Monday, December 7, 2009

Men Behaving Badly: Samuel Pepys & the Dirty Book

Monday, December 7, 2009

Susan reports:

Though it's hard to imagine in the internet age, dirty books are a relatively new invention. In the 1660s London of diarist/government administrator Samuel Pepys, (that's Samuel to the left, painted by John Hayls in 1666), they're still very much a novelty. The one he finds by accident in his local bookseller is in French. L'escholle des Filles ("The School for Young Women") is written in what becomes a classic dirty-book format: an older, experienced woman explains Life, Love, & Men to a young newbie, and does it in explicit, titillating language. You know, Playboy Advisor.

When Samuel first comes across the book, he thinks from the title that it might be an edifying read for his French-speaking wife. A glance through the pages, however, quickly changes his mind. But let's have Samuel explain, in three excerpt from his famous Diary:

January 13, 1668: "....stopped at Martin's my bookseller, where I saw the French book which I did think to have had for my wife to translate, called L'escholle des Filles, but when I came to look into it, it is the most bawdy, lewd book that ever I saw, rather worse than Puttana Errante [an infamous 16th. c. Italian erotic book] - so that I was ashamed of reading in it."

February 8, 1668: Thence away to the Strand to my bookseller's, and there stayed an hour and bought that idle, roguish book, L'escholle des Filles, which I have bought in plain binding (avoiding the buying of it better bound) because I resolve, as soon as I have read it, to burn it, that it may not stand in the list of my books, nor among them, to disgrace them if it should be found.

February 9, 1668: Lord's Day. Up, and at my chamber all the morning and in the office, doing business and also reading a little of L'escholle des Filles, which is a mighty lewd book, but yet not amiss for a sober man once to read over to inform himself in the villainy of the world....[later that afternoon] I to my chamber, where I did read through L'escholle de Filles a lewd book, but what doth me no wrong to read for information sake [this next is Sam's own shorthand, but you can figure out his meaning without too much difficulty] but it did hazer my prick para stand all the while, and una vez to decharge; and after I had done [the book], I burned it, that it might not be among my books to my shame; and so at night to supper and then to bed.

Modern historians say that this is the earliest reference to an erotic book in the English language. Oh, Samuel. . . .


Monica Burns said...

BLAST! I can't find a copy of the book in English, and French isn't anywhere what it was 20 years ago!! It would have been extremely interesting to compare it to today's modern erotica or erotic romance to see which it resembles more.

And it seems odd to read about a man that was ashamed to have such erotic literature in his possession, when so many of us have this image that men have been quite randy from the get go. LOL


Vanessa Kelly said...

I love how he talks himself into buying and reading the book, assuring himself all the while that it's doing him no harm. Except for the hazering, that is!

And then he burns it. Too, too funny. You'd think he would want his wife to read it, so she could learn to do some hazering, herself.

Laura Vivanco said...

I think the words in italics are in Spanish and French:

"but it did hazer my prick para stand all the while, and una vez to decharge;"

"hazer" is "to make"
"para" is "for" (and in English at this time did they say for to" instead of "to" in some cases?)
"una vez" is "one time"

The "decharge" looks to me like it could be a version of the French verb "décharger," meaning to "discharge" or "release."

Isabella Bradford/Susan Holloway Scott said...

Monica --

I know, I wish I could find an English translation somewhere on line. I'm curious, too. Other early, erotic books that I've read (or read excerpts from) like Aretino's "Dialogues" are very different from modern erotica. There's really no attempt at a plot per se, and the sex is pretty direct -- no hearts and flowers, that's for sure. And there's zero of the romantic sweetness that creeps into 18th c. erotica like "Fanny HIll."

The other thing I've noticed is how often the early erotica/pornography has a political (as in PC) bias to it. Rochester's "Sodom" is a transparent reinterpretation of the Charles II's Court, and most of this stuff has constant references to lascivious nuns, convents as brothels, and sex-crazed monks and priests.

But if you can manage to find "L'Echolle" somewhere, let me know! *g*

Oh -- about Samuel Pepys being so shy about this book. While he works for the Duke of York and is very familiar with the Court, he's basically a middle-class guy who grew up during Cromwell's rule. He's trying to be a rising man of the world (like the aristocrats who had travelled on the Continent and would surely have had much more access to pornography), but he's still shock-able. Have to love him for it, too -- all those protestations about how he's reading just so he can be informed. *g*

Isabella Bradford/Susan Holloway Scott said...

Vanessa -- Don't you love how he stands around in the bookstore reading, all the time worrying that someone will see him? And then does it AGAIN, before he finally buys the thing? Like those guys who bring the copy of Penhouse up to the counter with Sports Illustrated on top of it, in case they meet anyone they know....*g*

Isabella Bradford/Susan Holloway Scott said...

Laura, you are probably right. Pepys would have known Latin from his education, and definitely would have picked up French and Spanish from his work with the Admiralty, if he didn't know them before. Throughout the Diary, he often resorts to this kind of jumbled language when he writes about sex. Thank you for the input.

Unknown said...

A translation was published anonymously, with illustrations, as 'The School of Venus' in 1680, there is a unique surviving copy in the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek in Munich - Edmund Curll reprinted this in 1739 (seven copies noted as surviving, five of which are in the US).

There is a modern edition of plates from both editions and the text, "When Flesh Becomes Word. An Anthology of Early Eighteenth-Century Libertine Literature" Edited by Bradford K. Mudge Oxford: OUP 2004 -- and for those who can not wait Amazon offers a Kindle edition -- but at an outrageous $40 for instant gratification, new in paper its only $17.99!

Anonymous said...

The entire thing is now available for your historical arousal on Google books:

Jules said...

Jolly good thing he burnt the book so no one would know he'd read it. Mr Pepys, your secret is quite safe in your diary that no one will *ever* read.

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