Archive for April, 2012

As from the smoke is freed the blaze,
So let our faith burn bright!
And if they crush our olden ways,
Who e’er can crush Thy light?
  –  Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, “The First Walpurgis-Night”

In the Middle Ages, May Eve became known in Europe as St. Walpurga’s Eve for the 9th-century saint whose feast day was on Beltane.  As I explained last year, that pagan holiday was simply too sexual to Christianize, so its tamer elements were transferred to the relatively-nearby Easter and the wilder traditions were either suppressed or simply tolerated as features of a secular spring festival (though Protestant clergymen certainly thundered about them in later centuries).  The most famous of these is of course the Maypole dance, but in ancient times the fertility of the growing crops was ensured in some parts of Europe by burnt offerings, as illustrated to chilling effect in The Wicker Man  (consider this my third recommendation of the film, in the sense of “I tell you three times”).  And though we no longer include living creatures in them, the bonfires have remained the center of May Eve celebrations in Germanic portions of Europe, especially Scandinavia and Finland; celebrants dance and carouse around the fires, sometimes all night long and on into May Day!

As so often happens, modern merrymaking has evolved from a serious root; Beltane is exactly halfway ‘round the year from Samhain, and just as the veil between the worlds was believed to be thinnest on Halloween, it was believed to be almost as much so on May Eve.  In Germanic mythology this was the day on which Odin, who had crucified himself on the world-tree Yggdrasil in search of wisdom, died; being a god he was reborn the following morning, and looking at the fallen twigs on the ground below he invented the runic alphabet.  The night was thus believed to be one on which spirits walked abroad, and the bonfires were intended to keep them at bay.  Furthermore, once Christians began to associate witchcraft with Satanism, the secret May Eve celebrations of witch covens and other pagan holdouts began to take on a sinister cast.  This was especially true in Germanic areas (most of all Scandinavia) because they had converted to Christianity only quite recently (9th-11th centuries) and still remembered the stories of Odin, the ghosts and the ancient sacrifices that the witches were believed to have continued.  The great witch’s sabbats were therefore regarded with terror, and Christian Walpurgisnacht celebrations gave a new meaning to the old vigils.  Thus did two groups celebrating in the same way – dancing and feasting around a fire – ascribe different meanings to the same celebrations descending from the same ancient tradition.

The German idea of May Eve as a sort of second Halloween persisted and entered the literature of terror; though it’s become less common in the past few decades, 19th and early 20th century horror stories often depicted dark doings taking place on April 30th.  In observation of that motif, I’d like to present this list of what I consider the ten scariest short stories in English, arranged in chronological order.  Connoisseurs of horror will note that my preference is toward the more atmospheric and subtle type of tale; indeed, some people of blunted sensibilities don’t even consider the second one horror at all (read it and judge for yourself).  In several of them the horror may take time to build, so that you may not be disturbed upon finishing the last line…only to find yourself thinking about the implications in the quiet dark, and haunted by certain images for a long time thereafter.  Because there are so many fine tales to choose from I limited myself to one per author (which in some cases wasn’t at all easy), and because they’re all short enough to read at one sitting (as horror tales must be for proper appreciation) I will say nothing further about them.

1) “The Fall of the House of Usher” (1839) by Edgar Allen Poe (HM: “The Tell-Tale Heart” and “The Black Cat“)
2) “The Yellow Wallpaper” (1892) by Charlotte Perkins Gilman
3) “The White People” (1899) by Arthur Machen (HM: “The Novel of the White Powder“)
4) “The Willows” (1907) by Algernon Blackwood (HM: “The Wendigo“)
5) “Caterpillars” (1913) by E.F. Benson (HM: “The Face“)
6) “The People of the Pit” (1918) by A. Merritt
7) “The Rats in the Walls” (1924) by H.P. Lovecraft (HM: “The Thing on the Doorstep” and “The Whisperer in Darkness“)
8) “The Small Assassin” (1947) by Ray Bradbury
9) “The Unspeakable Betrothal” (1949) by Robert Bloch
10) “Sticks” (1974) by Karl Edward Wagner

I’ve provided PDFs for the first seven and the honorable mentions.  There was no available PDF for “The Face” and the only one I could find for “The Yellow Wallpaper” was horribly formatted, so I prepared these myself; enjoy them with my compliments and spread them across the internet as you please.  The Lovecraft stories are provided in The Complete Works of H.P. Lovecraft, compiled by Cthulhu Chick; the title is a tad overstated because it only includes the prose fiction published under Lovecraft’s own name and therefore excludes his poetry, letters and revision work.  The last three stories in my list are still under copyright; Wagner and Bloch died in 1994 (oddly, only twenty days apart) and Bradbury is still alive.  To my knowledge, “The Small Assassin” appears only in his first book, the rare Dark Carnival, and its truncated (and far less expensive) reprint, The October Country.  “The Unspeakable Betrothal” is woefully underanthologized; I own it in Mysteries of the Worm and To Sleep, Perchance to Dream…Nightmare.  “Sticks” is highly regarded by fans and is probably not difficult to find; I own it in Great Tales of Horror and the Supernatural and Tales of the Cthulhu Mythos (1990).

So if you aren’t going to a bonfire tonight choose one or more of these stories, print them out, curl up in a comfy chair (preferably in front of a fireplace if you’ve got one and it isn’t too warm where you live), and soak in the fear…but don’t say I didn’t warn you.

One Year Ago Today

In “April Q & A” I answer questions on the “right” way to hire a hooker, my opinion of referral systems and whether I mind editing your comments for you.

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Jules:  Look, foot massages don’t mean shit.
Vincent:  Have you ever given a foot massage?
Jules:  Don’t be tellin’ me about foot massages.  I’m the foot fuckin’ master.
Vincent:  Given a lot of ’em?
Jules:  Shit yeah.  I got my technique down and everything, I don’t be ticklin’ or nothin’.
Vincent:  Would you give a guy a foot massage?
Jules:  Fuck you.
  –  Samuel L. Jackson and John Travolta in Pulp Fiction

When I was a librarian, our director once read a study showing that when fiction is divided into genres, the works of more obscure authors tend to circulate better because readers of that genre can discover them more easily than if all fiction is shelved together.  He decided to try it, and I was given the task of reclassifying every single book into one of six genres, plus a general fiction class.  I soon discovered that, while some authors (Robert Heinlein, Agatha Christie, Barbara Cartland, Stephen King, etc) were easily categorized, others were not…and some books simply defied assignment to any one genre.

People just love to mentally file things in little boxes; it keeps them neat and orderly and, as in the case of our director’s plan, makes a large number of somethings easier to manage by subdividing it.  And there’s nothing wrong with that, as long as one recognizes that the grouping is often an artificial one which exists only in our minds.  Yes, some authors set out to write works in a particular genre, but others just get ideas and write, and any classification is something imposed upon the work afterward.  And if that classification is a poor fit based on superficial criteria, it can actually hamper interpretation of the work by instilling false expectations in the mind of the beholder.  For example, the British TV series Space: 1999 is generally classified as science fiction because it takes place on a moonbase with conventional science fiction trappings such as spaceships and ray guns.  But actually, the series is more horror than science fiction, and once that is understood a number of the most common criticisms of the show evaporate.

In real life, such categorization can be even more problematic because human behavior is far more complex than any fictional story.  And given the voracious desire of modern government to seize control over all aspects of human life, the arbitrary box into which bureaucrats choose to place any given behavior can mean the difference between being allowed to live in peace and being ruthlessly persecuted by uniformed thugs and entitled busybodies.  Worst of all, the rules of classification are often purposefully vague, or else the behavior is one so complex it’s impossible to break it down into a rigid system, and police and prosecutors are thus empowered to classify any given behavior as they please…and it’s nearly always in the box marked “illegal”.

In a free country, sex would be recognized as completely outside of the government’s business; alas, no country is completely free, so every government feels the need to meddle in people’s private sexual affairs to a greater or lesser degree.  For reasons far too complex to discuss here, nearly every human society has decided that a sex act which is compensated by currency is somehow vitally different from one compensated by other means, and so have enacted rules and regulations in a futile attempt to control the uncontrollable.  The existence of such laws creates the necessity of drawing artificial and ephemeral lines between “pay” and “gifts”, “stranger” and “acquaintance”, “discriminate” and “indiscriminate” and (most absurdly of all) “sex” and “not sex”.  Defining sex is like twisting a rope of sand; the more one tries the more it slips away.  In Pulp Fiction Jules is adamant that foot massage is not remotely like oral sex…until Vincent forces him to recognize that there is a definite sexual dimension to it.  How about tying someone up?  Most people would probably consider that nonsexual, but I’m far from the only one who disagrees.  What about holding hands?  We even do that with our children…yet Tennessee legislators recently defined hand-holding as a “gateway sexual activity” and therefore prohibited it from schools.  That’s the hardest part of drawing artificial lines to excuse meddling and criminalization:  draw the lines too tightly, and they’re either too easy to circumvent or (as in the case discussed in my column of one year ago today) almost nobody can qualify as a “victim”; draw them too loosely and the legislators and their goons are revealed as busybody sociopaths.  This is exactly why New Zealand opted for decriminalization; enacting practically any rules about sex opens the door for abuse, so any country that actually cares about justice has to leave the whole subject alone.  Alas, the United States doesn’t care about justice any longer, so we get petty tyranny like this:

…Melissa Borrett, 26, began Fantasy Maid Service of Lubbock [Texas] as a way to make extra money.  She charges customers $100 per hour to clean their homes, and at their request, she can do the dusting in lingerie or in the buff…[she] started the service in February.  Now, just a few months later, she has three other women working for her.  But while business is booming…the “sexually oriented business” doesn’t have a permit to operate, police Sgt. Jonathan Stewart said [and] Borrett could face at a fine of $2,000…”Just the fact employees are topless or semi nude in this case — it’s just not allowed,” Stewart told KCBD.  Company policy prohibits employees and customers from engaging in any physical or sexual contact.  “If a maid accepts tips for physical contact, she will be terminated immediately and the customer will not be able to schedule service with Lubbock Fantasy Maid Service again,”  according to the company’s website.  Additionally, the company will not work topless or nude in the presence of persons under 18.  According to the Associated Press, the permit Borrett needs to obtain costs $650 per year and requires an additional $5,000 surety bond or letter of credit…Borrett has said she will take legal action if the city attempts to shut down the business.

Although it pains me to say so, the police are factually (though obviously not morally) right; of course it’s a sexually oriented business, and those who deny it are being disingenuous.  The reason she can charge low-end escort rates for maid service is because of the sexual component, and for no other reason.

Lawheads cannot be fought on their own terms and in their own territory; attempting to define sexuality (commercial or otherwise) as being in the “permissible” or “legal” category rather than the “unacceptable” or “illegal” one is a tacit acknowledgement that such lines of demarcation are valid and that government has the right to draw them.  That is a losing strategy because even if one wins the battle, the government can simply re-draw the line to include one’s entrenched position.  The only way we as a culture will win the war for liberty is to reject any and all claims by “authority” to power over the private, consensual behavior of individuals, no matter what that behavior is or how far it falls outside of the boxes which define our own personal comfort zones.

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A man is likely to mind his own business when it is worth minding. When it is not, he takes his mind off his own meaningless affairs by minding other people’s business.  –  Eric Hoffer

Eleven updates and two metaupdates.

Election Day (November 2nd, 2010)

The campaign to ban police and prosecutors from using condoms as “evidence of prostitution” is ramping up; last week a group of public health and human rights advocates spoke to the New York legislature, and supporters now have their own website.  Find out what you can do to help end this public health nightmare; success in New York will reinforce efforts in other states.

Maggie in the Media (February 3rd, 2011)

My column on the Secret Service scandal attracted quite a lot of media attention.  Last Friday James Wolcott of Vanity Fair quoted me, writing “Maggie McNeill, whose always provocative and independent-thinking blog The Honest Courtesan provides “a whore’s-eye view on current events,” is unable to stifle a yawn over the unholy fuss being made over the Secret Service  agent and the underpaid escort, which has flowered into a hothouse scandal…”  On that same day I spoke to Abby Ellin of ABC News, whose story appeared on Monday:

“If it had happened here, the woman couldn’t have gone to the police and said, ‘These guys are trying to cheat me out of money.’  Instead, she would have been hurt and cheated, and Mr. Agent Man would have gone home and patted himself on the back for having gotten one over on her,” said Maggie McNeill, a former New Orleans call girl and the founder of The Honest Courtesan.

She also wrote:

But while they acknowledge the potential dangers to national security, sex workers in the United States think the “breach” argument is another form of discrimination against prostitutes.  “If the issue is attracting attention or bragging about being in the security detail, then it would be a problem if they brought in any outsider,” said McNeill.  “If that’s the case, then what difference does it make if she’s a prostitute or an accountant?”

The next day, Newstrack India drew on the ABC story for its own report, which said:  “Maggie McNeill, a former New Orleans call girl and the founder of The Honest Courtesan, and others have said that the policy was ridiculous, and that criminalizing prostitution was not only a human rights violation, but also a safety and labour issue.”  Meanwhile, I was contacted by the producer of The O’Reilly Factor to be on Tuesday’s show, but I didn’t want to show my face on national television and O’Reilly understandably wanted someone he could look in the eye; instead they got Sienna Baskin of the Sex Workers Project, whom I am told held her own very well (probably better than I could’ve, because O’Reilly would almost certainly have flustered me).

Not the Same Tree (February 18th, 2011)

Northern Ireland has railroaded convicted its first “sex trafficker”:

Matyas Pis was…convicted of controlling prostitution…The [two] women said they asked…Pis to book their air tickets, and he provided them with an apartment…Judge Burgess said the women were not being held against their will, but he could not ignore that “human trafficking is a global problem and we should not be blind to the fact that it is happening right now in Northern Ireland…”

So obviously this judge would convict men for having consensual sex on the grounds that he heard somewhere that 1 in 4 women have been raped.

What’s the Legal Definition of Prostitution Again? (April 17th, 2011)

I wasn’t going to say anything about this article  criticizing a new halfway whore site, because it’s sadly typical of Jezebel’s stealth anti-sex work oeuvre.  But then Lolo de Sucre of Tits and Sass published this thoroughly awesome takedown entitled “Jezebel Blogger Saves Unwitting Women from Accidentally Prostituting Themselves ‘in Fucking Thailand or Some Shit’”, which you absolutely must read; her caption for this picture is especially brilliant.

Handy Figures (June 11th, 2011)

Dr. Brooke Magnanti referenced this column and two others in a new article on the methodological deficiencies of prohibitionist “studies”.  Meanwhile, an otherwise-uninteresting news article led me to this equally-uninteresting 2006 item which nonetheless contained one interesting statistic:  49% of Indian men are now willing to admit they’ve paid for sex, which is much closer to the truth than the laughably low figures many American “researchers” produce via poorly-phrased questions.

Sisters in Arms (July 14th, 2011)

Tennessee joins the list of states defining miscarriage as murder; this article quotes and links others from Knox News, RH Reality Check, Think Progress and The Tennessean.  Had enough yet, neofeminists and nanny-staters?  Because the policies you support provide the precedents for these abominations.

Schadenfreude (November 28th, 2011)

Great news about Kristof’s “hero”, fanatical anti-whore activist Somaly Mam:

[At a UN panel] Somaly Mam…[falsely claimed] that when police raided her Afesip centre in Phnom Penh in 2004, eight of the girls were…murdered…83 women…[were taken to the] centre…after a raid…on the Chai Hour 11 Hotel, where it was alleged that underage girls were providing sexual services…However, the following day, the centre itself was raided by government officials and members of the detained women’s families, and the women released…Somaly Mam [claimed] these officials colluded with the owners of the hotel, but a number of the women released [insisted] to reporters that they…resented being “rescued”.  It was also disputed that any of the women were underage…No reports…suggested any of the women…were missing…[and] the UN High Commissioner on Human Rights [expressed] surprise at Mam’s…claim…[Pierre Legros, Mam’s ex-husband and] Afesip’s international director at the time of the raids, also denied that any…girls were murdered…he said that previous claims by his ex that their daughter had…been kidnapped and gang-raped in revenge for her mother’s activism were also untrue…[the] daughter had simply run off with her boyfriend…the lack of evidence of Mam’s claims…seriously [undermines] her credibility.  Observers had for some time felt that Mam had become preoccupied with her identity as an international celebrity…

Presents, Presents, Presents! (December 29th, 2011)

On Tuesday I received a DVD of The Thing from Lord Oberon, then yesterday the UPS man brought me John Stossel’s new book No, They Can’t from Elisabeth Whispers.  Thank you both so much for thinking about me!

An Example to the West (April 3rd, 2012)

The Association for Women’s Rights in Development (AWID) held its conference in Istanbul last week, and unlike similar events in the United States, sex worker rights groups were welcomed there as important participants.  Dr. Laura Agustín wrote about the proceedings:

…I was at this event most of last week, part of a group promoting a vision of sex work, migration and feminism that emphasizes agency, the state of being in action, taking power, making decisions even when presented with few options. We overtly challenged the reductionist, infantilising ideology that has come to dominate mainstream policy and faux journalism  (like The New York Times’s) by attending many sessions and commenting…

TrustLaw reported on the conference as well, highlighting Agustín’s contribution and also quoting the EMPOWER Foundation:

“We are forced to live with the modern lie that border controls and anti-trafficking policies are for our protection…We have been spied on, arrested, cut off from our families, had our savings confiscated, interrogated, imprisoned and placed into the hands of the men with guns…all in the name of ‘protection against trafficking’”…one woman [said]:  “At a restaurant you get a menu and you look at all the options before you pick out your selection …Some restaurants have a huge menu and some only have a few dishes – either way the process is the same.  Vegetarians may not understand when you choose a steak, and others may not understand when we choose to do sex work.”

Much Ado About Nothing (April 14th, 2012)

Since the public stubbornly refuses to get worked up over the “news” that G-men hire whores, the news media is casting its net more widely:…anonymous sources [said] that Secret Service employees received sexual favors from strippers at a club in San Salvador and took prostitutes to their hotel rooms…in March 2011.”  Stop the Presses!  Men buying sex while travelling on business!  Why, that’s never happened before in the history of the world!  Contrast that non-story with this, which SHOULD have caused a scandal last December but was instead ignored by the American media:

A former Brazilian prostitute plans to sue the United States embassy and five of its personnel for injuries sustained outside a strip club [on December 29th]…Romilda Aparecida Ferreira…[is suing] for injuries, medical expenses, lost income, and psychological trauma after an embassy van ran over her and left her stranded in the club parking lot with a broken collarbone, punctured lung and other injuries…A civil suit would compound a case in which Brazilian prosecutors have already said they are considering criminal charges…Little noticed at the time, the incident in Brasília…gained traction this week…

It was “little noticed” because the American media didn’t give a damn about several apes in uniform mutilating a hooker (NHI and all that).  But now that it can be tangentially hooked to a “prostitution scandal” it’s suddenly news.

Ad Scortum (April 16th, 2012)

In order to combat prohibitionist claims that satisfied, well-adjusted sex workers are “not representative”, Greta Christina has invited us to tell our stories in a thread from which prohibitionists and other non-sex workers are specifically excluded.  If you’re a present or past sex worker of any kind (it’s not limited to whores) please contribute; the thread is already over 100 responses long!


Coming and Going in That Was the Week That Was (#12) (March 24th, 2012)

In yet another sign that the anti-whore tide may be receding, The New York Daily News published this article strongly criticizing Anna Gristina’s treatment:

…in Florida, a judge granted $150,000 bail for George Zimmerman, who is charged with the murder of Trayvon Martin.  Last week, a career criminal named Ivan Ramos was arrested after allegedly raping, sodomizing and robbing a young woman…Facing 15 years, an obvious flight risk and a clear threat to the community, Ramos was given $300,000 bail.  Meanwhile, Anna Gristina…has been held on $2 million bond since Feb. 22 on a nonviolent charge of promoting prostitution…[which usually results in] probation and carries a maximum sentence of two to seven years…two weeks ago five male hotel clerks were charged…with the same exact crime [and] released on their own recognizance, without posting a dime in bail…What’s more obscene?  A woman charged with promoting the world’s oldest profession that attracts governors, U.S. senators, congressmen and Secret Servicemen?  Or this flagrant abuse of judicial power that’s turned the Blind Lady of Justice into a streetwalker?

The Camel’s Nose in That Was the Week That Was (#16) (April 21st, 2012)

American readers, have you called your congressman about CISPA yet?  If not, you’d better hurry:

Up until [Thursday] afternoon, the final vote on CISPA was supposed to be [Friday].  Then, abruptly, it was moved up…and the House voted in favor of its passage…248-168…[after] an  absolutely terrible change (…amendment #6)…[in] what the government can do with shared information…Astonishingly, it was described as limiting the government’s power…though it in fact expands it…Previously, CISPA allowed the government to use information for “cybersecurity” or “national security” purposes.  Those purposes have not been limited or removed.  Instead, three more…have been added:  investigation and prosecution of cybersecurity crime, protection of individuals, and protection of children…Basically it says the 4th Amendment does not apply online, at all…[and] the government could do whatever it wants with the data…CISPA is now a completely unsupportable bill that…eliminates …all privacy laws for any situation that involves a computer…

The government’s doubletalk was so masterful it even succeeded in convincing some CISPA opponents that the changes limited its power, but as Leigh Beadon explains in this follow-up to her article above, that’s totally false.

One Year Ago Today

The Coffee Klatsch” provides samples of the blogs of three other hookers with whom I’m friendly.

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No entertainment is so cheap as reading, nor any pleasure so lasting.  She will not want new fashions nor regret the loss of expensive diversions or variety of company if she can be amused with an author in her closet.  –  Lady Mary Montagu

Yesterday I told you about my favorite books, and today I’d like to tell you about my favorite authors.  There’s less overlap than you might think; of these ten authors, only half have a book among my favorites (which also means eight of my favorites were written by people who aren’t on my top authors list).  The reason for this is that five of the writers below have a consistently high average quality in my opinion, but just didn’t produce any one book I can truly claim as a favorite; conversely, eight of the favorite books were produced by writers whose other output doesn’t interest me remotely as much (you’ll see a similar dichotomy of artists and albums in “My Favorite Things (Part Two)”).  After the top ten, I’m also going to share a “second string” whose work I enjoy very much but just don’t quite make it all the way up for one reason or another.  Each list is arranged alphabetically.

1)   Isaac Asimov (1920-1992)

If you think I’m a prolific writer for having typed out almost 700 essays for this blog, consider that Asimov wrote over 500 full-length books and tens of thousands of letters.  Though many of those were science fiction and a few fantasy, mystery and humor, a large fraction of his oeuvre was nonfiction; he wrote books on nearly every branch of science and even some on literature, mythology, art and other subjects, and on top of it all edited collections of others’ work…and most of it was pretty damned good.

2)   Ray Bradbury (born 1920)

Bradbury’s earliest work was a unique blend of fantasy, science fiction and horror, and though over time the horror elements began to fade his style retained the uniquely poetic, lyrical quality that brands it as his.  I love his earliest work best, but there’s very little he wrote before 1980 that I don’t like.  His second book, The Illustrated Man, is one of my 13 favorites; “The Small Assassin” from his first book (Dark Carnival) is on my list of the ten scariest short stories (see this coming Monday’s column), and my own story “Penelope” is a tribute to The Martian Chronicles.

3)   Edgar Rice Burroughs (1875-1950)

Burroughs wrote over 70 books between 1912 and his death, and I’ve read every one (except for a recent collection of previously-unpublished short tales I haven’t bought yet).  Most of his work is adventure fantasy, often taking place on other worlds or exotic parts of our own; though his plots vary very little, one reads him for the descriptions of strange places, stranger creatures and the triumph of good over evil.  In Burroughs, it has been said, all good men are strong and brave and all good women beautiful and wise, and though that’s a slight exaggeration it isn’t far off the mark.  His Martian tales (taken together) appear on yesterday’s list of favorite books, my essay “The Girls from Tarzana” is about prostitutes in his works, and his ideas subtly suffuse my own conceptions of what a fantasy setting should be like.

4)   Lewis Carroll (1832-1898)

The pen name of Charles Dodgson, who in ordinary life was a mathematician; his boundless imagination and passion for nonsense combined with his skill at logic and mathematics to produce what many including myself consider to be the finest literature of the absurd ever written.  I’ve loved the Alice books since I was seven; as I said yesterday, taken together they constitute my favorite book of all time, and I’m also fond of most of his other work such as “The Hunting of the Snark”.

5)   Robert A. Heinlein (1907-1988)

Along with Asimov and Arthur C. Clarke, Heinlein is considered one of the founders of the science fiction genre as we know it.  Jeff introduced me to his juvenile novels when I was about 9 or 10, and they’re still my favorites of all his works except for The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, which may be the greatest political novel of all time.  Once he was established he dared to embed libertarian philosophy, free love, discussions of humanist ethics and other such material in his work, and though some feminists have moronically insisted that he is a “sexist” for denying “social construction of gender”, he in fact repeatedly stated throughout his body of work that women were superior to men in nearly every important way.  The same critics often call his female characters “unrealistic”, which I find hilarious because I’ve been compared to them on many occasions.

6)   H.P. Lovecraft (1890-1937)

In his life he was largely unknown outside of the readership of what in those days was called “weird fiction”, but he influenced so many horror writers who became famous in their own right (including Robert Bloch, Ramsey Campbell, Brian Lumley and Stephen King) that his fame began to grow in the late ‘60s and he’s now practically a household word.  Lovecraft was the first important writer to use science fictional motifs rather than fantasy ones (i.e. his horrors are aliens rather than demons or spirits), which makes him the founder of practically the entire modern horror genre (including, by descent, vampire stories in which the condition is biological rather than the result of a curse).  I’ve read his entire body of published work, which I can only say of two other writers on this list.

7)   Arthur Machen (1863-1947)

Because he was one of Lovecraft’s influences, many people come to Machen via Lovecraft, but for me the two were unrelated discoveries:  I read “The Novel of the White Powder” in a horror collection when I was about 11, and was hooked.  If you are one of those people who need everything explained and tied up neatly in a horror story, do not read Machen because he is the absolute master of things left unsaid; he realized (as so few do nowadays) that the terrors a reader’s mind can conjure up with expert prodding are far worse than anything he could put on the page.

8)   Larry Niven (born 1938)

Niven is a science fiction writer who slowly grew on me; like Heinlein and Burroughs he’s usually considered a “man’s author” and since Jeff never “assigned” me any of his books to read I discovered him via short stories in collections, then picked up Ringworld and The Mote in God’s Eye during that awful year of 1995 when I was trying to fill every waking moment with something other than my troubles.  There’s still a lot of his work I haven’t read, but his name on a story is a sure sign I’ll enjoy it.

9)   Edgar Allen Poe (1809-1849) 

I can’t tell you how old I was when I first read Poe, nor which was the first story I read, except to say that by the time I memorized “Eldorado” in second grade I already knew his name.  All through the ‘70s I read every story of his I could find, and encountered adaptations of others on film, in horror comics and even read aloud on record albums.  The only two “complete works” on yesterday’s favorite books list are his and Lovecraft’s, and he bears the distinction of being the only author in today’s column whose work (“The Fall of the House of Usher”) I actually taught in a class.

10)  J.R.R. Tolkien (1892-1973) 

Tolkien is one of the rare authors whose works do not daunt me with their length; the poetry of his language sucks me right back in as soon as I pick up the book again.  I was introduced to him when I was 12, and like Burroughs he shaped my own concepts of fantasy forever after.  The Silmarillion  is the only one of his posthumous publications I’ve read, but his place on this list is secure even without it.

Honorable Mentions

1)   Ambrose Bierce (1942-1913?)  While not generally known as a horror writer, Bierce penned a number of very fine examples of the genre, often laced with sardonic humor.

2)   Fredric Brown (1906-1972)  Absolute master of the short-short story, a form which includes most of my own work.  Here’s his shortest one:  “The last man on Earth sat alone in a room. There was a knock on the door…

3)   Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (1859-1930)  Though I don’t care for the historical novels which he considered his more important work, I absolutely love Sherlock Holmes and am fond of the first two Professor Challenger novels.

4)   Gardner Fox (1911-1986)  One of the most prolific, inventive and imaginative comic-book writers of all time, especially in the superhero and sci-fi genres.  Here’s a lovely example of his work, “Earth Victory – By a Hair!” from the January 1961 issue of Strange Adventures.

5)   Nathaniel Hawthorne (1804-1864)  Though best known for his historical novels of New England, he also wrote many dark fantasies such as “Rappaccini’s Daughter”.

6)   Tanith Lee (born 1947)  She has written fantasy, horror and science fiction, much of it highly erotic, poetic, unconventional and dark.  The first of her work I read was “The Secret Books of Paradys”, and they’re still my favorites.

7)   Richard Matheson (born 1926)  Though he’s written many novels and short stories I love Matheson best for his movie scripts and teleplays, including many of the best Twilight Zone episodes and a number of Roger Corman’s “Poe” movies starring Vincent Price.

8)   A.A. Milne (1882-1956)  I do love the Pooh books, but it’s really his poetry I like best; I know a number of them (including “Disobedience”, “Buckingham Palace” and “The King’s Breakfast”) by heart.

9)   Carl Sagan (1934-1996)  My favorite science writer of all time; I’m especially fond of Cosmos (both the book and the TV series), but find all his articles and books both informative and entertaining to a degree unmatched by anyone other than Asimov.

10)  H.G. Wells (1866-1946)  Though as you might expect I prefer his short stories to his novels, the sheer brilliance of longer works like The Time Machine and The War of the Worlds earn him a place on this list.

One Year Ago Today

…And Don’t Forget To Wash Behind Your Ears” is a discussion of one of the most egregious examples of nanny-state overreach imaginable:  government-issued dating advice.

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A room without books is like a body without a soul.  –  Marcus Tullius Cicero

Back in December I published “My Favorite Things”; Part One listed my favorite movies, and Part Two my favorite albums and musicians.  In the comment thread for the first part, regular reader N/A requested a sequel listing my favorite books; I promised to provide one, but told him it would require a lot more thought.  Well, here it is at last!  As I think I’ve mentioned before, I have a lifelong preference for short fiction; as a lass I often read short novels (especially in the summer), but I tended to eschew longer ones unless they came highly recommended or I was already fond of the author from reading shorter selections.  This is because for me, a large part of the pleasure of a book is the mood it sets, and if that mood is disturbed I can’t enjoy it nearly as much.  Short stories are quickly consumed, and even novellas or short novels can be read in one extended sitting.  But with the exception of episodic novels (which are almost like series of connected stories), I have always tended to avoid very long books except at those junctures in my life when I knew I would be uninterrupted for long enough to finish them, even if it took a couple of days.  When I started whoring the long-established preference for short fiction grew even stronger, because I knew that at any moment I might be interrupted by a phone call from a client and have to run off.

The main reason it took me so long to get around to doing this list is that I had to define the word “book”.  For example, the volume in which I first read H.G. Wells was named Seven Science Fiction Novels; however, in 1967 there was a boxed paperback set of the same seven novels with the same group title.  Is that one book or seven?  Finally I decided that if I liked many or most of the books in a series, I would list them as one book even if I had never in fact seen such an omnibus edition; that broke my mental logjam and the rest was easy.  I simply listed all the books I’ve read more than twice and would read again if I had the time, with a couple of exceptions I’ll explain.  I excluded nonfiction because to me it would be comparing apples and oranges.  The books are listed alphabetically by author; I have provided PDF copies of #1, 6, 8, 11, 12 and 13, but the others are not yet in the public domain (see notes on #6 and 9).

1)  Flatland by Edwin A. Abbott

Though this slim little book is indeed a fiction, it was written to explain the 4th dimension (not time, but rather the 4th physical dimension), and it does so brilliantly and entertainingly in only 54 pages.  If you are interested in science fiction, physics or math to the slightest degree you owe it to yourself to read this book, which has the distinction of being the single title I have given as a small gift most often.

2)  The Illustrated Man by Ray Bradbury

Bradbury is among my favorite authors and this my favorite of his titles, just edging out Something Wicked This Way Comes and Dark CarnivalThe Illustrated Man is a collection of 18 short stories of dark fantasy, horror and science fiction woven together by a frame story in which the narrator meets a tattooed stranger and discovers to his shock and fascination that during the night the “skin illustrations” move and tell the stories that comprise the collection.  It’s been in print continuously since 1951, so you won’t have any problem finding a copy in any bookstore.

3)  The Complete Mars Series of Edgar Rice Burroughs

I’ve written before of my love for Burroughs’ work, and the Mars series is my favorite.  None of these novels is very long by modern standards; the first three, telling one story, would certainly appear as a single volume if first published today.  And though those first three are the best of the series, the fifth, seventh and eight approach them in quality and sheer reading pleasure.  They were among the first books I purchased with my own money, despite having read them before, and I’ve read the entire series at least three times since that purchase.  They were my husband’s first introduction to Burroughs as well (I loaned him my set while we were dating), and well-known writers including Ray Bradbury, Robert Heinlein and Carl Sagan have praised them as inspirational.  Don’t bother with the failed blockbuster which distorts the story nearly into unrecognizability; just read the books.  I wish this omnibus edition really existed, but I’m afraid the best you can do is a boxed set of all 11 or the 4-volume omnibus set I’ve linked here.

4)  One Thousand and One Arabian Nights translated by Sir Richard Burton

I’m sure everyone knows at least a few of these tales, and most of you have read some retellings; that was certainly my only experience with them until the day early in 1997 when I discovered that the Jefferson Parish Library owned the entire Burton translation…all 16 volumes.  I’ve only read the entire thing through once, but my husband bought me the Forgotten Books edition for Christmas of 2010 so I plan to read it again before too much longer.  It’s an amazing work, full of magic, spectacle and wonder, and though the famous ones like Sinbad and Ali Baba are all there, there are many other adventures, fables, comedies, philosophical discourses, romance and even smut, and Burton translated every word plainly and literally, caring not if he offended the English sensibilities of his time.

5)  Magic in the Alley by Mary Calhoun

I discovered this enchanting  book, in which a young girl discovers a box full of magic that leads her and her best friend into a strange adventure every time they enter a new alley, when I was about 9; I remembered it so fondly that years later I borrowed it again as an adult librarian, then a few years ago bought a copy for myself.  I cannot explain why I love it so, except perhaps that it reminds me of a time when summers were for exploring and I could still believe in magic if I tried hard enough.

6)  The Annotated Alice by Lewis Carroll

This is a combined edition of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass, with annotations by Martin Gardner.  Observant readers knew the Alice books would be on this list; I have used more quotes, pictures and references from them than from any other source except the Bible and the Complete Works of Shakespeare.  I first read Wonderland in second grade and Looking-Glass about two years later; if I had to pick a number one favorite on this list, this would be it.  I’ve included PDFs of the original books, without the annotations which are still under copyright.

7)  The Decline and Fall of Practically Everybody
by Will Cuppy

Probably the funniest thing I have ever read; it’s a series of comedic takes on historical figures from ancient Egypt to the 18th century.  I keep it right next to 1066 and All That, another hilarious take on history.

8)  The Complete Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

This is another book observant readers knew would be here; I have loved the tales of the great detective since discovering an illustrated edition of all the short stories when I was 17.  If you only know of Holmes from movies and television shows, you don’t know him at all; brew yourself a pot of tea, find a comfortable seat and dive into this collection of his adventures, as inimitably chronicled by his friend Dr. Watson.  The game is afoot!

9)  Just So Stories by Rudyard Kipling

Another book I discovered in fourth grade, the year I began exploring libraries on my own.  I’m supplying an online copy rather than a PDF because I could not find one which included the illustrations, and as Alice asked, “what is the use of a book without pictures?” – especially when those pictures, drawn by Kipling himself, are almost half the story.  If you buy this one, mind you get an older (pre-1960s) edition; modern editions shamefully bowdlerize a few politically-incorrect words without any notification.

10)  Conjure Wife by Fritz Leiber

I discovered this book by accident because the edition in which I first read it was published during the ’60s gothic romance craze, and the cover made it look like one, thus attracting my attention when I was on my own gothic kick a decade later.  To fully appreciate it you must remember it was written for a male audience in 1943, a time when women’s lives were largely a mystery to men:  Leiber expertly builds on the paranoid premise that all women use witchcraft, but hide it from men.  And here he thought he was writing fiction…

11)  Complete Fiction of H.P. Lovecraft

The grand master of cosmic horror was known to a very limited audience in his lifetime, but most modern writers of true horror list him as an inspiration.  Some modern readers find his complex sentences and baroque adjectives off-putting, but there is no other writer who can evoke the terror of cyclopean vistas of space and strange aeons of time haunted by alien gods of unspeakable loathsomeness as the Old Gentleman from Providence could.

12)  The Complete Tales and Poems of Edgar Allen Poe

Before Lovecraft there was of course Poe, the creator of the horror genre as we know it.  I honestly don’t feel I need to say much about him, as I can’t imagine anyone who grew up in any Western country not having read him.  But if you are from a land in which he isn’t known as well, or just missed out on him due to the unforgiveable negligence of teachers who should be walled up in a dank cellar for the omission, open up this PDF and start with “The Fall of the House of Usher” or “The Black Cat”.

13)  The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery

This book was given to me by a nun when I was twelve; it’s a sort of fairy tale that can be read by children but is really for adults, and concerns a little boy who lives alone on an asteroid and sets out on a quest to discover the meaning of the strange feelings inspired in him by the arrival of a rose.  You can read a religious or spiritual meaning into it if you like, or just take it as a parable of where we place and misplace our priorities, but if you’re unwilling to accept for the sake of a story that birds can migrate through space, it isn’t for you.

Tomorrow:  My favorite authors.

One Year Ago Today

Dr. Schrödinger and his Amazing Pussycat” will either be the strangest column of mine you’ve ever read, or it won’t.  Or both simultaneously.

Some content on this page was disabled on April 19, 2017 as a result of a DMCA takedown notice from Penguin UK. You can learn more about the DMCA here:


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Government is not reason.  Government is not eloquence.  It is force.  And, like fire, it is a dangerous servant and a fearful master. – George Washington

If I told you that an evil action became less evil with increasing numbers of participants, you would think me either mad or morally retarded; after all, we tend to view the actions of criminal gangs with, if anything, even more horror than the crimes of individuals.  But the truth is that most people subscribe to a repugnant form of moral relativism in which evil actions, no matter how reprehensible, magically become “good” once those actions are agreed upon by “authorities” and sanctified by some ceremony involving sacred rituals, holy words, blessed costumes and (most importantly) baptism under euphemisms that cloak their true character.

Nearly everyone who isn’t a sociopath would agree that an individual who harms another commits a wrong; most of us also accept the existence of certain mitigating circumstances which might excuse such a wrongful action, such as killing in self-defense.  And most of us would probably also agree that the violence was still regrettable, and therefore a thing to be avoided without serious provocation; the wrongful action never becomes actually good, but it can become a defensible, acceptable or even necessary evil.  In any case, the factor which moderates the act is the motive, not the number of people who commit it:  a crime committed by two people, ten people, forty thousand people or three hundred million people is still a crime, even if a majority of them agree to commit it; only a vital need can ameliorate the evil.  No motive, however pure, and no consensus, however large, can fully transform an evil act into a good one; the best we can hope for is that nobody involved could see a better alternative at the time.

Some people wish to deny that this is so; they claim that if a majority of the inhabitants of a place agree that an evil action isn’t evil, then it isn’t.  The trouble with this argument is that those who make it never really believe it.  They won’t declare that slavery was right and good through most of human history, or that it’s moral to slaughter those who won’t agree to follow a conqueror’s religion, or that heretics  and homosexuals should be burned at the stake and deformed babies set out to die…even though all of those ideas (and many others equally abominable) were accepted by majorities, often overwhelming majorities, in the cultures which practiced them.  If you’re going to argue that confiscation of the property of unpopular citizens, or the abduction and enslavement of others, or the abrogation of some people’s rights, or the overruling of some people’s choices, are OK for the “greater good”, you had better also be prepared to sign off on enslavement, torture, purges, lynchings, pogroms and genocide, all of which were sanitized by the same monstrous excuse in many times and places over the past 12 millennia.

It’s fascinating in a train-wreck sort of way to watch the spastic mental dance people perform in order to get around this grim equation; they declare that “democracy” excuses collectively-committed crimes (except of course for those committed by other people’s “democracies”), ignoring the fact that our ancestors assigned the same divine right to their kings that moderns assign to the majority.  Or they make childish pronouncements about “The Law”, as though it had been handed down by an omniscient sky-deity on stone tablets in full view of assembled Humanity and was renewed unchanged and inviolate in every generation since we climbed down from the trees.  Some of them will even enthusiastically condemn any and every social grouping –  families, gangs, fraternities, corporations, religions, political parties and even local governments – for their sins and abuses, yet declare their national government (or, even more bizarrely, the United Nations) a positive good.

A government is just a group of people, selected by some arbitrary means according to some arbitrary rules agreed upon by some group powerful enough to impose its own views on the rest of the population without instantly triggering revolution.  That’s all it is, and it doesn’t have any special Divine Right to make decisions for everybody else.  As Washington pointed out, a government has no power to enforce its decrees except via threat of violence, and that automatically makes it an evil no matter what the motivations of those who control it.  This does not mean Mankind can do wholly without government at this stage in our evolution; far from it.  One would have to be a naive fool to believe that a completely anarchistic society could long survive without degenerating into chaos; however, it would be equally foolish to declare that dressing thugs in interesting costumes and giving them fancy titles makes them anything but thugs, and that calling “might makes right” by euphemisms such as “law enforcement” and “the justice system” somehow makes it moral.

My point is not that we should abolish government entirely; it is that our love affair with it, and our passive acceptance of the lie that it is good and holy, endanger every living thing on Earth and imperil the continued survival of Western culture.  Oncologists and cancer patients are under no illusion about the destructiveness of chemotherapy; they recognize it as a poisonous, dangerous procedure only slightly better than the illness it treats.  I daresay nearly everyone would be happy to abandon it as an obsolete barbarity were there a better and less destructive therapy available, and I cannot imagine any sane physician’s enthusiastically supporting the use of it for other diseases, especially not non-terminal ones.  But with government it’s the exact opposite; many people seem to consider it the solution for every problem, and deny its danger despite ample evidence to the contrary.  We would rightfully distrust a physician who lied about the danger of chemotherapy, who insisted on giving the patient as many sessions as possible whether necessary or not, and who prescribed it for every ailment from bullet wounds to insomnia; yet, we accept the word of career politicians who make the same sort of claims about government.  Right now, government is the most widely-accepted way to secure individual rights and prevent oppression of the weak by the strong, just as chemotherapy is the most widely-accepted means of combating cancer.  But neither of them is a good solution, and until we can find something better both must be used as warily and sparingly as possible lest they inflict more harm than the ailments they were intended to remedy.

One Year Ago Today

Their Lips are Moving” presents examples of the lies police tell against whores and clients, including a short-lived attempt to blame the Long Island killings on the members of an escort review board.

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But most from the hatefulness of man
Who spares not to end what he began,
Whose acts are ill and his speech ill,
Who, having used you at his will,
Thrusts you aside, as when I dine
I serve the dishes and the wine.
  –  Dante Gabriel Rossetti, “Jenny”

Just as songs about prostitutes reflect the attitudes of the songwriters, so it is with poetry on the subject.  The topic was especially popular in the Victorian Era, so it should come as no surprise that all but one of the poets featured in today’s column lived some part of their lives in that period.  We’ll start with what is probably the best-known verse on the subject:

To a Common Prostitute by Walt Whitman (1819-1892)

Be composed–be at ease with me–I am Walt Whitman, liberal and lusty as Nature,
Not till the sun excludes you do I exclude you,
Not till the waters refuse to glisten for you and the leaves to rustle for you, do my words refuse to glisten and rustle for you.

My girl I appoint with you an appointment, and I charge you that you make preparation to be worthy to meet me,
And I charge you that you be patient and perfect till I come.

Till then I salute you with a significant look that you do not forget me.

Though Whitman’s message here – “whores are people like anybody else” – is remarkable for the 1850s, I must admit that I inwardly giggle at his earnestness.  I can just picture the girl staring back at him, certain that he was quite mad.  Of course, it’s unlikely Whitman ever hired a hooker (not a female one, anyway), but if he did I’m sure his attitude was just as he depicts it in the poem.  The next poem, written by another homosexual man born a generation later on the other side of the pond, couldn’t be more opposite:

The Harlot’s House by Oscar Wilde (1854-1900)

We caught the tread of dancing feet,
We loitered down the moonlit street,
And stopped beneath the harlot’s house.

Inside, above the din and fray,
We heard the loud musicians play
The “Treues Liebes Herz” of Strauss.

Like strange mechanical grotesques,
Making fantastic arabesques,
The shadows raced across the blind.

We watched the ghostly dancers spin
To sound of horn and violin,
Like black leaves wheeling in the wind.

Like wire-pulled automatons,
Slim silhouetted skeletons
Went sidling through the slow quadrille.

They took each other by the hand,
And danced a stately saraband;
Their laughter echoed thin and shrill.

Sometimes a clockwork puppet pressed
A phantom lover to her breast,
Sometimes they seemed to try to sing.

Sometimes a horrible marionette
Came out, and smoked its cigarette
Upon the steps like a live thing.

Then, turning to my love, I said,
“The dead are dancing with the dead,
The dust is whirling with the dust.”

But she–she heard the violin,
And left my side, and entered in:
Love passed into the house of lust.

Then suddenly the tune went false,
The dancers wearied of the waltz,
The shadows ceased to wheel and whirl.

And down the long and silent street,
The dawn, with silver-sandalled feet,
Crept like a frightened girl.

Wilde considered beauty to be the highest morality; his real issue isn’t lust replacing love as he presents it, but that naked heterosexual desire offended his sensibilities.  He depicts clients and whores alike as puppets to lust, proving that like most Victorian men he understood neither prostitution nor anything else about women.  The next poet is far more realistic:

Ironic Poem About Prostitution by George Orwell (1903-1950)

When I was young and had no sense
In far-off Mandalay
I lost my heart to a Burmese girl
As lovely as the day.

Her skin was gold, her hair was jet,
Her teeth were ivory;
I said, “for twenty silver pieces,
Maiden, sleep with me”.

She looked at me, so pure, so sad,
The loveliest thing alive,
And in her lisping, virgin voice,
Stood out for twenty-five.

The same subject, the harlot’s immunity to male professions of “love”, is handled a little differently by a Frenchman:

To Dahlia by Paul Verlaine (1844-1896) (translated by Walter Wykes)

Lovely whore
With your hard black eyes
And your soft budding breasts

Shameless flower of the damned
Your aroma overwhelms my senses

I am driven to possess you
But you scarcely feel my flesh
I make no impression

Bland on your bewitching tongue, I have no taste

You exhale my desire like smoke
Incense sacrificed to your unyielding beauty

In general, the French poet romanticizes the whore far less than the English does; even while extolling the virtues of a particular fille de joie who has enchanted him, or of demimondaines in general, there is generally a recognition of the pragmatic realities of harlotry:

Courtesans by Fernand Gregh (1873-1960) (translated by Jethro Bithell)

O Courtesans, Love’s witching, wild priestesses,
You charm the universe from end to end!
Heroes are always fettered by your tresses,
Kings for their pleasure on your bed depend.

Your pose is graceful, and your nostril quivers,
Your feet go dancing, and your deep eyes burn,
Your supple bodies bend like reeds of rivers,
Your robes like incense round about you turn.

Poor men are full of anger when they see you
Come from your segregation of disgrace,
Matrons cast envious eyes at you and flee you,
And the wise, scolding, turn away their face.

But still the sighs of boys with passion paling
Soar up to you in sultry evenings when
You pass, the dreams of lonely artists trailing,
And gray regrets of amorous old men;

And long, strong sighs of young men sick and ailing,
Whose blood chafes at the scent the summer floats,
Longing to take your breasts like fruits, inhaling
Love in the odour of your petticoats.

Of course, there are exceptions to every rule; the next poet shows himself as moralistic and judgmental as any Englishman of his time:

The Gate of the Courtesans by  Henri de Régnier (1864-1936) (translated by Jethro Bithell)

If to the town thou come some morning, to
Join the sweet, frivolous, futile sisters who
Bestow their love and sell their beauty, wait
Before thou enter my returnless gate,
Whose folding-doors are mirrors; there descry
Thy coming self, thou who art tempted by
The gold, it may be, and the banquet’s hum,
Thou from a vast and distant country come,
Thou who still pure, and innocently bare,
Smilest, with autumn’s russet in thy hair,
And summer’s fruits upon thy breast embossed,
And thy soft skin like fabled sea-caves mossed,
And in thy warmest flesh’s secret fold
The form of rosy shells the seas have rolled,
And beauty of dawn and shadow, and the scent
Of flowers and gardens, woods and sea-weed blent!
Tarry, ere the ineffable alms thou bring
Of being both the autumn and the spring
To those who far from dawn and harvests live.
Listen, thou mayest yet return, but if
Thou must, I open, glad to see thee pass,
Laughing and double past my double glass.

The poem depicts a beautiful woman’s decision to “waste” her beauty and sex appeal making a living on her own terms as passage through a mirrored gate through which it is impossible to return.  Once a woman chose the path of whoredom she was “ruined”, unable to return to the “purity” she left behind.  But our last poet dared to denounce that view as pure poppycock in my absolute favorite of all hooker poems:

The Ruined Maid by Thomas Hardy (1840-1928)

“O ‘Melia, my dear, this does everything crown!
Who could have supposed I should meet you in Town?
And whence such fair garments, such prosperi-ty?”–
“O didn’t you know I’d been ruined?” said she.

–“You left us in tatters, without shoes or socks,
Tired of digging potatoes, and spudding up docks;
And now you’ve gay bracelets and bright feathers three!”–
“Yes: that’s how we dress when we’re ruined,” said she.

–“At home in the barton you said ‘thee’ and ‘thou,’
And ‘thik oon’ and ‘theäs oon’ and ‘t’other’; but now
Your talking quite fits ‘ee for high compan-ny!”–
“Some polish is gained with one’s ruin,” said she.

–“Your hands were like paws then, your face blue and bleak
But now I’m bewitched by your delicate cheek,
And your little gloves fit as on any la-dy!”–
“We never do work when we’re ruined,” said she.

–“You used to call home-life a hag-ridden dream,
And you’d sigh, and you’d sock; but at present you seem
To know not of megrims or melancho-ly!”–
“True. One’s pretty lively when ruined,” said she.

–“I wish I had feathers, a fine sweeping gown,
And a delicate face, and could strut about Town.”–
“My dear – a raw country girl, such as you be,
Cannot quite expect that. You ain’t ruined,” said she.

One Year Ago Today

Easter” fell quite a bit later last year than this.

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