Friday, 1 July 2016

Chapter 3 “You are like a Japanese woodcut come to life!”: Chapter Notes

A Favourite Custom by Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema (1909)

This Post provides notes on Chapter 3 of The Lust World: A Sexual Odyssey, an erotic adventure story.

This Chapter takes place entirely within the Babylon Exploration Society which we discussed in our notes to Chapter 2.  The physical appearance and first name of Madame Nathalie are based on a French lady Triple P had a brief thing with about five years ago.  We met her in the Tate Gallery and struck up a conversation while looking at Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema's A Favourite Custom, an artist Triple P knows something about; giving him the opportunity to show off!  

The very bottle!

Inexplicably impressed, it was the lady who proposed a late lunch, which was fortuitous, as the Tate has quite the best restaurant of any gallery I have ever been to (and I have been to a lot).  It is most famous for its amazing wine list and I chose a bottle of Château Prieuré-Lichine 1995 which went down very well, especially with her, as she had expected an Englishman to order "some 'orrible New World wine".  At the time of our story the wine would have simply been called Château Prieuré; it only got its new name when it was bought by the Russian born wine writer Alexis Lichine in 1951.   I had Madame Nathalie come from Bordeaux as a nod to this vinous introduction and the connection with Rugby (it is the centre of the game in France).  Sadly, the difficulties (not to say the expense) of conducting an affair between London and Paris brought the episode to an end but we still see the lady when she visits London and we always have lunch at the Tate.  We know she is following our story and is amused to be a Madam.  "English men think all French women are prostitutes!" as she rather unfairly maintained.

Untitled by Chōbunsai Eishi (c. 1800)

A Favourite Custom was already on display at the Tate in 1912, the year our story is set, as it was presented to the gallery in 1909.  Even in 1909 it would have been considered rather tame but the pictures that surprise Molloy in the Babylon Exploration Society were examples of Japanese Shunga prints.  Before men's magazines in the seventies gave young men detailed photographs of women's genitalia there would have been no way for men to know what a woman looked like down there, unless he had seen some French postcards, which were not in wide circulation in Britain.  Hence ,Molloy's surprise at the graphic representation of sexual parts in the Shunga prints.

From Eight views of Omi by Utagawa Kuniyoshi (c. 1833)

We used Shunga prints, in particular, as erotic pictures on the wall of the salon in the Babylon Exploration Society, not just because of their graphic nature but also because of the the fact that Molloy's chosen girl was Japanese.  In addition, the courtesans of seventeenth, eighteenth and nineteenth century Japan (many of whom were illustrated in Shunga pictures) were as celebrated as their Parisian equivalents in the nineteenth century; both being treated like today's film actresses or pop stars.  The more innocent portraits of Japanese beauties, which Molloy recalls seeing in a London gallery, were very likely famous courtesans.

From The Poem of the Pillow by Kitagawa Utamaro (1788)

Some of the Shunga pictures featured brothels and their ladies as a sort of advertising device, others were pillow books, given to newly wed couples.  Unlike erotic art in the west this was produced by the very finest artists of the day.  Indeed, it was discovered in the west in 1878 when a Japanese imperial official, in Paris to supervise the Japanese pavillion at the 1878 Universal Exposition, showed the writer Edmund de Goncourt Utamaro's The Poem of the Pillow and Young Pine Shoots by Hokusai.

Summer from the Four Seasons by Tsukioka Settei (c. 1770)

Apart from the woodblock prints, which were widely distributed in town and country, the really wealthy could buy paintings, often done on silk and put on screens to display in the home.  There was no shame about sex in Japanese society with regular festivals venerating the phallus and competitions in temples, conducted in front of women, to see who could keep an erection longest.   Japanese homes had paper walls, so sex was rather open amongst the family and as they indulged in mixed bathing the naked body was not a source of shame either.  In fact one of the main reasons that the figures in Shunga paintings are usually clothed is that the naked body held little erotic charge for the Japanese.

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