The following item appeared in the Globe's Ideas section today. To read the research I did for this item, click here.
Like liberal arts majors everywhere, my attention has been captured by the unfolding story of Temeka Rachelle Lewis, one of the dispatchers at the Emperor's Club V.I.P., the prostitution ring patronized by Eliot Spitzer. It turns out that Lewis, the so-called "hooker booker" who arranged the Washington, DC tryst between Client 9 and 22-year-old call girl/aspiring R&B singer Ashley Alexandra Dupré (aka Kristen), is the "bookish" type; in fact, she graduated from the University of Virginia in 1997 with a B.A. in English Lit. "It seems unlikely," noted a New York Times story last week, "that anything in the great works of fiction she studied in college would have prepared [Lewis] for the gritty realities of playing air traffic controller to high-flying young women meeting men in hotels."
Nonsense! We bookish souls have met Client 9 and Kristen before, not merely in sleazy pulp paperbacks, but in innumerable works of North American and European fiction regarded as English-language classics. In fact, it's difficult to imagine "great works of fiction" that don't feature respectable middle-aged men who turn into hypocrites, scoundrels, and fools when in pursuit of young women; or young women who enter into romantic liaisons with unpleasant men for personal gain.
For example, the first five titles on the Modern Library's list of 100 Best Novels are James Joyce’s "Ulysses" (1922), F. Scott Fitzgerald's "The Great Gatsby" (1925), Joyce's "A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man" (1916), Vladimir Nabokov's "Lolita" (1955), and Aldous Huxley's "Brave New World" (1932). Assuming she studied these works in high school or college, Lewis would have read about a young woman who married for money, and a man who prospered in organized crime in order to win her back ("Gatsby"); as well as a "pneumatic" young woman raised in a society that encourages promiscuity, while a powerful, maladjusted Alpha male grows jealous of her suitors ("Brave New World"). She would also have encountered several call girls, and their screwed-up clients: In "Lolita," Humbert Humbert's first "nymphet" is Monique, a childlike prostitute. And in both "Ulysses" and "Portrait," the religious-minded Stephen Dedalus obsessively visits brothels, then ruminates confusedly about whoremongering and theology.
On The Guardian's list of "The 100 Greatest Novels of All Time," meanwhile, we find George Orwell’s "1984" (1949), whose protagonist visits ugly old prostitutes, then embarks on an affair with a seductive young woman, only to discover the hard way that the totalitarian Party won't permit citizens to derive pleasure from sex; Joseph Heller's "Catch-22" (1961), in which an
Air Force US Army Air Corps flyer falls in love with a prostitute from Rome who grows furious when he offers to make an honest woman of her; and J.D. Salinger's "The Catcher in the Rye" (1951), whose antihero gets punched in the stomach and robbed after he tells a prostitute that he's unable to perform because he is recovering from a "clavichord" operation.
One could go on. Prostitutes and the men who want to redeem or be redeemed by them, to rescue or dominate them, figure in innumerable undergrad-assigned novels from Charles Dickens's "Oliver Twist" (1838) to Margaret Atwood's "The Handmaid's Tale" (1985); and that's not even counting French and Russian literature. However gritty the reality may be, life -- as always -- imitates art.
UPDATE: Harry B. of Concord, Mass., writes: You erred in calling the patriotic, whore-loving Nately an Air Force flyer. Nately and all of Yosarian's other flying buddies were member of "the fighting 256th squadron" of the U.S. Army Air Corps. The U.S. Air Force was not established until 1947, two years after the end of WW-II.
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Leon Neyfakh is the staff writer for Ideas. Amanda Katz is the deputy Ideas editor. Stephen Heuser is the Ideas editor.
Guest blogger Simon Waxman is Managing Editor of Boston Review and has written for WBUR, Alternet, McSweeney's, Jacobin, and others.
Guest blogger Elizabeth Manus is a writer living in New York City. She has been a book review editor at the Boston Phoenix, and a columnist for The New York Observer and Metro.
Guest blogger Sarah Laskow is a freelance writer and editor in New York City. She edits Smithsonian's SmartNews blog and has contributed to Salon, Good, The American Prospect, Bloomberg News, and other publications.
Guest blogger Joshua Glenn is a Boston-based writer, publisher, and freelance semiotician. He was the original Brainiac blogger, and is currently editor of the blog HiLobrow, publisher of a series of Radium Age science fiction novels, and co-author/co-editor of several books, including the story collection "Significant Objects" and the kids' field guide to life "Unbored."
Guest blogger Ruth Graham is a freelance journalist in New Hampshire, and a frequent Ideas contributor. She is a former features editor for the New York Sun, and has written for publications including Slate and the Wall Street Journal.
Joshua Rothman is a graduate student and Teaching Fellow in the Harvard English department, and an Instructor in Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. He teaches novels and political writing.