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Pulling the leg

John Tranter reviews

«The Horn Book: Studies in Erotic Folklore and Bibliography» by G. Legman

Provenance: this review first appeared in The Union Recorder: The weekly newspaper of the University of Sydney Men’s Union: 2 November 1970. Transcribed by Corner Cottage Enterprises 2009, edited by John Tranter 2009.

G. Legman: photo from The Union Recorder, 1970

G. Legman
photo from The Union Recorder, 1970

Paragraph 1

The Sunday Times described Legman’s last book, Rationale of the Dirty Joke, an analysis of sexual humour, as “prodigiously erudite”. Much the same can be said of his most recent work, The Horn Book. It contains a long and interesting section on the “rediscovery” of Burn’s erotic classic “The Merry Muses of Caledonia” as well as some fascinating historical material on the publishing of erotica. The angle is mainly bibliographic, with a curious moral tone which occasionally verges on the hysterical. He has some nasty and disparaging things to say about Kinsey, gleaned from the author’s experience as official bibliographer for the Kinsey Institute, and makes several attacks on the type of person who collects sadistic pornographic literature. Dirty sex is okay, as long as it’s not cruel. He lays his philosophy on the line in Chapter 3:

2

Erotic literature exists because it serves an important need. This need is twofold: the education of the inexperienced young, and the excitation of the impotent or old. Few collectors of erotica exist between these limits, though those who do exist there, as will be seen, are generally the most successful. Nevertheless, these two main groups, of the inexperienced young at one end, and the old and impotent at the other, are the principal searchers after and the main buyers of erotic literature, however much anyone may deplore this fact, particularly as to the young. But in a deeper sense – and it’s time to try to dig deeply – the idea of deploring the sexual education of the young, by whatever real or merely literary methods the young may attempt to get it, is itself simply a curious and temporary perversion of western civilization, a civilization covered with similar perversions, most of them rising from this one. More intelligent civilizations in the past, and doubtless in the future, and even a number of current or now-dying civilized groups in the western Pacific, might consider and do consider that the sexual training of the young is too important a matter to leave to the chance divulgations of equally ignorant playmates, or the tardy and embarrassed efforts of shame-faced elders; and certainly not to the fetishistic aberrations and sadistic contaminations of the kind of people who generally write erotic books, at least in English and German.

3

Such civilizations would and do proceed in a very direct and sensible fashion to show the young of both sexes, by the visible example of their elders, and by their own encouraged experiments with each other – just as children are now taught ballroom dancing, hoola-hooping and the twist – how to engage pleasurably and correctly in what is called “the” sexual act, and in all the charming preludes and byways of this act, which, like many another main dish, is sometimes not really as good as the appetizer.

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