Friday, October 14, 2016

The Young Girl's Handbook of Good Manners by Pierre Louys

Smut Week continues with Book #3, a fake handbook of etiquette from the French writer Pierre Louys, one of many erotic manuscripts discovered in his papers after his death in 1925. I read a review of it somewhere over the past year, and it sounded like my sort of thing -- I like really cutting satire, I like books that pretend to be a kind of non-fiction that they aren't, and (like everyone else) I like sex.

All that led me to this slim guide: The Young Girl's Handbook of Good Manners. It's in the form of one of those interminable lists of rules for behavior, which were even more common in the late 19th century when Louys was writing. But these rules are all about sex, and Louys paints a picture of ubiquitous debauchery through the things he keeps insisting young ladies should not do.

(How young is that "young" in the title? Too young, for anyone this century. Probably too young even at the time, which is part of the point -- Louys wrote this for his own amusement, and to break as many taboos as possible. If you're not offended, then he failed in his task.)

As usual in works like this, the assumed young girl is polymorphously perverse, engaging in all conceivable sex acts with men and women, family friends and house servants, sex toys and fruit, at all times and in all places. Louys organizes the book into page-long chapters, each with a list of things not to do (and, more rarely, to actually do). Some of the amusement for modern readers comes from the social and cultural assumptions embedded in those rules -- Louys wrote for an audience of people who had servants and fancy dinners, among other things seen less often these days.

This is, of course, a book with no particular redeeming value. But then, so are most books, and Young Girl's Handbook is also wickedly amusing, which most books are not.

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