The Young Girl’s Handbook of Good Manners for Use in Educational Establishments
by Pierre Louÿs, translated by Geoffrey Longnecker
Wakefield Press, March 2010
80 pp. / $12.95 Buy from Wakefield Press
The first time I ever heard of Pierre Louÿs was when I read Susan Sontag’s essay, “The Pornographic Imagination.” In it, among other things, she posits five works of literature that bridge the gap between pornography & erotic, expanding into very Literary territory. Louÿs’s book was the only I hadn’t read. I tracked it down–it’s title The She-Devils–and was sorely disappointed in the translation. Despite this, I had still enjoyed the narrative, and filed the name in the back of my head to keep at bay in my never-ending path through erotic literature.
Years later, Louÿs’s name came up again–but this time as a correspondent of Mallarmé. It might strike some as strange that Mallarmé–who has probably garnered as many stuffy academic essays as God himself (though I prefer the former far more than the latter, let it be said)–chafed elbows, so to speak, with a man whose primary literary concerns were pedophilia, scatology, and whores. Louÿs was a part of the vaguely shaped Symbolist movement in France as the 19th century slipped into the 20th, immediately following the Fin de Siecle ‘movement’ that had shown artists and writers that certain ideas were now available subjects. Baudelaire was a major influence on the symbolists, as was Edgar Allen Poe.
Louÿs is most often considered a novelist, but the brilliant Young Girl’s Handbook of Good Manners instead takes the form of a satirical handbook–lampooning school guides to “good manners” and instead positing sixty pages of sexual advice, tongue planted firmly in cheek. It could perhaps be considered that this could become, shall we say, boring, or perhaps overdone, but Louÿs is a master parodist, in addition to being a damn good writer, so the laughs just keep coming.
I’m not one for humor unless it’s delivered via a sort of combination of hyperbole, absurdity, and base-ness, which the Handbook delivers in spades. The aphoristic fragments are all structured under headings, such as “Games and Recreations” (“Never masturbate a young man by the window. You never know on whom it might fall.”), “At the Ball” (“If you cum while waltzing, say so softly; don’t shout it out.”), and even a special column, “On Losing Your Virginity.”
There is no narrative thread, only a bawdy romp to be followed, with aphorism after aphorism delving into a perversely juvenile mind. There’s a total jouissance present in many of the acts which Louÿs implores ones not to do, and this set-up provides the idea that young girls are performing these acts with regularity (and who knows–perhaps they are; I was never a young girl).
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Former WAKEFIELD PRESS reviews:
TREATISE ON ELEGANT LIVING by Honoré de Balzac
August 15th, 2013 / 11:06 pm
Treatise on Elegant Living
by Honoré de Balzac, Translated by Napoleon Jeffries
Wakefield Press, March 2010
112 pp. / $12.95 Buy from Wakefield Press
Wakefield Press describes themselves, on their website, as “an independent American publisher devoted to the translation of overlooked gems and literary oddities in small, affordable, yet elegant paperback editions.” The fact that they are a publisher dedicated specifically to translated “buried” texts, so to speak, has kept them on my horizon since their launch in 2010. As the press has developed, they’ve continued to release incredibly interesting (and, as is their goal, elegant) books by many authors and writers that populate the literary landscape that I prefer to frequent. Paul Scheerbart, who I learned of as a devotée to “glass architecture” in my readings on the architecture of the fantastique, has had two books released by the press, many (often absent) key players of French literature have books on the press (Marcel Schwob, Georges Perec & Rene Daumal to name a few), and even the authors I hadn’t formerly heard of seem tailored to my taste. As such, I thought it would be a brilliantly rewarding project to review every title the press has released.
Earlier in the year I reviewed their release of Rene Daumal’s Pataphysical Essays, and my enjoyment of everything about the book (from its content to its translation to the materiality of the book itself) lead me to consider the project. I had encountered the concept of reviewing an entire press’s output before, I think initially in JA Tyler’s review of Calamari Press’s output on BigOther. While I love Calamari press, their output spans, at this point, much wider than Wakefield Press, whose number of titles seemed both manageable and limited enough that I would enjoy the entire project. I had no interest in launching into the project & losing steam half-way through, as I knew that would be disappointing both on a personal level, and also probably a disappointment to the press. With these considerations in mind, I decided to dive in.
As I am a fan of chronology, I’ve decided to approach the Press’s released chronologically. This would serve to give structure to the project, and also provide me with a path through the meta-textual elements of the press itself, as they grew from a press having only published two books (their launch), into having published 10 books at this point, with more titles on the horizon. So without further adieu, I’d like to present the launch title of Wakefield Press (while I think it was released in tangent with Pierre Louys’s The Young Girl’s Handbook of Good Manners for Use in Educational Establishments, Treatise… is granted number “1” in the press’s subdivision of “Wakefield Handbooks”).
July 18th, 2013 / 4:52 pm