It may well be that this series of twelve watercolours is actually by Anon, but they have been attributed to Schem by a couple of experts in the field of erotic illustration, so maybe they are and maybe they’re not. Whichever is the case, this is as good a place as any to introduce one of the enormously-productive and endlessly-provocative Pierre Louÿs’ most extreme transgressive texts – Manuel de civilité pour les petites filles or Young Girl’s Handbook of Good Manners.
Before you read on, please be aware that the Handbook and these illustrations are extremely provocative, extremely risqué, extremely courageous and extremely funny. If you find any of these accolades too much for your sensibilities, stop reading now and press the back button.
A word about Pierre Louÿs’ Manuel, which was only published in 1927, ten years after it was written and after its author’s death. As Geoffrey Longnecker explains in the introduction to his excellent English translation, published by Wakefield Press in 2010, ‘The practice and theory of civility that is parodied here has its humanistic roots in Erasmus, who proposed teaching manners and etiquette to boys to help them attain and maintain a noble character. By the end of the nineteenth century, though, such handbooks and educational manuals had become primarily intended for girls, and were little more than a despotic means of regulating sexuality and gender. In his version of the Manuel Louÿs adopted a format that at the time was worthy of satire. With its lessons in hypocrisy and admonishments so outrageous they come off more as devious suggestions, his Handbook of Good Manners distinguishes itself as one of the few undisputed erotic classics in which (intentional) humour takes precedence over arousal.’
The whole of Geoffrey Longnecker’s introduction is reproduced below, together with the first few pages of the translated text; if you want the rest, go and buy the book!
A few years before winning his early fame, Pierre Louÿs wrote a letter to his brother in which he expressed what had not been an uncommon desire among the Symbolist poets of his generation: ‘to burn everything before dying, with the satisfaction of knowing that the work will remain virgin, that one will have been the only one to know it as well as create it ... that it will not have been prostituted.’
It is ironic that the body of work that came closest to realizing this ideal for Louÿs, the secret writings he would be best remembered for a century later, would be his sizable production of pornography – etymologically, pornographos: the writing of and about prostitutes. After his death, some four hundred kilos of erotic manuscripts were found in his home. If publishing had seemed to him a form of prostitution, his views on prostitution itself had obviously been quite another matter. As his biographer Jean-Paul Goujon puts it, Louÿs in his lifetime had managed to create something of a ‘Human Comedy of sex’. André Pierre de Mandiargues described him as having been ‘one of the great and glorious erotomaniacs of the end of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth’, but even that assessment falls a bit short. Given that all of his unpublished manuscripts were sold at auctions and scattered among collectors after his death, and that a great number of them to this day remain not only unpublished but even unknown, any assessment of Louÿs’ erotic work must remain incomplete. One must nevertheless agree with Goujon that Louÿs was, in sheer output if nothing else, ‘probably the greatest French writer of erotica’ there ever was; ‘only the Venetian Giorgio Baffo could be compared to Louÿs’. Louÿs entered eroticism,’ Goujon states elsewhere, ‘the way others enter politics or religion’.
Louÿs claimed three vices in his youth: white paper, old books, and dark-haired women. Although he maintained these vices to the end, he engaged in three different vices when deflowering his white paper in his erotic endeavours: young girls, lesbianism, and scatology. It is the first of these three that is most obviously prominent in the present work, the first of his erotic manuscripts that saw publication after his death.
But a more striking theme in much of his erotica (and perhaps nowhere more successfully so than in the present volume) is its prevalent clement of parody. If Susan Sontag was correct in claiming that ‘pornography isn’t a form that can parody itself’, Louÿs offered the possibility of its being the ideal genre for parodying everything else – pornography may indeed be the parodic format par excellence. But what is notable about Louÿs’ erotic parodies is that his main targets were often his own works: he wrote erotic versions of varying lengths of all his published books, from Aphrodite and The Songs of Bilitis to The Adventures of King Pausole (it would seem that of his main works only The Woman and the Puppet escaped having a pornographic double). In this respect, Louÿs’ erotica functions as a supplementary universe to his oeuvre on more than one level.
This was not the case with his Handbook, however, although its model is obvious enough: late nineteenth-century manners are here turned on their head, with ass prominently skyward. The practice and theory of civility that is parodied here has its humanistic roots in Erasmus, who proposed teaching manners and etiquette to boys to help them attain and maintain a noble character. By the end of the nineteenth century, though, such handbooks and educational manuals had become primarily intended for girls, and were little more than a despotic means of regulating sexuality and gender. This is not to say that Louis makes for a champion of feminism, or that this handbook (which was not intended for public consumption) was meant as a critique. It is to say, though, that Louis adopted a format that at the time was worthy of satire. With its lessons in hypocrisy and admonishments so outrageous they come off more as devious suggestions, his Handbook of Good Manners distinguishes itself as one of the few undisputed erotic classics in which (intentional) humour takes precedence over arousal. Although briefly available in a different translation in the early 1970s (as a mass market paperback in Grove Press’s Zebra series), it has been widely unavailable in English until now.
Needless to say, this handbook is not recommended for use in educational establishments.
We have deemed it unnecessary to explain the words cunt, slit, pussy, snatch, prick, cock, dick, ball, cum (verb), cum (noun), hard-on, jerk oft suck of, lick, blow, fuck, screw, lay, frig, bugger, ejaculate, dildo, lez, dyke, sixty-nine, going down, quim, slut, whorehouse. Every little girl is familiar with these words.
IN THE BEDROOM
If you are caught stark naked, put one hand discreetly over your face and the other over your cunt; do not, however, then go on to thumb your nose with the first and jerk off with the second.
Do not pee into the radiator; use the toilet.
Do not hang your dildo at the foot of your bed. Such instruments go under the bolster.
Do not spit on passersby from the balcony – especially if you have cum in your mouth.
Do not pee from the top of the staircase to make a waterfall.
Do not stick a dildo into a little baby’s mouth so that it can suck at the milk remaining in the rubber balls, unless you are quite sure that your lez doesn’t have syph.
IN THE PANTRY
When using a banana, be it for your own amusement or to make the chambermaid cum, do not put said banana back into the fruit bowl without first carefully drying it off.
Do not jerk all your boyfriends off into a pitcher of lemonade, even if you happen to prefer this drink with fresh cum in it. Your dear father’s guests might not share your tastes.
If you surreptitiously empty half a bottle of champagne, do not then use it as a pisspot to cover your ass.
Do not suggest that the server should screw a cooked fatted chicken up the ass, without having personally assured that said waiter has no venereal diseases.
Do not do a number two into the chocolate pudding, even if you have lost your dessert privileges and are sure that you won’t be eating any of it.