I thought to myself that not even Phantasmes had a patch on it. Truly it is a masterpiece of smut/erotica/literary porn/whatever you want to call it.

Oh alright. Enough of my waffle. You can find the letters for yourself on the Internet, at http://loveletters.tribe.net/thread/fce72385-b146-4bf2-9d2e-0dfa6ac7142d or in the book, Selected Letters of James Joyce, published 1975. To quote, paraphrase and generally chop Joyce: "You know now how to give {your next cybersex partner} a cockstand". They will begin to "groan and grunt and sigh and fart in lust" and then take out their "lover's fat mickey... and suck it off like a teat." Indeed, "the sound will madden you and when {you} pull up {her} dress - "

" - No use continuing! You can guess why!"