Monday 20 July 2015

Is Sex Necessary? by James Thurber

Is Sex Necessary? By James Thurber
Written in 1929, this is an obvious pot-boiler churned out in response to the contemporary fad for psychoanalysis, and the changes in mores since the war (World War I). The humour is lumbering, the satire is passé, and the padding is egregious, but Thurber sprinkles some acute observations among the “jokes”.

He describes female “types”. Beware the Quiet Type, he warns. But still worse is the Button-hole Twister. She is the cutesy kind of girl who sticks a finger into your lapel buttonhole and twists it, while standing on one leg and putting on a “wistful, far-away look”. Other options are the Outdoors Girl, or the Clinging Vine. Do they have modern equivalents?

Young ladies come to New York in droves, telling their mothers that they are drawn by “concerts, new plays and the opera”. They don’t tell their mothers that they want to find a man – but what will happen if they all do it? The young ladies spend many evenings at home making parchment lampshades (fashionable at the time).

The average young lady can’t decide whether emancipation means drinking gin and “talking freely of exhibitionism and voyeurism” or “being the recipient of some overwhelmingly beautiful passion which... she knew couldn’t exist because she was so widely read”.

“Unable to decide whether sex was the poem she half believed it to be or the casual episode she had schooled herself to think it was” she practically gives up on the whole thing. She gets a job and ends up with lots of lampshades. She’s ready to “step placidly into a good old-fashioned marriage when the right man came along. And he usually did, the poor yap.” She spends the first few weeks of marriage decorating, and the man begins to feel “trapped”. She has to explain guest towels to him: “They are hung up for lady guests to look at and are not to be disturbed.”

But a man may be put off his fiancée by her favourite slang, her excessive height, the suspicion that he could do better. And inviting someone else into your life causes complications, including: “telephone conversations, arrangements, plans, sacrifices, train arrivals, meetings, appointments... delays, dinners, small pets...”. “Many men have told me that they would not object to sex were it not for its contactual aspect... they would be perfectly willing... if it could be done at a reasonable distance – say 50 paces.”

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

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