Since this is my writing day I’m sitting around in my nightie, listening to a CD of music by (mostly) Bach that I bought almost three weeks ago, and seeking inspiration of many kinds. And in case you’re wondering about the rest of my writing day it will consist of taking old paint cans to a recycling depot, getting a pedicure (it’s about time, they’re disgusting) and going to my local romance writers’ chapter meeting, where the lovely and smart Stephanie Dray aka Draven will be speaking. Well, it almost counts as writing, doesn’t it?
Today’s birthdays include those of William Jenner, who developed the polio vaccine, and you can see my earlier post about him here (the contest is long since closed, sorry). Also it’s the birthday of the unhappy wife of Prinny, Queen Caroline, and I thought about bloggin about her, but lord, it’s a depressing and sordid story where no one behaves well and stars two of the most unlikable protagonists ever. I know there’s been some talk about celebrating the “real” start of the Regency–2012 is the 200th anniversary of when Prinny officially took over–but I don’t know that it’s much to celebrate.
So I guess it’s time for a rant.
We’re still in the era of mantitty. Several decades ago when I came of age, many of us were adamant about the gratuitous use of images of women’s bodies to sell … just about anything. We thought it showed disrespect, it categorized women as bimbos, it meant we were marginalized. And now god help us all over the web our eyes are assaulted daily by those waxed, buffed, hairless, overmuscled images that represent romance. Most of them don’t even look like human beings.
Now come on, confess. Do you really find them sexy? All that static perfection? I think I could take the waxed, buffed, hairless, overmuscled glory of it all if they were actually doing something–like moving. However, the worst ever has to be the Porn for Women book. What is remotely sexy about a man doing housework? Sure, it’s nice. But (1) why should a guy doing chores be something out of the ordinary, and (2) if the title is Porn for Women, why doesn’t it deliver? That’s not porn in my books (or on my internet). As a joke it falls flat in all respects.
Here’s an excerpt from one of my favorite novels, Nice Work by David Lodge. The main characters are Robyn Penrose, a feminist lecturer who specializes in the industrial novel (lots of North and South references) and industrialist Vic Wilcox, and it’s set in the 1980s. Here’s a discussion of the calendar Vic’s company produces:
“What about a bit of prick and bum, too?” said Robyn.
Everthorpe looked satisfyingly taken aback. “Eh?” he said.
“Well, statistically, at least ten percent of your customers must be gay. Aren’t they entitled to a little porn too?”
“Ha, ha,” Everthorpe laughed uneasily. ‘Not many queers in our line of business, are there, Vic?”
Wilcox, who was following this conversation with amused interest, said nothing.
“Or what about the women who work in the offices where these calendars are stuck up?” Robyn continued. “Why should they have to look at naked women all the time? Couldn’t you dedicate a few months of the year to naked men? Perhaps you’d like to pose yourself, along with Tracey?”
Vic Wilcox guffawed.
“I’m afraid you’ve got it wrong, darling,” said Everthorpe, struggling to retain his poise. “Women aren’t like that. They’re not interested in pictures of naked men.”
“I am,” said Robin. “I like them with hairy chests and ten-inch pricks.” Everthorpe gaped at her. “You’re shocked, aren’t you?”
Do you find mantitty covers sexy? Not sexy enough?
What do you find sexy in real life?
This is none other than Jules Leotard, who on this day in 1859 performed the first flying trapeze act in Paris, thus revolutionizing the circus. His act lasted twelve minutes in which he turned a somersault in mid-air and jumped from one trapeze to another. A pile of mattresses served as a safety net.
Although he’s not wearing it here, the leotard, which he invented, is named after him. Not a whole lot is known about his life; he was born in Toulouse, France, around 1839, the son of a gymnastics instructor, and as a baby was calmed by being hung upside down. Although his father wanted him to enter the law, young Jules ran away to the circus. He made his debut at the Alhambra Music Hall, London, in 1861, and his New York debut in 1868. He died in 1870 in Spain of smallpox or cholera.
Inspired by Carolyn’s Googlebooks adventures, I went searching for references to Jules Leotard, and found this from Chambers’ 1891 Journal of Popular Literature, Science and Arts:
Jules Leotard was a splendid specimen of manly beauty—a perfect figure united to a strikingly handsome face, always grave and reposeful.
The story of the great gymnast’s career has seldom been told. A native of Toulouse, in the south of France, young Leotard passed many of his earliest years in the beautiful city of the sunny south. His father kept a swimming-bath, having several skylights that were opened and closed by long ropea. It was young Leotard’s office to open and shut these skylights, and he was in the habit of swinging from one rope to the other, doing so with so much grace and skill as to attract much attention from the visitors to the establishment. His first public appearance was as an amateur at the Municipal Fete. It so happened that among the people who witnessed the performance was the director of the Cirque d’Iimperatrice at Paris. This gentleman was astonished at the skill and grace of the young athlete, and also at the novelty of the performance; and the next morning he made his way to the Leotard swimming baths and had an interview with the father. A few days hence and Jules Leotard set out for Paris. On his arrival in the gay city he was taken to a theatrical costumier, and a gay doublet of crimson velvet and gold spangles was fitted over the snow-white tights he had brought from the country.
“Take it off!” he said to the costumier. “I am not going to play the clown.”
“Take it off ! mon petit, the beautiful doublet ? See how well you look in it—grand, magnificent, superb!”
“Think you so? I’ll never wear spangles like a harlequin.”
“Ah ! mon Dieu ! Eh bien ! mon petit, what is it, then, you will wear? You must have a doublet of some kind.”
“Have you any black velvet?”
A roll of plain black velvet was produced, and out of this material was made the young aspirant’s doublet. And subsequently M. Leotard always wore the simple and elegant dress of a black velvet doublet over snow-white tights ; a dress that served admirably to display the magnificent form of the gymnast. The debut of the young athlete in the Paris arena was a veritable triumph, which was renewed on his first appearance in London. The flying trapeze became the rage, and a whole host of flying trapezists appeared at the music halls, none of whom, however, had the skill and marvellous ease of the master.
And yes, Leotard inspired the song The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze, recorded by, among others, Bruce Springsteen.
I think this nineteenth century circus illustration explains why female trapeze acts were so popular.
Have you ever fancied running away to the circus or flying through the air with the greatest of ease, which you can learn to do at Trapeze School in Washington DC or other major cities?
Do you think that facing up to a physical fear–like flinging yourself into the air on a trapeze–will help you overcome other fears? Have you ever done anything like that?
And do you think Manhaunch will ever replace the popular Mantitty on romance covers?
Three years…a lifetime in the blogosphere, and thanks to you–our lurkers and readers and commenters–for your great comments and for dropping by so often. And extra special thanks to your employers for so generously lending us your time.
I’ve learned so much from everyone here–it’s been a real education. And I’ve been humbled and amazed, too, by the smart, knowledgeable, funny people who have joined the Riskies family.
With little originality, I’m going to remind you of my favorite posts over the last year.
In my tireless campaign against gratuitous mantitty, I counterattacked with a post about Hot Old Men like the lovely and talented Alan Rickman: Women swooned at his imcomprehensible upperclass mumble and the slow crawl of his jowls seeking freedom from his high collar. And I promise, I will post about Hot Old Women sometime, too.
I love our interviews too, and this year I was fortunate enough to get an exclusive with Cupid on Valentine’s Day. The Regency wasn’t bad, all things considered. Not too much whalebone, and no steel–that was tough, dealing with Victorian corsets. You wouldn’t believe the number of arrows I ruined. …
You might think blogging on holidays is easy, but how on earth do you relate an American holiday, such as Thanksgiving, to the Regency? Fortunately, Thanksgiving 2007 was also George Eliot’s birthday and I pondered on why one of my favorite, flawed novels, Daniel Deronda, is like a turkey dinner.
I also enjoyed our week celebrating the birthday of Jane Austen, and chose Mansfield Park–mainly because I suspected none of the other Riskies wanted it. I wasn’t even sure I wanted it myself. What a revelation, to read this sexy, difficult, daring book, and what a great discussion. Did anyone read it as a result? Tell us what you thought.
I find there are topics we return to again and again, because they’re fascinating and influential, and we discover new facts we have to share. I blogged about the great astronomer William Herschel on March 13, the anniversary of the day he discovered the planet Uranus. I’m sure one of us will mention him again soon. I revisited another favorite topic, servants, in response to an email from a blog visitor who highly recommended Mrs. Woolf and the Servants by Alison Blight, and wondered how Woolf’s attitude to her servants was like or unlike that of Regency-era masters.
Please tell us if there’s a topic you’d like to talk about–we love to hear from you! And if you’re a lurker, come by and make your first comment. Don’t be shy!
Prizes? Oh yes, prizes.
If you’re a writer, I’ll offer a critique of your first chapter and synopsis.
If you’re a reader, you can win a signed copy of each of my books, Dedication, The Rules of Gentility, and Forbidden Shores (the last written as Jane Lockwood).