Saturday, January 05, 2008

Index Librorum Prohibitorum

No only am I damned by my taste for offensive music, I now stand doubly condemned by my book shelves. Specifically,by the complete Flashman. To understand just how terrible this is, please imagine that you are a young lady who has been enticed back to my premises (doubtless by the use of alcohol, shameless flattery, insincere promises and the judicious use of a cravat).

Helen Rumbelow, writing in the Times, warns "there is one type of book so alarming that if you spot it you should gather your coat, write a note saying 'it’s been special' and leave immediately. That is, of course, any book from the Flashman series." As she explains this could betray – depending on context – "nostalgia for a prewar Britain where the rigid caste system was playfully reenacted by boarding-school boys smacking their juniors’ bottoms"; "male chauvinism"; or "raving, possibly violent," misogyny (defended by a cowardly shield of irony).

You might think that this article has just been written to a commission solely to provoke a response (one gathers that the Times has done this before). Unfortunately, Rumbelow is entirely correct, although she has only scratched the surface. A further glance at my shelves would provide evidence of an interest in such a range of crimes, vices and offensive things as to prove conclusively that I should be shunned by all right-thinking people, even Murdoch hirelings. I imagine it's the same for most Flashman readers.

Imagining you are still the trembling young ingenue who has been lured into my villainous lair (you are still reading this in character, aren't you?) browsing the shelves as I pour the Madeira (thank God you're not looking through the DVD collection); you might find other shameful relicts of Empire and masculine adventure such as Sherlock Holmes, John Buchan and Patrick O'Brian – the last a rather "gay" choice, I've been told. But subsequent discoveries could bring another flush of shock to your maiden cheek, followed by a thrill of fear and maybe even a half-suppressed frisson of excitement.

1. Works from and about ancient Greece. Anyone interested in this sort of thing is either the sort of man who has an unhealthy fascination with "Grecian" practices such as grappling with other muscle-bound, naked men or buggering young boys (why there are even poems celebrating that sort of thing). Alternatively, he is interested in philosophy, in which case you should certainly run for it. In any case, this interest in an era in which women were firmly kept in their place should raise suspicions.

2. "Satanic verses". Not Rushdie, but Milton's Paradise Lost. This has certain uncanny parallels with Flashman, in that both are dominated by a charismatic, compelling and utterly irredeemable hero who overshadows the more virtuous characters. To fall for the allure of reigning in Hell is almost as bad as being nostalgic for the days of empire. To compound the situation, you might also find Liber Legis and other "spiritual" works by the likes of Aleister Crowley. Crowley might have been a total charlatan, drug fiend and deviant who wrote a half-baked work mixing Nietzsche and Satanism, but, well, by now you know how bad it is to be entertained by villainy.

3. The Koran. Continuing the spiritual theme, but what a minefield this is if you want to judge someone's motives by the books they read. So many possible interpretations and one mis-step could lead to that worst of all crimes – causing offence. Still, since you're here, fancy a temporary marriage?

4. French literature. Possibly the worst of all. As Rumbelow says: "If you need permission to enjoy a sexist, racist world, don’t use irony – visit France." From modern times there is Michel Houllebecq accused of, amongst other things, obscenity, misogyny, Stalinism, Islamophobia, poor taste and, perhaps most damningly, retreating into science fiction. Passing back through the likes of ideologically iffy writers like Sartre and Céline, we reach the apex of literary crime: 19th century Paris. The languid decadence contained between the pages of Mallarmé and De Gautier might seem harmless enough, if a bit effete, but placed alongside Huysmans and such works as À Rebours and Là Bas, it starts to look ominous.

And there, inevitably, to confirm your worst fears is a copy of Les Fleurs du Mal, that exploration of every form of vice and thought crime known to personkind. Apart from the fascination with prostitution, lesbiansim, sickness, death, diabolism, revolt, Bauderlaire's masterwork also betrays an unhealthy fascination with crimes which are positively Flashman-esque in their scope. These lines (inc translation) might explain why:

Si le viol, le poison, le poignard, l'incendie,
N'ont pas encor brodé de leurs plaisants dessins
Le canevas banal de nos piteux destins,
C'est que notre âme, hélas! n'est pas assez hardie.

It's fair warning: to expose yourself to a man who likes Baudelaire is to risk becoming entangled in all manner of unhealthy desires and exotic vices. Run for it, ladies, lest you too start to understand this fascination.

Top hat flicked upwards to Quink to picking out the piece in the comments to the previous Flashman post.

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7 Comments:

Blogger Glamourpuss said...

There is an answer to all this of course; rather than prey on idiotic fillies, engage with a woman of sense and sensuality. We do exist, although most men find us terrifying.

Puss
(Nothing like a bit of sexual sterotyping to get the week off to a good start.)

2:14 pm  
Blogger dominic said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

8:04 pm  
Blogger bill said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

8:52 pm  
Blogger Quink said...

Did I miss something good?

10:08 pm  
Blogger bill said...

Quink, not really. So I've deleted my reply which is now irrelevant. I've reposted the remainder in this.

Puss, Sense and Sensuality would be an excellent title for a 21st century novel in which Jane Austen meets Anais Nin.

Which could then receive a timely sales boost by getting some tawdry hack to write a piece about how women who like it are all beyond the pale.

10:20 pm  
Blogger Glamourpuss said...

I like the idea of being beyond the pale - as long as that doesn't mean being fake-tan tangerine.

Puss

9:45 pm  
Blogger bill said...

That's possibly more apt than you realise, Puss. In towns beyond the pale of Ireland, fake tan – in a shade of orange which would not out of place in Portadown on the 12th – seems pretty much obligatory for women who wish to keep up with the latest fashion. Have a night out in Cork, and you'll see what I mean.

10:27 pm  

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