These Are the Reasons You’ve Failed, and Other News


On the Shelf

So sorry, writer! Image via Open Culture/Slate; full list available via link below.

  • Therese Oneill’s new book, Unmentionable, looks at your wedding night through the eyes of the Victorians, who were not, hindsight has revealed, exceptionally skillful sex educators. As Oneill writes, the books of the era found women inscrutable to the point of lunacy; they made sex sound like something that might, someday, with luck and patience, become almost enjoyable: “A new bride is to face her wedding night with a completely symptomless sexuality, dormant inside you, to be awakened only by your lawful husband’s touch … The new you is described thusly in 1895’s The Doctor’s Plain Talk to Young Men, written by the impossibly perfectly named Dr. Virgil Primrose English: ‘[The bride] is not deficient in sexuality and amativeness; but her mind and habits have been so pure, and free from lust, that there has never been anything to produce an excitement of the sexual passions. She may be indifferent regarding intercourse, and she may look upon it with horror.’ ”
  • In the seventies, as a visiting professor at Harvard, Elizabeth Bishop met Alice Methfessel, the woman with “blue blue blue” eyes who would animate Bishop’s last years: “Methfessel helped Bishop move into her second-floor rooms and showed her how to use the basement washing machines. Soon, she was handling Bishop’s mail, and meeting her at the airport after a late return from New York. One night, she stopped in to see Bishop after a ‘beery party’ with the boys of Kirkland House. They began spending nights together … In the morning, Bishop watched Methfessel dress from the large blue bed that took up more space than anything else in the room. She adored ‘the way you pull on your stockings … very American, careless and extravagant,’ and the sound of Methfessel’s voice, ‘nice & loud and cheerful,’ as she brought her coffee and spoke the words that soon became their waking-up ritual, ‘Good-morning I love you.’ ”