The Sex Life of the Nineteenth Century.

John Emerson is, of course, a frequent LH commenter; he also walks the hard path of the independent scholar, hacking his way through untraveled wildernesses of culture and history, asking questions none have asked before him, like “Could Friedrich Nietzsche have married Jane Austen?” Back in 2007 I wrote enthusiastically about his book Substantific Marrow; now he’s come out with a new one, The Sex Life of the Nineteenth Century: An Autobiographical Approach to the History of Western Civilization (you can see its handsome cover, badly photographed by me, at its LibraryThing page). Like its precursor, it has what John calls “interesting scraps of citations”; here are two from pp. 50-51:

“In spite of all this, my father sent me to school when I was ten. “Why”, I would say to myself, “learn Greek and Latin? I don’t know! There’s no need of it, anyway! What does it matter to me if I pass my exams? What’s the use of passing one’s exams? It is of no use at all, is it? Yes it is, though: they say there is no employment without a pass….Then take history: learning the lives of Chinaldon, and Nabopolassar, of Darius, of Cyrus, and of Alexander, and of their cronies, outstanding for their diabolical names (remarquables par leurs noms diaboliques) is a torture. What does it matter to me that Alexander was famous? What does it matter?…..How does anyone know that the Latins ever existed? Perhaps their Latin is some counterfeit language….What evil have I done that they should put me to the torture?”

“Le soleil etait encore chaude….”, Collected Poems, tr. Bernard, written in 1864 when Rimbaud was ten years old.

Sometimes [Rimbaud’s mother] would send them to bed supperless because they had been unable to recite, without a slip, the hundreds of Latin verses she had set them to learn from memory.

Bernard, “Introduction”, p. xxix

There are discussions of everything from Tocqueville to the Swedish Rosicrucians, from krakens and basilisks to oafs and wimps, from “Erik Satie and the sewing machine” to “the czarist regime in two anecdotes.” It’s available here; I urge you to check it out, and I hope he will eventually publish his long-promised book on Inner Eurasian history.


  1. Jeffry House says

    The book looks great! But I was a little spooked by this:

    “John Emerson” is composed of at least 3 distinct authors, divided by their works. You can edit the division.”

  2. He is a man of parts.

  3. pertaining to pp. 102-103:

    he might not be related to Winnaretta Singer but there are similarities all the same

  4. “John Emerson” is composed of at least 3 distinct authors, divided by their works.

    “…These are their stories.”

  5. ‘ Nothing happens in “The Dead”, except that the husband unexpectedly finds out that his wife of many years had never really loved him. ‘

    Bloody hell, I hope he’s not as reductive when it comes to Central Asia!

  6. John Emerson says

    Thanks, Hat!

    The “The Whole Town’s Taling” John Emerson is the husband of “Gentleman Prefer Blondes” Anita Loos, who co-authored the play with him. He also did film. “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” was probably the main 20s flapper novel, about fun-living high-living girls of easy morals. I should have put it into “The Sex Life of the Nineteenth Century”.

    The sermons are by a generic New England John Emerson preacher. Cheap and plentiful, I imagine.

    The Australian…. probably the descendant of a convict John Emerson, what do I know?

    Probably the most famous John Emerson was Dred Scott’s owner, alas.

    Whatever kin relationships there are are on the order of fifth cousin three times removed on up.

  7. John Emerson says

    In this book I am reductive about *everything*. Central Asia, no.

    I might add that “The Sex Life of the Nineteenth Century” includes the best third of “Substantific Marrow”, which was basically a flop.

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