Monday, December 6, 2010

A Caution to Female Readers

A quote from O.S. Fowler's Sexual Science (1875):

Novel reading redoubles this nervous drain begun by excessive study. What is or can be as ruinous to the nerves as that silly girl, snivelling and laughing by turns over a 'love story'? Of course it awakens her Amativeness...It is doubtful whether fiction writers are public benefactors, or their publishers philanthropists. The amount of nervous excitement and consequent prostration, exhaustion, and disorder they cause is fearful. Girls already have ten times too much excitability for their strength. Yet every page of every novel redoubles both their nervousness and weakness...Love-stories, therefore, in common with all other forms of amatory exctiement, thrill. In this consists their chief fascination. Yet all amatory action with one's self induces sexual ailments. It should always be with the opposite sex only; yet novel reading girls exhaust their female magnetism without obtaining any compensating male magnetism, which of necessity deranges the entire sexual system. The whole world is challenged to invalidate either this premise or inference. Self-abuse is worse, because more animal; but those who really must have amatory excitement will find it 'better to marry,' and expend on real lovers those sexual feelings now worse than wasted on its 'solitary' form. Those perfectly happy in their affections never read novels.

I was unaware that girls have ten times too much excitability for their strength, but I am glad to have solidly based scientific data on that point. Alas, the author fails to reveal the amount of excitability boys have for their strength, but he seems to be suggesting that we have considerably less excitability relative to our strength. Assuming that girls have, say, four times as much excitabilility relative their strength, I guess that gives us boys an average excitability-to-strength ratio of 2.5 or so.

So, Girls, read if you like; but keep in mind the risks of exhausting your female magnetism without obtaining any compensating male magnetism...though I suspect the latter can be obtained by settling onto the couch with a case of beer and watching sports for a weekend or so. So if you must read a novel, set aside some beer-and-sports time to suck up some male magnetism.

The dangers of novel reading are made starkly clear by his statement that "every page of every novel redoubles both their nervousness and weakness." Redouble? Every page? Even in a Large-Print Edition?

My copy of Anna Karenina runs 961 pages. If in fact nervousness and weakness is increased by a factor of two (the meaning of redoubled) by every page, then by the end of that book, a Girl's nervousness and weakness would have been been increased by 2 to the 961st power, which is (rounding after five digits) an increase of 19,491,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,
000,000, 000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,
000,000,000 times, which is a whole lot more nervous and weak.

If you are more sensible and avoid the Russians, selecting instead, say, Jane Eyre at 284 pages, a Girl will still end up 2 to the 284th power worse off--that is, 31,083,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,
000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 times more nervous and weak. Still quite a bit, though.

It is good that the Creator in His wisdom made Girls weaker as they become more nervous. If a Girl could read a novel and become a million times more nervous but also a million times stronger, we would have a problem of horror-movie proportions on our hands.

As to his last assertion, I can easily believe that those perfectly happy in their affections never read novels, as I have never met anyone perfectly happy in anything. Perhaps I just run with the wrong crowd.

But I am sad he doubts I am a public benefactor.


Tim Stretton said...

Of all the Victorians' bizarre preoccupations (Faye can help us out here, although I suspect she reads a lot, so may be too prostrated to contribute), their obsession with masturbation has to be the strangest. It seems to pervade every phase of middle-class discourse.

I'm ready a book at the moment (luckily my weakness does not redouble with every page) which argues essentially that Isaac Newton invented the modern scientific method in the 17th century; sadly in 200 years it seems not have made its way to Fowler.

Frances Garrood said...

Lovely quote, David. I'd love to know how Fowler went about his research, but it makes me want to reach for a novel straight away.

Verifications word: gampink. Sounds suitably feminine and frisky.

C. N. Nevets said...

I am unclear whether it is in my best interest to buy my wife more novels, or fewer...

David Isaak said...

As Woody Allen once pointed out, at least masturbation is sex with someone you truly care about.

I'm inclined to give Galileo more credit than Newton, as Galileo was the first to really bear down hard on the concept of experimentation rather than working conceptually. He was also the first to insist that experimentation was the key to falsification of hypotheses; and Popper and the gang insist that falisfication is what makes something a theory in a scientific sense.

On the other hand, there's no doubt that Newton was responsible for the framework of modern physics--mathematical formalization, reduction of observations to the minimum number of laws, etc..

I've always liked Newton because of his somewhat dualistic nature; his rarefied, hyperskeptical work in physics didn't prevent him from having a mystical side (even though Blake seemed to believe that Newton was a soulless AntiChrist bent on draining the world of its mystery).

David Isaak said...

Hi Frances--

Actually, a novel about Fowler might be pretty entertaining.

David Isaak said...

You raise a good question, C.N.

I'd say you should ply her with more novels. It might make her nervous, but at least she'll be so weakened as to remain pliable.

If you were to cut her off from novels, she'd regain her normal level of strength, which would be millions of trillions of times her present strength levels. She'd be out uprooting skyscrapers and the Army would be shooting artillery at her. Picture "Attack of the 50-Foot Woman," except normal height.

Aliya Whiteley said...

This explains a lot.

C. N. Nevets said...

She *has* seemed a little stronger and more aggressive in her work-outs since I started buying more books and getting ARC's for review and letting her read them...

Jake Jesson said...

I'm not sure I can properly express how entertaining I find this post.

But first, novel-reading girls - does that apply to women? if not, where's the age cutoff? Puberty? Voting age? Drinking age? Age of consent? If so, which age of consent?

Either way, I'm currently wondering how novel-reading girls manage to move, since they're redoubling their weakeness at each page. It does take a certain amount of strength to move, after all.

Tim Stretton said...

There must come a point of equilibrium when their redoubled weakness leaves them too enfeebled to turn the next page - stranded perhaps only a chapter or a page from the end!

Frances Garrood said...

Cue for a Kindle? And does Kindle-reading have the same effect?

Deborah Swift said...

Completely priceless! I am getting weaker by the moment through laughing! Might just burst out of my corset.

David Isaak said...

Hi, Aliya--

And yet raises so many new questions...

David Isaak said...

Hi, Jake--

I'm not sure what his definition of "girls" might be. Probably anyone who isn't a mother.

My definition of "girls" is anybody who isn't "boys."

It was certainly objectionable back when adult males were referred to as "men" and adult wome were referred to as "girls," but I think the proper means of redressing it was to call men "boys." I think the whole "men" and "women" thing is a touch pompous.

But some diagree. My sister, for one, has told me it is about time that Pamela and I stopped referring to each other as "boyfriend" and "girlfriend."

David Isaak said...

A frightening possibility, Tim. Not to mention the risk of dropping the book in the bathtub...or on the face in bed.

David Isaak said...

Frances, you raise a good point about virtual pages. And what about people who read on PalmPilots or iPhones? Those only give you a paragraph or two per "page".

Could we eliminate some of these helath risks by printing everything on really large sheets of paper?

David Isaak said...

Heya, Dee--

See, Fowler was right.

Alis said...

What a great post to find in my first break of the day - priceless. Amazed you didn't get RSI typing out all those zeroes, David! Thanks for a good laugh.