Hello Scandalites! It’s back to school time, and in honor of all the wee baby scandal-lovers that are headed, freshfaced, off to another year of
equality-promoting peace-mongering liberal bullshit indoctrination higher education, For Shame! brings you a theme week close to our collective hearts: Siblings Week.
LH and MR are not the only historically minded gossip hounds in the respective B and G families, no, no! We’ve got raunchy tales of debauchery, told in the blog’s trademark (charmingly) foul tongue, and served hot and salacious by the native brilliance of REB and AMG. Their posts won’t necessarily be about scandalous bloodlines, but trust us when we say that the our fascination with ye-olde p-in-v is clearly genetic.
Unfortunately, KAB’s siblings are, in her words, “lame,” and will not be participating unless there’s some kind of 11th hour sports movie miracle. But, we love her anyway, so we’re not too put out. And I, JAF, have been tasked to introduce this exciting new foray into having other people write posts for us, because sadly I was destined to tread the paths of this earth in fraternal exile, carrying on the legacy of the great House of F solely upon mine well-developed shoulders. Either that, or I resorbed all my potential siblings in the womb, we may never know.
So, as a bit of an appeteaser for the week (and, in vain personal honor of my recently completed master’s dissertation on “The Medieval Ages”), I’ve got a mini post about the all kinds of fucked that Charlemagne’s 18 kids were.
Now, Charlemagne himself was a pretty scandalicious slab of man meat. He was shredded like lettuce, over six feet tall, with soul-piercing blue eyes, and a luscious ginger mane and a magical mustache that just begged to give rides. He was generous with his cashmoney, his kingdom essentially created the French and German empires, his patronage of the arts created a cultural renaissance, and he loved to partay, but disliked drunkenness (because he had class, bitchez). He had four and a half wives (one was annulled, but whatever, they totally boned), five known concubines, and probably like a bazillion other pieces on the side, because, come on, he’s the most powerful man in Christendom and he looks like a Ken doll. What wench in her right girlbrains isn’t gonna try and get into those hose, amirite?
Via these prime lays, Charlie, in his seventy odd years in this mortal coil, sired a slew of progeny: 11 ladybabies, and 7 normies (boys). He was exceedingly devoted to all of his children, legitimate and otherwise. They willingly traveled with him nearly everywhere he went, including military campaigns, and were uniformly highly educated in The Seven Liberal Arts. These, thankfully, have evolved from the totes blahh originals of “Grammar, Rhetoric, Dialectic, Arithmetic, Geometry, Astronomy, and Music,” to “BuzzFeed, Facebook, YouTube, Tumblr, Twitter, Wikipedia, and Intro Psych.”
His sons populated the governmental and clerical hierarchy of early medieval Europe (proving the old maxim that kids are “cheaper by the dozen and a half when made for dynastic purposes”), but his daughters were essentially left to their own devices….which was fucking.
There was a reason ol’ Charles was in charge, and he foresaw that if his daughters legally attached their ladybits to corresponding men, he’d have more sons-in-law than you could shake a crosier at, grabbing for a piece of his Holy Roman EmPIEre (DOYOUSEEWHATIDIDTHERE????). So, they were allowed to carry on as many relationships as they wanted, but they could never marry. No forced marriages, no political arrangements were ever made. His daughters’ common-law husbands were even rewarded with places in court (one was actually canonized), and Charles reportedly “loved the shit out of” the buttloads of illegitimate grandchildren which were produced, BECAUSE MAYBE HE TOTALLY WANTED HIS DAUGHTERS TO BE HAPPY LIKE MAYBE JUST A LITTLE I DON’T KNOW EMOTIONS AND STUFF.
Anyway, this fairy tale called eighth-century France ends when Charlemagne dies in 814 and his son, Louis the
Wetblanket Pious, takes over and locks up his sisters who haven’t entered the monastic life for being slorebags.
So that’s my fast n’ nasty introduction to Sibling Week—stay tuned for more scandal de la familia!*
Happy Birthday America! I know we haven’t graced the pages of the interwebs for quite some time, but it’s because we’ve been waving flags, camping out and having picnics, and celebrating various reasons to be proud of our country (well, except that last one, but you know what I’m getting at).
So on this, the fourth day of the month of July, we’re taking the opportunity to bring you not the scandal of a founding father or an illustrious politician, but rather the epitome of the actual idols in America: a celebrity athlete.
BUT WAIT, I know you’re thinking there’s a disconnect between the social progress made by our nation in the past week, and the inexplicable hero-worship of someone who tosses balls for a living. WELL HOLD ON PATRIOTS, CAUSE IT’S ABOUT TO GET SCANDALOUSLY PROGRESSIVE UP IN HURR. And regular scandalous too, don’t worry.
For you see, on this day in 1910, Jack Johnson, an African American heavy-weight boxer, knocked out his white rival, Jim Jeffries, sparking race riots across America.
The bout was deemed the “Fight of the Century,” in which formerly undefeated Jeffries came out of a six-year retirement to fight Johnson, the current heavy-weight champion. The total winnings (split 75/25) were equivalent to over two million dollars in today’s spacebucks, and tickets to the 20,000 seat sold-out spectacle were being scalped for almost triple their original price. President Taft and Arthur Conan Doyle had been approached to guest-referee. The match was held in Reno in 110 degree heat, and scheduled for three 45-minute rounds. Jeffries had very little interest being the representation of the white race in taking down this troubling black upstart, and originally refused the fight multiple times, but was eventually persuaded (I’m assuming by that two million dollars, but, hey, I could be wrong). All in all, it was a B-fucking-D.
Racial tensions were running high, and no alcohol (normal) or guns (psst, lame) were allowed within the arena. By the fourth round, it was clear that the older Jeffries was going to lose, but the blood sport continued for another eleven rounds, with Jeffries being knocked down twice, and nearly KO’d. However, the NYTimes remarked at the time that never had a fight been so one-sides, but that Johnson had fought fairly throughout.
Here would be a nice moment to pause and give a bit of background on Jack Johnson. The son of former slaves from Galveston Texas, he could read and write, which was plenty scandalous for the time. Well, that, and HE LOVED DATING WHITE LADIES. AND PROSTITUTES. OPENLY.
He reportedly had so many biddies on rotation in and out of his hotel room, that a keen-eyed reporter once asked him how he did it, to which Johnson replied “eat jellied eels and think distant thoughts.” And I mean, come on, are we gonna blame them? The man was beautiful.
According to Johnson, though no record survives, he first married another African America woman named Mary Austin, back in Texas in 1898, though it appears they separated by 1902. He then took up with a black prostitute from Philly named Clara Kerr, who lived with him in California until she ran off with his friend, taking most of his clothes and jewelry. He tracked them down in Tuscon and had Clara arrested for burglary, but apparently they reconciled and started living together. This lasted until he couldn’t find any money-making fights, and she up and R.U.N.N.O.F.T.
During a fight tour of Australia, he had a fling with white Alma “Lola” Toy, which scandalized the Sydney press. From this point on, while he did not exclusively see white women, he said publically said he would never marry another woman of color because of the heartaches he had suffered with Mary and Clara. I mean, that’s kind of like saying you’ll only eat apples because you ate two rotten oranges… Whatever dude, just pick some better fruit next time.
When he returned to America in 1907 he took up with Hattie McClay, a white prostitute from Manhattan. Their relationship was plagued by societal outrage–hotels refused to admit them, and several matches and even a parade were cancelled because Jack was travelling with a white woman who he referred to as “Mrs. Jack Johnson” (though they were never legally married). By 1909 they were separated, but continued to bang on the sly until 1911, when Jack paid Hattie $500 for the return of all their steamyass correspondence. A tale as old as time, true as it can be, barely even friends, because one is a prostitute, not-so-unexpectedly.
He next started seeing Belle Schreiber, another woman of easy virtue at an exclusive, all-white brothel in Chicago. At least five women were fired by the madams there for sleeping with Johnson, but Belle hung on and became Jack’s new main lay. Even during his first legal marriage, Johnson and Belle continued to play bang-around-the-rosie, ’cause, you know, why not? Now Belle was a tenacious little miss thang, and much like a bad penny (though come on, she’s at least a six or seven), just kept comin’ back. More on that later.
Ahem, so, after that lengthy bonerlude, back to boxing.
For years, Johnson predominantly fought other black boxers, eventually becoming the World Colored Heavyweight Champion, and gaining the nickname, “The Galveston Giant.” While whites would fight black boxers, the World Heavyweight Championship was reserved for whites only. In 1902, Joe Gans became the first African American World Lightweight Champion, and finally in 1908, Johnson was able to fight against the white Tommy Burns, beating him with a knockout after fourteen rounds. So there’s just a lot of “issues” going on around here.
Johnson was troublingly vocal and proud of his physical prowess, and I would go so far as to maybe even call him a bit of a, howyousay, “dick.” But then again, if you’d grown up in a society where you’d been constantly made to feel worthless because of the color of your skin and not the content of your character, you’d probably be a bit of a dick as well. For one thing, he was open about his penchant for not just white laydays, but laydays in general. He verbally taunted his opponents of all races, in an out of the ring. He loved cigars and fur coats and opera and fast cars and tailored suits, and really just all the finer things. He was once pulled over for a speeding ticket for $50, gave the officer a $100 bill and told him to keep the change because he (Johnson) would be returning at that speed.
Straight up, Jack, straight up.
Thus, racial tensions are running high on that July 4th in Reno, with people calling for a “Great White Hope” to knock Johnson out. The 1910 match with Jeffries was supposed to be Johnson’s great takedown, and instead, we’ve got a black boxer who refuses to be defeated, is flamboyantly proud, hyper-masculine, dates white ladies, and has just knocked out the former reigning world champion. HnnnnnnnnnnnghI’msouncomfortablewiththissituation.
The fight triggered huge riots that night in more than 25 states, with whites taking to the streets in protest just as African Americans were heading out to celebrate. Eight blacks and five whites were killed, and hundreds were injured across the country.
U.S.A.! U.S.A.! U.! S.! A.!
Johnson became even more famous, and continued his wildass partying and pastyladyboning. In 1909, he’d met a white, wealthy, socialite divorcée named Etta Terry Duryea. They married in 1911, but the union was not a happy one to say the least (cf the “dick” moniker). Johnson regularly physically abused Duryea, who suffered severe depression and took her own life in 1912. *teethsuck* THEN, less than three months later, Jack married Lucille Cameron, who was, yes, you guessed it, also of the Caucasian persuasion. Heyyyyyy.
This marriage was deemed to be in violation of the Mann Act, which said you couldn’t transport a woman across state lines for immoral purposes. Supposedly Lucille was a “prostitute,” and apparently Johnson was “black,” but you know, we may never really know the details. Either way, Lucille refused to press charges and the case was dismissed. Though about a month later, Jack was charged for the same thing with, waitforit, BELLE SCHREIBER!!!1! Boom, full circle.
He was sentenced to a year and a day in prison, but, like many good Americans, skipped over to France when shit got a little too real stateside. He and Lucille lived in Europe, South America, and Mexico until 1920, when he surrendered to federal agents and in fact ended up only serving 355 days out of his 366 day sentence. Hey, look at that leniency!
Sidenote: Around about this time, Johnson opened a swank night club in Harlem, which he sold in 1923 and which would then become the famous Cotton Club.
Jack kept up his philanderin’ ways, and Lucille eventually divorced him in 1924. The next year, he married Irene Pineau, who stuck with him till he died in 1946, and who, as far as Wikipedia tells me, was not a call-girl.
So there you have it! Jack Johnson: ladylover, barrierbuster, kindofadick, American.
Also, a special thanks to my friend, DCH, whose blog History’s Hotties, was a big inspiration for MRG, LHB, and myself to have our own blogbaby (blayby). She first wrote about Jack Johnson before it was cool. You can read her post here.
Happy Memorial Day, scandal lovers! I hope you’re getting yourself prepped for what appears to be (at least on the eastern seaboard) an historically chilly final weekend in May, because, you know, spring, whatever. Light that grill, thaw those processed meat products, and head on down to your closest Norman Rockwell reallifepaintingtownplace and remember to forget that today is about veterans.
Ok, woah, #sorry, pause, no, I’m not making a blanket statement (though we here at for shame! love blanket statements) about how maybe kinda sorta the last Monday in May has become more of a balls-to-the-wall celebration of all things America, rather than a relatively somber occasion to honor those who died serving in our armed forces, despite numerous flag ceremonies, public addresses, and various local military parades and demonstrations. But let’s be real, when it’s nice outside, anything goes so long as it’s garbed in the red, white and blue. And while no parade is a true parade without the participation of the Ancient Arabic Order of the Nobles of the Mystic Shrine, this blog at least deals in “history” of “things,” such as the true meaning of Christmas Memorial Day. And we talk also about sex scandals. And this post elegantly combines both!!
So in honor of both the armed services of the United States of America, and our blog mantra (blantra)— re: the loving recitation of history, warts and all—I bring you a double-header of historical military sexploits.
*Also, disclaimer, I apologize that this post in particular is riddled with Arrested Development (Easter) eggs. I’m just so excited to look at fourth season, Michael.
TOM DOOLEY (I) PUTS THE SYPH IN SYPH-IL WAR (not our best, but it’s a holiday after all)
So first on the docket is a FUN FACT: Memorial Day was originally conceived in remembrance of the sacrifice of soldiers in the Civil War, with my very own alma mater spearheading the movement in the immediate aftermath of the war. Thus, truly, madly, topically, we come to our first Tom of the day (and I don’t know about the rest of you, but he sure ain’t gonna be the last ifyouknowwhatImsayinIthinkyoudouptopfordrunkbonfiresyesssssanyway).
Thomas C. Dula (pronounced “Dooley” in the local twang) was an impoverished Confederate solider from North Carolina with an early taste for tail—aided, I can only imagine, by his brand loyalty to Dapper Dan pomade. Though his age at the time is unknown, he was apparently nailing the literal girl-next-door, Ann Foster, when she was 14. He failed to put a ring on it, and Ann married a man named James Melton in 1859. Tom and James both fought in the war, and were both taken prisoner, both survived and probably got some sweet scars and sweeter prison tats, you know how it goes.
But as soon as Tom, dat rascal, got back home, he got right back to riding that
But, as Tom knew, one is never enough, so why not keep your dick in the family? Pretty soon he hopped on one Laura Foster’s poontrain, Ann’s cousin.
Laura started to grow some bellyfruit, which was probably Tom’s, and he promised to marry her. So she set off one morning in 1866, apparently to rendezvous for their elopement, but was never seen again. WoooOOOOoooOOOOO!!!! *flashlight waving*
While there are multiple folkloric suppositions as to who did what why, the simple fact remained that Laura was dead, her body dumped somewhere, and Tom probably did it because he had commitment issues, or Ann did it because she was jeal. It was as Ann as the nose on plain’s face.
See, Tom thought Laura had given him the syph while they were riding the bonercoaster, and that was just plain rude. He actually in fact may have caught it from ANOTHER Foster, Pauline, who was treated by the same doctor that testified both Tom and Ann had it, then passed it to Laura. But either way, Tom passed it on to Ann, then she to James, and this is how you get those terrifying charts they have in Health Centers were you just want some goddamn aspirin rather than a sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach that sure as shit isn’t your hangover. Jesus, kids these days.
Anywho, the novelty of a murder in a relatively small community, combined with all the Sex and the Appalachian Trail stuff going on, made the case supah famous. Tom fled to Tennessee, but was brought back for trial (represented by Zebulon Vance, who is the absolute tits, as far as living Faulkner characters go). Tom testified that Ann had nothing to do with it all (cause that’s love, guys), and though he maintained his innocence throughout, he was executed by the state after two years of imprisonment, in 1868.
Subsequently, a romanticized mythos grew up around the story, with poems and ballads composed even to this day. Because what’s more romantic than boning half the chicks in town, then killing the one you knocked up. America, amirite?
TOM DOOLEY (II) PUTS THE GAY IN MILITARY RE-GAY-LIA (again, cf ‘holiday.’ )
And on a brief, slightly more reverent note, our second Mr. Thomas Dooley was a humanitarian and author, and openly homosexual Navy physician.
According to those close to him, while his sexuality was never discussed, Dooley made little or no effort to conceal it, and openly carried on relationships with other men from adolescence onward, even exploiting his appeal to other gay officers in order to receive choice assignments after joining the Navy in 1944.
After med school, Dooley worked in refugee camps in Vietnam, and became a symbol of Asian-American cooperation and humanitarianism, despite having also been a CIA informant. In 1956 he wrote a book about his experiences in Laos in the 1950s, and while on press tour, he was investigated for homosexual activities and forced to resign from the military. He returned to Asia independently, then was forced back to the US by malignant melanoma, dying in 1961.
Openly flamboyant, and also openly and devoutly religious, he was even considered for canonization, received a posthumous Congressional Gold Medal, and JFK cited Dooley’s example when he launched the Peace Corps. I mean, there’s no two ways about it—you’re a good man, Tom Dooley.
So yes, we joke a lot, but this piece is dedicated with genuine honor and deepest gratitude to those who gave their lives so that I could live in country where I am both allowed the education which introduced me to history and humor, as well as the freedom to express my opinion without fear. I can never truly thank you.
I know what you’re thinking. ”You only picked this Marbles lady because you knew you could word play the shit out of that obvious (and hilarious) surname.” You’re not not right. But I’m also attempting to diversify our artisitic-politico-literary tendencies with a madame who knew how to play “sports.” So, a lady named Marble who knew how to hit a Ball: a perfect for shame! subject. You’re welcome.
Marble moved to San Francisco when she was five, in 1918. She was really good at “athletic” things like softball, and she wasn’t even a lesbian. Her brother thought she should play a more lady like sport, like tennis. And now I’m thinking of McEnroe dressed like a Victorian lady and playing tennis. Once you get that picture in and out of your head and manage to stop giggling, join me in the next paragraph.
Alice picked up a racquet, and then like a couple months later she was one of the best tennis players in the world. Her training was complicated by the fact that when she was 15, she was raped while walking home from practice. To add to an already traumatic adolescence, she also managed to witness her BFF getting run over by a San Francisco street car. Ouch. She overcame that nightmare of a childhood to become one of the top lady tennis players in all of “sports” history.
In her career, she won 18 Grand Slam championships –
(I know you’re confused right now because you’re all “Grand Slam? I thought that was what happens in the game with the stick and the ball that Madonna played in that one movie.” I get it, shhh, allow me to explain: Grand Slam also refers to the top tennis tournaments that happen every year all over the world. They are: the Australian, French, and US Opens, and Wimbledon. They are also sometimes called “the Majors” — which is also reminiscent of America’s greatest sport, but whatever, we’re talking about that
feminine European sport now.)
But let’s talk about how Alice Marble handled balls OFF the court, shall we?
After a stellar amateur career — which in those days involved a lot champagne drinking with movie stars on boats, with, like, cravats and shit — she turned pro. Turning pro meant that you got paid a fudge-ton of cash to go play in “exhibition” tournaments all over the world. (Which I believe also involved a lot of making out with girls in front of Clarke Gable at parties with champagne fountains.) She settled down and married Joe Crowley in 1942. He shipped out to fight in the European Theater shortly after their marriage. But they had managed to do some baby-making and by 1944, she was avec fille, as they say.
Then, a series of unfortunate (and, sure, kind of scandalous) events began to unfold. First, Marble was in a car accident and had a miscarriage. THEN, a little bit later, found out that her husband’s plane had been shot down over Germany and he’d be killed in action.
This was a little much for Alice, and really, who can blame her? She attempted suicide by overdosing on sleeping pills, but her old tennis coach Eleanor “Teach” Tennant found her and took her to the hospital. She survived, overcame her depression, and went on to, GET THIS:
That’s right. In 1945, the Allies were all, “Come be a spy for us, sexy tennis star.” And she was all, “Those Nazi bastards killed my husband, you bet your balls I’ll spy for you!” She actually said that she felt like she “had nothing left to lose but my life, and at the time I didn’t care about living.” Which, jeez, ok, a little heavy for this blog. Moving on.
The mission: Seduce a former lover, a Swiss Banker suspected of providing services (of the financial, not the sexual, variety) to high-ranking Nazi Officials, get him in the boudoir and get the deets on his elicit behavior.
Mission accomplished. Especially the boudoir part. She showcased her
boobies talents by playing in high-profile tennis tournaments in Europe, and the Banker sought her out in order to entangle her romantically. This was, of course, exactly what she wanted. She got all sorts of intel on him that she was able to report back to the CIA before the Nazis found out and she got — GET THIS — shot in the back! Like, with a bullet!
Miraculously, she survived and then led a pretty normal life after that. She retired to Palm Springs and probably, like, watched Wheel of Fortune and stuff.
I should also add that during her retirement, she worked for DC comics and, according to Wiki, is credited as an associated editor on Wonder Woman, because she wrote the comic’s feature section called “Wonder Women of History” where she told stories of history’s most wonderful women. I really like the idea of Susan B. Anthony drawn as a super hero and I like to think something like that made it into an issue.
And as if fighting Nazis wasn’t enough, she also decided to take on the whole problem of racial segregation in 1950 (she was kind of ahead of her time, even for a white lady) when her African-American colleague Althea Gibson was banned from playing in the US Championship. Marble wrote an open letter published in World Tennis Magazine (not sure what its readership was, so, you know, take this however you want) saying,
If tennis is a game for ladies and gentlemen, it’s also time we acted a little more like gentlepeople and less like sanctimonious hypocrites. … If Althea Gibson represents a challenge to the present crop of women players, it’s only fair that they should meet that challenge on the courts.
And in 1950, Althea Gibson became the first African-America to play in a Grand Slam tournament. In 1956, she became the first African-American player to win a Grand Slam title.
So maybe you’re like, what’s scandalous about this bitch?? How about the fact that her spy job involved DOING IT with a NAZI COLLABORATOR?!
Maybe it’s a stretch, but she’s still a really cool lady and I bet you’re not not super happy you know about her now.
Balls to the walls. Or wall. What is it?
Today is 72nd anniversary of Virginia Woolf’s suicide. She is known by many, understood by few. Advocater of feminine real-estate, inducer of fear in an unnamed few, Nicole Kidman—a modern enigma. So in honor of her pocket full of stoneshine, here’s a mini-post about one of modern lit’s many sort-of-love-affairs-slash-maybe-kind-of-sort-of-obsessions-which-resulted-in-a-rull-nyyce-piece-of-writing.
Virgingin Woolfy (neé Stephen) was born in 1882, with a silver spoon and a much-derided Roman nose. She was exposed early by her intellectual parents and their intellectual friends to the rest of the Victorian and Edwardian intellectuals and they all just had quite the intellectual time together. Whatever, read about it yourself or something. She was plagued by nervous breakdowns, physical illness, and depressive periods, most likely brought on by genetic predisposition, the early deaths of her parents, and sexual abuse by both of her half-brothers as a teenager. And that’s all super shitty, no one denies that, BUT, she and her sister Vanessa eventually left their old home and bought a house in Bloomsbury, and surrounded themselves with a rising group of artists, writers and generally interesting people. They were (highly creatively) called, “The Bloomsbury Group.” So, hey, not too shabby in the end. In 1912, she married Leonard Woolf, in what was not always an easy, but still a life-long and very close partnership.
I know, I know, you’re thinking: “Where’s the scandal? This is a mini-post—she’s giving us all this background bullshit, and now she’s telling us about a “happy” marriage!?? I might as well just go back to not working.”
WELL HOLD UP SON, GET READY FOR SOME AMOR PROHIBIDO!!!!1!
So in this Bloomsbury Group, there were a number of proper members and those who sort of milled around the outside as friends-of-friends.
*Also, sidenote, let’s just be upfront right now, I think most of the members were way too full of themselves and weren’t actually as interesting as they thought they were (I’m looking at you, Clive Bell), BUT, that in no way negates the fact that I would do any number of horrible things if asked to have been a part of this Collective of A-holes. They pulled one of the absolutely best hoaxes I’ve ever heard about, in which 6 members, including Virginia, blackened their skin and dressed as supposed members of the Abyssinian royal family, and were given a tour of the English Naval fleet at Weymouth, took press photos for newspapers, and bestowed fake military honors on several British officers. Fucking aces.
Anyway, the various hangers on included the writer and professional gardener (she was English, after all), Vita Sackville-West. 10 years younger than Virginia, they met in 1922
at a meeting of the Droopy Eyelid Club and began a tentative relationship. As the poets say, carpe Vita.
Now, Vita was a firecracker—she was sleeping with like errybody, and would continue to do so—but Virginia, as it would turn out, was a lot of talk and pretty little show. They apparently only did the sex twice in their entire relationship. But, the lovechild which resulted is one of the most transcendentally beautiful pieces of writing
an impressionable 20something could have ever come across in a 25 cent book-bin in the English language: Orlando.
And whoooodawgy, those two times must have been some electric sex.
An extended piece of poetic prose, Orlando tells the loose narrative of a boy, beginning during the reign of Elizabeth I, who lives through significant epochs of English history, including the Restoration, the imperialist period, the Enlightenment, the Victorian era, and eventually to the present (as in, the 1920′s). Somewhere along the way, the boy becomes a man, the man becomes a woman, and thus becomes a full human being. As Nina Simone would say, “it’s a new dawn, it’s a new day, it’s a new gender for me, and I’m feelin’ exactly the same.”
Packed with sweeping description and intense psychological exploration, it’s a mediation on sexuality, nature, history, authority, autonomy, growth, power, poetry, purpose, and—most importantly—love in all its forms. Oh my Lord but it’s beautiful. And if this all sounds a little too “difficult,” or “pretentious,” or “good,” then just watch the movie with Tilda Swinton, which is fucking gorgeous (and also includes a lot of the humor in the book), and you’ll get the general idea and have only been obliged to give up 2 hours of your time from browsing BuzzFeed rather than like, a day.
Because for serious, y’all, there are few books that have hit ol’ JAF as hard as this one. I have no mind for quotes, but I’ve tended to remember ones from Orlando at various formative junctures in my life. I have never read any other Virginia Woolf, and I don’t really want to, because—again, let’s be real—she was kind of an asshole (and as a fellow asshole, we don’t tend to like sharing our mutual asshole territory), and I don’t really want the purity of this extraordinary piece of writing to be sullied. And don’t hate—I bet most of you are never going to read The Casual Vacancy either.
I’ll just leave you with a quote from Vita’s son, which pretty well sums it up:
“The effect of Vita on Virginia is all contained in Orlando, the longest and most charming love letter in literature, in which she explores Vita, weaves her in and out of the centuries, tosses her from one sex to the other, plays with her, dresses her in furs, lace and emeralds, teases her, flirts with her, drops a veil of mist around her.”
Now go grab yourself a cheapass copy, the way Virginia grabbed herself a ladymuse. You welcome.
Dearest readers, what better way to begin your bleary-eyed Saturday mornings than with a strong cup of coffee for your overworked bloodstream, and a cup of knowledge for your mindbelly: an only slightly belated super topical post about dirty Popes!
Now please internet, this is not to say that we here at for shame! are in any way accusing Pope Benedict XVI of doing any of the things we’re about mention—in fact, every one of these holy perpetrators lived in my own very favorite times, the Medieval Times ™, and as we’ve established, anything goes before the Renaissance, heyo!
Also, most of this is probably totally bullshit, and anyway, to err is human, etc., etc.
Alsoalso, it wasn’t 100% completely mandatory for someone in holy office to be celibate until 1139, but let’s just say it was a pretty good idea if you weren’t dipping your wick in very saucy inkpot that came along.
Thricealso, MRG has already touched on the beauty of beatific sin, so you should probably read that too because it’s excellent.
Quadralso, all of these men have been dead for a reaaaaally long time, and no further defamation can been brought upon their reputations that hasn’t already been set down in a textbook you were maybe probably definitely supposed to read for your intro to religion class in freshman year but were too busy making desperate eyes across the library floor at the junior field hockey bros. Ha, turned that shit back around, now didn’t I!
So be quiet, sit back, and enjoy a list (because there’s a lot here, and I’m just as tired as you this aftermorningnightnoon) in which we bring you history’s most scandalous papal authorities. More like Holy LOVEsee, amirite???!!?!?
Pope Sergius III (904-911)—the father of Pope John XI, but NBD, they did that a lot though in the early Middle Ages. Oh, those wacky papal dynasties! The better bit involves Sergius’ ladylove, Marozia, a Roman nobelwoman and senatrix—that’s right Latinfans, a lady senator! Marozia was John XI’s mother, BUT, after Sergius died, she started sleeping with his sucessor…..
Pope John X (914-928)—he gave Marozia the title of senatrix. She was seen by many historians as the power behind the papal throne, and probably an inspiration for the legend of Pope Joan (which, unfortunately so soon after International Lady’s Day, I have to debunk as medieval myth—take my word for it, I’m an historian.).
BUT WAIT THERE’S MORE!
So while John X was fooling around with Marozia, HE WAS ALSO SLEEPING WITH HER MOM, THEODORA!!!!!!!!!!1!!!!111!!!!!11!! She was characterized by a contemporary chronicler, Liutprand of Cremona as being a “shameless whore… [who] exercised power on the Roman citizenry like a man.” Which, is actually kind of a compliment. Own it Theodora, own it. Through her powerful poonnections, Theodora got Marozia married off to Alberic I, duke of Spoleto in 909, whose supah riches didn’t stop him getting killed in 924.
At some point, Marozia turns against John X, and after Alberic dies, marries John’s archnemesis, Guy of Tuscany. They then attack Rome, arrest John (Guy smothers him with a pillow, #goodnightsweetpope), and Marozia sets up two puppet popes, Leo VI and Stepehen VII until her son, John XI comes of age in 931 and can be made head of all Christendom from 931-935.
Guy dies in 929, and in 932 Marozia marries her halfbrother, Hugh of Arles (more like Ewwww of Arrghdonttouchme!!!!1! Ahh, shit, I’m on fire today.), King of Italy. Marozia’s son, Alberic II, from her marriage with Alberic is NOT into this, and instead of sending a polite decline to the wedding invite, he brings an army to their wedding, imprisons his mom, chases his stepdadhalfuncle out of Rome.
She dies probably in 936, but still, woman did werk. Check this: Her other son with Alberic, David, was father of Pope Benedict VII (974-983). Alberic II was father to Pope John XII (955-964), and a kid named Gregory, who would father both Pope Benedict VIII (1012-1024), and Pope John XIX (1024-1032), and another son called Alberic III who would father Pope Benedict IX (1012-1055) (he was an antipope, but it totally still counts).
Phew, so I know that was a lot, but to sum up, Theodora and Marozia either slept with, controlled, or directly or indirectly sired 8, count ‘em, 8 popes, arguably the most powerful position of authority in medieval Europe.
I, on the other hand, haven’t gotten out of bed today. Hey, different strokes.
The others are far less complicated, but no less interesting. Please stand by for further popesex in 5, 4, 3, 2,
Pope John XII (955-963, son of Alberic II)—was described as having has a collection of women, and making the sacred palace into a whorehouse, and living the lifestyle much more suited to a secular prince than, you know, a pope. He apparently had a thing for adultery, sleeping with (according to our old, reliable friend, Luitprand), “the widow of Rainier, with Stephana, his father’s concubine, with the widow Anna, and with his own niece.” Some historian I’d never heard of calls him “the Christian Caligulia,” which is a fine bit of alliteration, if I do say so myself, sir! Also, his mistress could be another progenitrix for the Pope Joan myth (It doesn’t really matter, because either way, the medieval people were just hellafraid of a ladypope. I get it, I mean, she probably would have redecorated all that gilt and incense and heavy velvet and made everything sooooo gaudy.). Apparently John died Downtown-Abbey style, after being stricken with paralysis during sex. That, or he was murdered moste fowlee by a jealous husband—either works for me.
Pope Benedict IX (1032-1044, 1045, 1047-1048, and son of Alberic III. These guys are everywhere!)—he was ousted twice in favor of other, probably less shitty popes, as you will see. Apparently, he was between 18 and 20 (or maybe even 11 or 12) when he became pope, and had no actual qualifications other than family connections. An actually holy man, St. Peter Damian, described him as “feasting on immorality” (which, in my mind, is like a chocolate fountain with the insane calories as a proverbial stand-in for sin). He was probably homosexual, but it also just seems like he slept with anything that moved. There’s intimations that he also killed and raped people, which seems like a fast escalation from “orgy,” but then again, if the Middle Ages were anything like a Starz show, then he was probs burying bodies like erryday.
Pope Paul II (1464-1471)—alleged by some to have died from indigestion because he ate too many melons. That’s “science,” and I don’t understand it, so I’m going to go with the rumor that he actually died while having the secks with another man.
Pope Sixtus IV (1471-1484)—handed out papal offices in return for blahjays. Jeanyus.
Pope Julius III (1550-1555)—had a hugely scandalous relationship with Cardinal Innocenzo Ciocchi del Monte, who he took in as a ward from the street, then made cardinal when he became Pope. Innocenzo was totally unsuited to the responsibility he was given, but the two openly shared a bed, and nobody could really tell him to GTFO, and it was just a PR nightmare for the Church at the time. When he died, nobody was all that sad.
So on that note, the end!
First, put this on in the background as you read.
Dear Readers, it’s the St. Valentine’s Day. The holiest day on MRG’s, LHB’s, and JAF’s respective sexually XpLizZiT calendars (KAB has the day off but it’s probably a big deal for her too). And listen, sometimes (most of the time?) you’re single on Vday. How can you possibly celebrate without a significant other?
Here at For Shame! we celebrate the west’s most gratuitous annual Hallmark-sponsored celebration of love by exercising our collective right to dedicate today’s post to some of our favorite ye olde eyecandy. There have been some beautiful men in history, sure, but each of us ladies keeps a special oil portrait or dageurreotype in the ol’ spank bank. Single, taken, or anywhere in between on this day of sexual (-scandal) thanksgiving, please enjoy the following miniposts concerning our historical ladyboners.
Indulge us — indulge yo’self — it’s February 14th after all.
MRG ♥ LEOPOLD I
I’m really into the Belgians. Their country is magical. It’s a fucking fairytale. If I went back I’m fairly certain would never leave. There are chocolates and french fries and waffles everywhere. And the best beer. And their MEN, holy crow. Did you guys see their Olympic team? London 2012 was essentially a 19-day ladyboner for me. Suffice it to say that if I have a type, it’s a swarthy Belgian man with chocolate breath. And I guess it’s a culturally interesting place because of the history and the architecture and the medieval art, but more importantly, hot Flemish guys sensually feeding me waffles. Specifically, Leopold I sensually feeding me waffles.
Leopold I was the founder of the House of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha and the first king of the Belgians. He was a military guy who climbed all the way to the top and made himself a royal. He was also THE HOTTEST HOT HISTORICAL GUY IN ALL HISTORY. JAF and LHB will beg to differ below, but don’t let them hoodwink you. Don’t. Instead, look upon this painting and know my truth:
UNH, na na na-na. If you’re a lady, your ovaries feel that painting. But a Real Lady needs more than a pompadour, some delicious sideburns, and a pair of jaunty epaulets to form a true historical crush (but those epaulets are so, so right).
He’s objectively hot, sure. But the roots of this ladyboner run fucking deep. Prepare yourself for a poignant-ass narrative:
When he was still a poor soldier, Leopold fell in love with Princess Charlotte of England. She’d previously been forced to live in isolation in a big cold palace and had a few truly shitty suitors thrust (sorry) upon her by her crazy dad. And her crazy dad didn’t want them to get married. And they were So Crazy In Love that they got married anyway. You’re imagining making out with those sideburns right now. And eventually her dad said Leo “had every qualification to make a woman happy.” And Charlotte wrote one of her girlfriends and called him “the perfection of a lover.” Now you’re thinking about unbuttoning Leo’s pantaloons. And when she died in childbirth the year after they got married he was so devastated that he just kept on living in England. And was often seen walking around and around a park holding a miniature portait of her. And Leopold didn’t get married again for another 12 years, which is 84 years in Hot Euro Royal time. And Leopold arranged the undisputed #1 most beautiful and loving royal marriage of all times. And his face. Annnnnnnnnnnnnnd LADYBONER ACHIEVED. HAPPY LEOTINE’S DAY, Y’ALL.
JAF ♥ ARTHUR RIMBAUD
Fuck you, Arthur Rimbaud. Fuck you. You were the biggest craphole in the 19th century Parisian literary scene, and that’s a scene full of some pretty big crapholes. You grabbed onto Paul Verlaine’s heart, ripped it beating from his chest, shot it full of booze, poetry and LIKESOMUCH sex, then threw it on the picturesquely cobbled street of life and stomped on it with your terribly infantile heel, leaving him to the hounds of homophobic gossip (and his wife). After he shot you (as damn well deserved), you traipsed off to exotic locals to stick your Surrealist Prefiguring Penis in some Oriental Other Vagina and spend your days swaddled in the warm embrace of equatorial heat and a living Ingres painting. You died of
fatally inflated self satisfaction cancer at 37, leaving your indelibly brilliant and dickish fingerprint on not simply modern poetry, but literature, art, and even music. You knew you were God’s gift to humanity and rakishly attractive ill-hygeine, and you rode that shameless train down the decades into the hearts and poons of impressionable young people such as myself, only to leave us the next morning with nothing more than an ache in our hearts and some paltry souvenirs to remind us of your young-DiCaprio perfection.
Your mind and you are my Sargasso Sea. Muse! I am your vassal. For you I would have burnt the topless towers of Ilium (or simply gone topless, whichever). We could have talked of Michelangelo in one-night cheap hotels–would none had ever loved but you and I, Artie! I am the lion stung, hunting you on your lonely walks, so be careful and maybe take a flashlight into that good night. I looked at you: you made me blind, you brightass star. “I is another” my ass–I’m eyeless at your mill with the slaves. I could gaze into your smug, tin-typed eyes all night long if I didn’t have miles of articles to go before I sleep. But such is life, I’ll get over you, I am the master of my fate, only through time time is conquered, we are never ever getting back together. Odi et amo, skeetguzzler. Now voyager sails forth to seek and find more ecocritical sources on Anglo-Saxon poetry.
Happy FuckYouArthurRimbaudNotReallyMarryMe Day.
LHB ♥ BILL TILDEN
“Big” Bill Tilden wasn’t called “Big” Bill Tilden because of his height. I think you know what I’m getting at here, people. It was because of his ginormous you-know-what. He had a monstrous instrument. A cumbersome whacker. And he used it admirably. I’m talking about his RACQUET, PEOPLE. Get your head out of the gutter.
Big Bill is known today as one of the greatest tennis players of all time. And most importantly, he looked good doing it. Playing tennis, I mean. But he probably looked good doing IT, too. And he played THE FIELD for a long time. He was in his, like 40s, when he retired. Which, to borrow MRG’s joke, is like really fuckin old in hot tennis star years.
But more importantly, he’s also one of the biggest historical losses for straight women everywhere. I’m sorry ladies: Big Bill was a Big Gay. But what was really great about him, is he wasn’t even shy about it. And it was the early 1900s where everyone was shy about everything. One could argue, however, that he was un-shy about it to a FAULT. And by that I mean that he may or may not have been arrested, convicted, and forced to SERVE 7 and a half years in prison for soliciting a 14 year old boy for sex, and then getting it on with him in a moving car.
Good [insert applicable time of day], readers! Hot off the presses, we’ve got a nice slice of scandal pie to brighten up your [insert applicable day], because rather than read about the Iberian campaigns of Justinian as I most definitely probably completely 100% should be doing, I decided to make much better use of my time and yours.
I’d like to introduce you all to a friend of mine, the Empress Theodora, wife of the aforementioned Iberian-campaigning Justinian. She lived in a fun little time called “the 6th century,” in this hip and happenin’ place called “the Byzantine Empire,” and whooodawgy did she get up to some shit. At least, according to the Late-Antique best-seller, The Secret History, by the imperial advisor and one of the last historians of the classical world, Procopius.
PSYCH, it was never a best-seller because not only was it unpublished for over a millennium because it was supah salacious and 99.999997% bullshit, there was no such things as a best-seller list in the 6th century! HISTORYFACT’D!!!1!
But for the sake of your average, casual, johnny-come-lately, historical-sex-scandal-reading public, we’re going to give The Secret History the historical credibility and r-e-s-p-e-c-t for which its author so long pined—and now appears to have finally achieved in the hearts of Classics majors everywhere, and as an ironic footnote in
the Pulitzer Prize winning a mildly popular internet blog.
Now there are certain things we know about Theodora that are just regular, “truth” facts, and don’t come from Procopius. I shall make a list, because I am feeling unambitious today (slorry):
- She was born in poverty in 500 A.D.
- Her father TRAINED MUTHALUVIN BEARS, and her mother was a dancer and an actress. In Late-Antique terms, I’m not even being glib when I say Theodora’s mom was a straight up prostitute.
- Her dad died and her mother sold her and her sister at a relatively early age to a low-rent brothel which catered specifically to soliders, and Theodora eventually moved up to become a stage performer. But she’s totally only doing it to pay for college, guys.
Here’s where we enter the salaciously murky world of historical conjecture (mmmmmm….). According to our erstwhile chronicler, Theo apparently made a name for herself in the redlight district of
Istanbul Constantinople Istanbul Constantinople Istanbul Constantinople with an extra special version of Leda and the Swan. I think Procopious describes the show much more better than I ever could, so to him I cede the blog floor (bloor):
“Often, even in the theatre, in the sight of all the people, she removed her costume and stood nude in their midst, except for a girdle about the groin: not that she was abashed at revealing that, too, to the audience, but because there was a law against appearing altogether naked on the stage, without at least this much of a fig-leaf. Covered thus with a ribbon, she would sink down to the stage floor and recline on her back. Slaves to whom the duty was entrusted would then scatter grains of barley from above into the calyx of this passion flower, whence geese, trained for the purpose, would next pick the grains one by one with their bills and eat.”
‘Round about this time, at the weary old age of 16, Theodora became the bangmaid of an imperial official named Hecebolus, who whisked her away to that most romantic of second-rate late Roman military outposts, the Libyan Pentapolis in North Africa. She put up with his abandonment, beatings and sleep apnea, for no apparent reason (aside from the glaringly obvious) for four years before returning to Constantinople. She gave up actressing and became a woolspinner near the palace, but her reputation for—WAIT FOR IT—her wit, beauty, and character—DIDN’T EXPECT THAT DID YOU NO NEITHER DID I IT’S OK—drew the heir apparent, Justinian’s, eye.
Welp, ladiez, he was a romantic, and wanted to hit-it-and-not-quit-it. Unfortunately, not only was there a law against marrying those of the hooker persuasion, his aunt was not down with having a trollop prancing about the royal digs, dropping goosefeed out her vajay for all to see and sample. But, then his aunt kicked it, and Justinian’s uncle, the emperor, changed that law, since he had a soft spot for interpretative dance, and Justinian Put.A.Ring.On.It. in 525. This was good of him, considering he’d knocked Theodora up in the interim period (or maybe somebody else had, whichever you prefer, we don’t actually know, hey! this is a fun game).
Two years later, she was empress of one of the largest and richest empires in the Late Antique world. I have to assume that this is the highest an illiterate, homeless, stripping single mom has ever climbed, without her own Lifetime movie…. YET. According to Procopius, she continued to skank-it-up with basically e’rybody and their brother, and Justinian was too blinded by her magic thighs to notice. Because, as we all know, you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, or break a biddy of her sex-addiction AMIRITE??
As empress, any time Theodora (apparently) had between doling out handies and blahjays to every Thomas, Dickus, and Harricus, she spent engaged not in the ways of the secular flesh, but in charity and progressive legislation for women, since they were considered second class citizens or property or some historyfact shit like that. She passed laws that prohibited forced prostitution, closed brothels, expanded women’s divorce and property rights, instituted a death penalty for rape, gave mothers guardianship over their children were they to leave their husbands, and forbid killing a woman for adultery. This elevated the status of women in Byzantium far above their contemporaries in the Middle East or the rest of Europe. She also opened a convent specifically for ex-prostitutes where they could either live the rest of their lives or learn another trade to support themselves. Blerg. She was the S’est of the SBWs.
Incidentally, Procopius described Theodora’s convent as being the forced confinement of 500 prostitutes, who wanted to go back to having sex with multitudes of faceless, abusive men for pennies so badly that lots of them committed suicide to escape being “transmogrified against their will”!!!!!!1! But, he did also drop the TMZ x-clusive truthbomb that Justinian and Theodora were demons whose heads detached from their bodies and roamed the palace at night. Soooo, Imma go with Procopius. On everything.
Anywho, Theodora died in 548 and Justinian was genuinely like super sad about it, and continued to carry out a lot of causes she believed in and put her in official portraits with him and stuff like that. So it was nice. The end.
Dearest Scandal Lovers, ‘Tis the season. ‘Tis the season for MRG, KAB, LHB and myself (JAF, in case you’d forgotten—don’t worry, I often do so myself) to be turning in papers, both graduate and under; to be working towards deadlines, both real and superpressinglyholyshitmyrealpeoplejobridesonthisreal, and to be kickin’ it back in the loving if somewhat guilt-tripping-why-don’t-you-call-more-often-and-then-when-you’re-home-you’re-always-out-with-your-little-friends-we-never-see-you arms of our families. We know you know how it goes.
But despite the fact ’tis nonetheless the season, you’ll have noticed we haven’t posted about salacious historical holiday goings-on. Part of that is the aforementioned list of excuses, and part is because while you know we here at For Shame! love our calendar-marked celebration days, we are a non-denominational blog (and the obvious story here has been done todeath, amirite?). We welcome all the altars at which our various far flung readers and correspondents worship, and our only blog dogma (blogma. you’re welcome.) involves paying high homage and frequent fluid sacrifice to the Great and Powerful Fassbender.
So here’s a little post the whole family can get behind, in honor of the fast-approaching state-side return of everyone’s favorite high-production public-television night-time tuxedo-people soap-opera, Downton (-) Abbey. Soon, dear reader, you too can be privy to what I see every day—chinless British people, in better quality clothing than I will ever own, being awkward and emotionally repressed, and taking forever to solve minor problems. God bless you, Julian Fellowes, for so successfully tapping into the voyeuristic dreams of middle-class westerners.
As popular television has taught me, the late Victorian gentry class was composed entirely of penniless men with excellent stately homes and even more excellent facial hair, and the only thing that saved the British upper crust from slipping into the decidedly less-tweedy lower classes were boatloads of American heiresses more than ready to have their gold dug in exchange for titles. Enter the 5th Earl of Carnarvon, and owner of Downton’s own Highclere Castle, George Herbert. By the turn of the 20th century, he’s mad broke, but luckily along came She Of The Fortuitously Fruitful Name And Checkbook, Almina Wombwell. After love at first co-sign, they got hitched in 1895, and proceeded to not have sex. Like, at all.
FLASHBACK: You see, George’s biffle was Prince Victor Duleep Singh, godson of Queen Victoria, friend to King Edward vee-eye-eye, and Last of the Really Great Maharajahs of Lahore. He was also a gambler, lout, and total horndog, who took the impressionable young Yargos to an Egyptian whooairehouse on their Grand Tour. Along with some nice t-shirts for the fam, the 5th Earl came back to England with a raging STD that left him facially scarred and sexually blighted. To compensate for his ruined manhood, George took the next logical step and used his enormous fortune to set up a private photo studio where he took nudie photos of literally thousands of women. Then he got married.
But while no rumpy-pumpy between the Earl and Mrs. Carnarvon graced the musty halls of Highclere, Victor Duleep Singh, that Dr. Phil for the silver spoon set, took it upon himself to fix the floundering marriage of his brohort by putting his own fruit in Almina’s much-neglected basket.
The proverbial honeymoon period in which all three basically lived together on their palatial estate—George blissfully occupied with his celluloid lovers and apparently unaware his wife was getting nailed by somebody with a better title and a better mustache—came to an end in 1898 when the Earless got up the duff with Victor’s bi-racial baby and had to duck down to London to pop out a child which (thankfully) came out whiter than the Royal Family’s dirty laundry.
Which is to say white. Because apparently Victor’s mother was also white… so, “science,” or something.
Either way, George accepted the prodigal son as his own, and now had both an heir and lotsa sweet sweet moneys to keep him in castles and tittypics and trips to go dick around in that early 20th century aristocratic sandbox known as Egypt til he was old and grey. And while Almina was unable to see her lover again (though Victor was actually married, so their seperation most likely didn’t put him too far out of sorts), she didn’t get dumped in the street as would have been only right and proper for a woman of her depraved sexual transgressions. Everybody wins!!!!1!
So, with that heartwarming tale, happy holidays from our blog family (blamily. you’re welcome. again.).
Hey guys. Hey. It’s me. JAF. I’m not dead. I’m not even critically injured, horrifically maimed, or otherwise physically incapacitated. I’m just lazy. So incredibly, amazingly, astoundingly, mind-bendingly lazy.
I last appeared as a blip on the proverbial blogosphere radar 6 months ago, and I genuinely have no adequate reason for my absence from this, my internet baby. So I’ll just put it out there that MRG, LHB and KAB are the best (and most forgiving) minds of my generation and thankfully they have not been destroyed by the madness of my Chris McCandlessian self-indulgence. Thank you, bless you, I’m sorry, let’s move on.
As it so happens, I am currently back in the Old Country, from whence the germ of this blog was first conceived, studying the things I study the best—whiskey, unfiltered cigarettes, odd sleeping hours, and Medieval Literature. So as a “welcome back, old bean” sort of post, I’d like to introduce you to a dear, dear frienemy of mine, Petrarch.
I often ask myself hypothetical questions to while away the hours in between my various pretentious activities, and I have pondered on more than one occasion, “Can I have a deep and
completely only somewhat irrational antipathy towards someone that I have not only never met, but who died approximately 600 years ago?” When it comes to Petrarch, the answer is absofuckinglutely.
You see, Francesco Petrarca, as the Eyetalyuns knew him, was the first to call that roughly thousand year period between the Fall of Rome and the beginnings of the European Renaissance, “The Dark Ages.”
What an utter bastard he was.
As a member of the Italian intellectual class, and an early Renaissance humanist, Petrarch didn’t cast too kindly an eye upon the lives and times of his forefathers—and who can blame him, really? The oceanic-trench of a chip on my shoulder about how people don’t “appreciate” the “cultural” “flowering” of the medieval period is my cross to bear, and hopefully some day I’ll be able to hear that most well-meaning of phrases, “Oh, you study the Middle Ages? So you like Ren Faires, right?” without weeping. So, as a staunch defender of my world lit only by fire, I fundamentally despise Petrarch in the same way that popular fiction tells us dogs fundamentally have to pee on fire hydrants.
But I also feel bad for Petrarch. You see, among all his genuine achievements—like collecting, preserving and translating a multitude of Classical writings that would most likely been lost without his efforts, and various original writings on Christian philosophy, diplomacy and the usage of the Latin language—Petrarch is, and probably will only ever be, remembered best for his incredibly passionate, declarative poems to a woman he met once.
There’s a certain type of sympathy (alright, it’s actually pity) I reserve for men who spend their lives writing reams to a slampiece they’ll never have. Everyone knows this is a well-honored literary tradition—Petrarch was by no means the first sad sonovabitch to lust after that (always) perfect and (always, for some unfathomable reason) unobtainable poon, nor will he be the last. But thank Jesus for those men down the ages who have tried to come to terms with their goshdarned unfortunate sexual frustration through painfully personal verse, and, either because of shamelessness or on the “advice” of vindictive friends, have decided to let the world in on their emotional constipation and published that shit. Well, thank Jesus for the talented ones, anyway.
Petrarch’s muse was a lady named Laura. They supposedly met in church in 1327, and for the next forty years, almost to Petrarch’s death, he put pen to parchment in her imaginary honor. The collection of his 366 poems is called Il Canzoniere, and is perhaps the biggest influence on love poetry in Europe for the next 300 years. Divided into two sections, “in vita,” and “in morte” by Laura’s death in 1348, Petrarch deals largely with the fact that no matter how much he loves Laura (which makes him happy), he can never have her (which makes him sad), so he refuses to pursue her (since that would be sinful, and sin makes him sad), and just has to deal with loving her passionately from a distance (which makes him sad-happy). (s’dappy).
It all sounds very ”dear diary,” since, well, you know, it is, but Petrarch can be forgiven for all the sex he ensured he was not having, because his poetry is so stupidly, asininely, heartbreakingly beautiful. Goddammit I just want to hate him, but he hurts my heart too much:
“If it, indeed, must be my fate,
and Heaven works its ways,
that Love close up these eyes while they still weep,
let grace see my poor body
be buried there among you
and let my soul return to its home naked;
then death would be less harsh
if I could bear this hope
unto that fearful crossing,
because the weary soul
could never in a more secluded port,
in a more tranquil grave,
flee from my poor belabored flesh and bones.”
So while it’s not a particularly scandalous return, I stick by my choice. Because, like that other great Latin poet of libidinal verse said, “I hate and I love.” So here’s to you, Petrarch—you’re too talented to join the great and ever-growing pantheon of pseudo-intellectuals which contains my other nemesi, but I can still have my revenge and tell
the readership of this mildly popular blog the world about how you spent your life alternating between verbally crying and masturbating over The Pussy on a Corinthian Column.
“Fortune and Love, and my own mind, which shuns
what it sees now and turns back to the past,
afflict me so that there are times I feel
envy for those who’ve reached the other shore.
While Love wears out my heart, Fortune deprives it
of any comfort, and my foolish mind
gets angry and it weeps—so in great pain
forever I must live and fight this way.
Nor can I hope the sweet days will return,
I see what’s left me go from bad to worse,
and I’ve already run half of my course.
Alas, not made of diamond but of glass
all of my hope I see slip from my hands
and every thought of mine split down the middle.”
What an utter bastard he was.