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The Literary Companion to Sex.

Ms. PK (Ms. Psycho-Kinseyensis one thinks Joyceanly -- she is certainly intent upon moving things by force of the mind) chewing over the juicier fruits of her Garden of Eden gleanings, comes, big, round, rubbed-to-a-bright-polish apples in hand, as our temptress, good girl guide and literary companion to sex.

Ms. PK's yardsticks are realism, humour and the unusual, and, after eighteen months' wallow, her creel seems high-piled with somewhat erratic erotica. Of course the erotic depends often upon the mind of the percipient. There are those whose third eye is set a'gleam by even the innocence of Elizabeth Barrett Browning's 'How do I love thee? Let me count the ways,' and who entertain most blush-making convictions regarding Flush.

Ms. PK has arranged her material according to period -- or perhaps in this context it might be better expressed as 'era'--rather than antic. This means that the reader of specialised taste can enjoy the pleasure of the chase or hunt through the 415 bristling pages of the book for what Charles Dickens called, but in reference to another part of the forest of sensory satisfaction, his 'partickler wanity'. Lie back assured that, from Homer, Sappho and Aristophanes to John Updike, Molly Parkin and Henry Miller, there is here, as the old department-store chieftains used to boast, something to suit every taste.

From the Ancient World (The Bible, The Talmud, The Apocrypha) through the Middle Ages and the Renaissance (Chaucer, Donne and Shakespeare's bawdy), the Restoration and Eighteenth Century (Defoe, Swift, Smollett and Cleland), to the nineteenth century ('Walter', W. Dugdale, Huysmans) and the twentieth century (Frank Harris, Philip Roth, Joe Orton and Amis pere) are tweaked forth stimulating dips. Indeed, to quote again, this time appropriately enough surely, the News of the World, 'All life is here'.

Some cherished notions, classic myths, are, it has to be said, deflated -- bedfuls of virgin's blood, endless fields of deliciously insatiable nymphomanes, and suchlike warming fallacies. But there are some surprises: Dryden and Milton being archly naughty, George Crabbe taking propagatory liberties with cucumbers, Roger Woddis, most unexpectedly, looking the other way from the columns of the neo-thirties block of the Radio Times, and the full text (not, for once, smudgily typewritten on creased and greased and stickily fingered lavatory-paper-style stationery) of 'Eskimo Nell'.

And among the missing: Perhaps Molly and her blooming soliloquy, all hotbed flowers, too well-manured, grown somewhat overblown, has now become too limp to stand up for inevitable inclusion, but where, Oh! where, pray, are James' letters to Nora Barnacle? They are quintessential furnishings of the literary psychiatrist's put-you-up bed-couch.

Still I suppose that in any somewhat arbitrary selection of this 'sexplicit' kind it has to be a case of first come first served; or vice versa. And those who come, gold or grey, straight or gay, wise or otherwise, as the years have made or unmade them, paying their entrance money, are entitled to expect to find something to pleasure them between the covers of this bedchamber vade-mecum.

Putting the book down, on the bedside table, of course, I am, Philistine fashion, reminded of the punter on the Cherwell, who, putting his pole to one side, delighted Barbara Pym by remarking as he looked at his bemurded hands, 'I'm covered with the most utter dung'.
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Author:Whittington-Egan, Richard
Publication:Contemporary Review
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Mar 1, 1993
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