New Yorker, 1928
The Technique of the Love Affair: By a Gentlewomanby Norrie Epstein
This 1928 classicplayfully shocking and surprisingly practicalis now back in print, astutely annotated for the nineties. Originally published anonymously by the multitalented Doris Langley Moore (author of many books of nonfiction and fiction, and a much sought-after costume designer for film and theater), The Technique of the Love Affair is a/b>
This 1928 classicplayfully shocking and surprisingly practicalis now back in print, astutely annotated for the nineties. Originally published anonymously by the multitalented Doris Langley Moore (author of many books of nonfiction and fiction, and a much sought-after costume designer for film and theater), The Technique of the Love Affair is a masterfully written dialogue between the worldly "Cypria" and the naive and sentimental "Saccharissa" on how to conductwith grace and restraintsuccessful love affairs.
Moore outlines a pragmatic approach to sexual pursuit and conquest, peppering her advice with incisive comments on the nature of men and womenwhich (current self-help books notwithstanding) has remained virtually unchanged after seventy years.
A sparkling period piece and a shrewd guidebook for those who consider pleasure a serious business, The Technique of the Love Affair is brimming with unassailable, timeless insight. Now, in this new premillenial edition, it ismore than evera wise and witty manual on the art of love for the thinking woman.
New Yorker, 1928
New York Times Book Review
- Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
- Publication date:
- Edition description:
- 1 ED
- Product dimensions:
- 7.01(w) x 8.08(h) x 0.96(d)
Read an Excerpt
On November 17, 1928, Dorothy Parker mentioned a new book in her column in The New Yorker:
"I acquired a book called The Technique of the Love Affair, by one who signs herself "A Gentlewoman," and set out to learn how to loop the usual Dancing Men. I have thought, in times past, that I had been depressed. I have regarded myself as one who had walked hand-in-hand with sadness. But until I read that book, depression, as I knew it, was still in its infancy. I have found out, from its pages, that never once have I been right. Never once. Not even one little time.
You know how you ought to be with men? You should always be aloof, you should never let them know you like them, you must on no account let them feel that they are of any importance to you, you must be wrapped up in your own concerns, you may never let them lose sight of the fact that you are superior, you must be, in short, a regular stuffed chemise. And if you could see what I've been doing!
The Technique of the Love Affair makes, I am bitterly afraid, considerable sense. If only it had been written and placed in my hands years ago, maybe I could have been successful instead of just successive."
That Dorothy Parker should review a book called The Technique of the Love Affair is, like one of her own stories, both sad and funny. It is also fitting. Published in England, where it had caused a scandal two years earlier, The Technique was addressed to women like Mrs. Parker who had never once been right.
Its readers were the so-called New Women who emerged during World War I. The subject of cartoons in The New Yorker andPunch, the typical modern woman lived in a bachelor flat in the city; she earned her own living and believed in "sexual freedom" (although she might not have known exactly what that meant). She smoked cigarettes, drank cocktails, and swore in public. She even looked different: Slim and uncorseted, she wore her skirts short and her hair bobbed. To all appearances, she was physically, legally, and emotionally emancipated. The generation gap between the woman of the 1920s and her Victorian mother was all but unbridgeable, and a girl could no longer look to her elders for advice.
The Technique is a guide for the modern woman written by one. The 1920s, like the 1960s, was an era in which youth set the standard, so it wasn't surprising that the anonymous "Gentlewoman" turned out to be a twenty-three-year-old sophisticate named Doris Langley Moore.
In one generation the Byzantine rituals of Victorian courtship had undergone a revolution: single women no longer extended invitations to suitors to "call" or held "at homes." Now even respectable women went unchaperoned to nightclubs, restaurants, and movies. The modern date was born, and the once neutral telephone became an instrument of both despair and bliss.
Moore's guidebook navigates women through terra incognita, a social world in which the old rules were no longer valid. Surely, it must be one of the first manuals to claim that a woman should cultivate more than one suitor and to dismiss virtue, intelligence, and domestic skill as irrelevant.
In its mood, style, and tone, The Technique evokes the postwar sensibility as portrayed by Noel Coward and Evelyn Waugh, in which Champagne, party games, and romantic intrigues were de rigueur. It was a time when men and women had dalliances or affairs, not relationships. Cypria and Saccharissa, the two women whose voices we hear throughout The Technique, could almost be characters in a Shavian drawing-room comedy. An undercurrent of irony runs through the book the author refuses to take anything too seriously, including her own advice. This was an age in which it was important not to be earnest; flippancy and cynicism were sane responses to an insane war.
The effects of the "Great War" are felt throughout The Technique. In the first chapter, the women allude to its casualties: the loss of ideals such as honor or virtue, and a diminishment of "older values," such as "money, birth, rank and respectability." The experienced Cypria doesn't lament the passing of the old ways, but for her and other young women, wartime casualties meant a shortage of eligible men. When there aren't enough men to go around, a woman needs a strategy to give her an edge over the competition.
The Technique of the Love Affair is a self-help book that transcends the genre. Written in dialogue, it's a droll parody of Plato's Symposium. Like Plato's Diotima, Cypria (whose name derives from Venus's birthplace) is an expert in the art of love. Her pupil is the aptly named Saccharissa, a naif who accepts the illusions of the past. In the course of the dialogue, Cypria will demolish her most cherished beliefs. "You don't believe what you don't wish to believe," she tells her. Women, no matter what they think, are not emancipated, for they still need men, "morally, physically, socially, and financially." Men, however, "rarely need women, and most never think of marrying unless they are attached." Yet, with ingenuity, artifice, and "prestige" (Moore's word for any quality that makes a woman desirable), most women can captivate a man and retain his love.
Saccharissa is appalled. "But Cypria, this is atrocious! To say we can actually make men love us love us by these horrible methods! I am no moralist, but your cynicism has shocked me." Yet, with her sophist arguments, the seductress convinces her and us of the need for guile; by the end of the book, the enlightened Saccharrisa is eager to try out Cypria's technique.
Since Moore is concerned with the technique of the affair, and not the joys of "True Love," her views are pragmatic, at times Machiavellian. Like it or not, this is the Realpolitik of romance:
"One of the most painful lessons the virtuous have to learn is that people do not fall in love with virtue. A noble character may enhance the attractions of one already beloved . . . but only in the rarest instance can it in itself produce the desire for possession. . . .
Certainly [chastity] is consoling, just as the sense of chastity is consoling to those who never had the opportunity of losing it; but subconsciously it was meant to be provocative to men as well. . . ."
Discretion, self-control, and dignity, not "intimacy" or "communication," the much-invoked bywords of our own age, are keys to a successful affair. In this sense, The Technique is an amusing and salutary contrast to the current crop of "relationship books." Unlike contemporary self-help gurus, the anonymous Gentlewoman assumes that women are reasonable beings, not victims of desire.
Women today can read the The Technique as a period piece, as a young woman's jeu d'esprit, or as a useful handbook. As Cypria says, "You may read it from whatever point of view you please either to be instructed or amused." Some of Moore's advice may seem dated or silly, perhaps even shocking. Yet, the author, an intelligent, strong-minded woman, isn't degrading women when she tells them to chatter or wheedle for gifts. In her own sly way, she's mocking and humoring the male need to dominate. This she is saying, is what men expect of us. To Moore, sex roles are just that, roles to be adopted and discarded at will. But, as she points out, her technique only works with the average male whose taste is fairly predictable. (And when it comes to women, the author notes that most men are conventional.) Who then has the power? The man who believes he's superior? Or the woman who lets him think he is?
Meet the Author
Doris Langley Moore , the "gentlewoman" who wrote this book, was born in Liverpool in 1902. She was a biographer, novelist, museum founder, fashion designer, television commentator, scholar, and Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature. She died in London in 1989.
Norrie Epstein is the author of The Friendly Shakespeare. She lives in Baltimore.
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