Review of The Literary Companion to Sex

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The Literary Companion to Sex
collected by Fiona Pitt-Kethley
Random House: New York, NY. 1992.
ISBN 679-76952-8

In my opinion, there are two main directions a book like this can go:

  1. Include material designed to arouse the reader, mostly.
  2. Include material designed to educate the reader, mostly.

I'm saying this because, in my opinion, history isn't exactly rife with material that's intended to arouse AND which stands on its own as literature. This has started happening recently, but speaking for myself I personally have never found ANYTHING written before the last half of this century to be work in this way.

The interesting thing about The Literary Companion to Sex is that the material on the front and back covers imply that it's going after #1, while the selections in the book and the time span that it covers indicate that it's going after #2.

HOWEVER, the big flaw with this book isn't that it contains almost exclusively excerpts for poems that very few of us will find erotic, but rather that it misses its chance to put the exerpts and poems that it does include in historical context.

Basically, I think that this book would have been much better off with half the literature and twice the commentary. This wouldn't have meant that it would have to be boring - quite the contrary. There's a flood of books right now that examine history from specific perspectives; this book could have served as a guide to history, as seen through the "eyes" of sex.

Even if it didn't go this far, the fact of the matter is that much of the material from antiquity is difficult for us to place in context because our culture is quite different from the ones that generated these writings. Even a few more footnotes would have helped this book, especially in cases where the excerpts it gives are from much larger works.

However, there are a few winners in this anthology. My favorite: the two poems by e.e. cummings.

Overall Grade: B.

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