Last night my internet access was cut off because I hadn’t paid my bill. I searched through my piles of unopened letters and eventually found it and paid it but I had to wait 24 hours before being reconnected.
At first I was cross. Why couldn’t they have phoned me instead of cutting me off? Then Lanying came home (in a foul mood because she hates her job) and I told her about it. I was apologetic because she is a chronic emailer.
“It doesn’t matter,” she said. “In fact it’s a good thing. We don’t need the internet.”
Sometimes she says just the right thing and I adore her. Even when she is in a foul mood. “By the way,” she said, “they did phone and I didn’t tell you. You get too many nuisance calls.”
So I have been reading The Second Sex.
It is very good, of course, and very stimulating and I am relieved to discover that it is also very familiar. It takes me back to when I was 17 and writing what I thought at the time was probably a very adolescent thesis on “love, sex and the cosmic experience.” I wish I’d kept it because it was probably better than I thought.
But how could I have attempted it without reading Simone de Beauvoir?
At that age, I had little practical experience of sex but I probably knew as much about love and the cosmic experience as I do now (which is to say, nothing at all). I can remember quoting long passages of Virginia Woolf, Teilhard de Chardin, Ernest Hemingway, D.H. Lawrence, Percy Shelley and even the Marquis de Sade. But probably the reason I didn’t feel the need of S. de B. was that my English teacher (who was another woman I adored) had given me stacks of sixties socio-sexual psychoanalysis that borrowed very heavily from S. de B., from Kinsey, from Jung, from Freud and from Fromm. (That’s Erich Fromm, whose Art of Loving was all the rage when my beloved English teacher was a student.)
I am tempted to quote a bit of S. de B. and explain why I like it so much but also explain why it inspires me to write a novel instead of another (post-adolescent) thesis. But first I should maybe explain how, as a self-confessed slow reader, I’m already at page 397 when I only ordered the book from Amazon two days ago.
That’s easy: page 392 contains a chapter called “Sexual Initiation” and I wanted to be initiated right away.
Look at what she says:
“The environment, the climate, in which feminine sexuality awakens is thus quite different from that which surrounds the adolescent male. More, the erotic attitude of the female is very complex at the moment when she faces the male for the first time. It is not true, as is sometimes maintained, that the virgin is unacquainted with sexual desire and that the man must awaken her sex feeling. This legend once again betrays the male’s flair for domination, expressing his wish that she should be in no way independent, even in her longing for him. The fact is that in the male as well it is often contact with the opposite sex that rouses first desire, and inversely the majority of young girls long heatedly for caresses before they have ever felt the caressing hand.”
No wonder Irina said she has to read this stuff slowly. What a lot of information, imagination, assertion and suggestion in those sensuous sentences! And she hasn’t even got onto the female’s complex erotic attitude yet.
Here it is:
“The truth is that virginal desire is not expressed as a precise need: the virgin does not know exactly what she wants. The aggressive eroticism of childhood still survives in her, her first impulses were prehensile, and she still wants to embrace, possess. She wants her coveted prey to be endowed with the qualities which, through taste, odour, touch, have appeared to her as values. For sexuality is not an isolated domain, it continues the dreams and joys of early sensuality; children and adolescents of both sexes like the smooth, creamy, satiny, mellow, elastic: what yields to pressure without collapsing or altering and glides under the look or the fingers. Like man, woman delights in the soft warmth of sand dunes, often likened to breasts, in the light feeling of silk, in the soft delicacy of eiderdown, in the bloom of flower or fruit; and the young girl loves especially pale pastel colours, the mist of tulle and muslin. She has no liking for rough fabrics, gravel, rockwork, bitter flavours, acid odours; what she, like her brothers, first caressed and cherished was her mother’s flesh. In her narcissism, in her homosexual experiences, whether diffuse or definite, she acts as subject and seeks possession of a feminine body. When she confronts the male, she feels in her hands and her lips the desire to caress a prey actively. But crude man, with his hard muscles, his rough and often hairy skin, his strong odour, his coarse features, does not appeal to her as desirable; he even seems repulsive.”
Actually, there’s no need to explain, is there? That’s just perfect. Doesn’t it inspire you to write a novel too?