Category Archives: musings

The Moons Of Paradise

For many people, one of the great pleasures in buying secondhand books is to find between the covers some evidence of a previous owner. Bookplates and carefully calligraphed names; inscriptions from friends or family; footnotes and angry annotations; opinions on torn pieces of paper hurriedly inserted at a random page or carefully pasted on to the endpapers; tram tickets and cigarette cards; reviews and author obituaries snipped from newspapers or journals; pressed flowers from some languid, long-ago summer afternoon when the book was last loved: such things somehow connect you with another time as well as another reader and offer an insight in to their past or perhaps even your own future in a way unique to this peculiar experience that causes certain book buyers to rhapsodise in similarly florid terms. Personally, I find it rather off-putting and annoying; if I want a book defaced I’ll bloody well do it myself. However, occasionally I will discover something that fills me with joy.

A couple of weeks ago I found a copy of The Moons Of Paradise [1], and I’ve been smirking ever since. It’s a book about breasts. More specifically, as you will quickly deduce from its proper title, ‘The Moons Of Paradise: some reflections on the appearance of the female breast in art…’ by Mervyn Levy (Arthur Barker Ltd., 1962), it is a book about arty breasts, a subject certainly ripe for exploration which, as far as I know, wasn’t tackled by the likes of EH Gombrich. (I could be wrong about that, of course; art historians are a notoriously rum bunch.) I’ve no idea how seriously Levy takes his subject either because I haven’t actually read the book, nor do I think it likely that I ever will. But then, I don’t need to; the previous owner of this copy has read it for me, and read it with a zeal and eye for detail that is little short of astonishing. Despite his obvious enthusiasm for the subject matter and the pains he has clearly taken in his annotations and additions, it seems he may have strayed slightly from the scholarly path on to the well-trodden promenade of seaside smut; but even if his amateur scholarship was academe’s loss (unless there is a secret Benny Hill Chair in Mammarial Studies at Cambridge), it is undoubtedly our gain. I think it best if I take you through the book page by page for a while.

We start with a quotation from Eugenio Coseriu [2], a mystic incantation and a bad French pun on the front endpapers:

sur les seins de l’epouse, on ecrase l’epoux.

A BRA, CAD, A BRA!

le seins-posium

a bra, cad, a bra

Overleaf, the verso grants us further puns based around the word ‘seins’, whilst the recto gains two carefully-drawn papillary dots in each O of the word ‘MOONS’, the reflection that ‘Bust (bosom) is just sublimated bottom’ and the first hand-drawn bosom of many, labelled ‘From Great Divide to Cleavage’. I think you may be beginning to get the picture…

There are 31 further drawings of pairs of breasts on the dedication page (along with the inscription ‘tats for tits’),

and then the fun really begins. From here onward almost every single page of this 140-page book has a newspaper clipping, postcard, or picture inserted, each of which, as you may already have guessed, is… well… is like this:

and this:

and this:

You get the idea. Oh go on then; one more:

Several of the newspaper clippings are from 1970, so it seems fair to date this extraordinary endeavour of thematic archiving to around that point. From our hyper-sexualised vantage here in the early 21st Century, this book’s new contents seem rather innocent. Preserved for the last forty years as a memento mammary (I’m not going to apologise for that; it gets to you, this book), it may seem little more than an oddity, a curious relic of one man’s unusual obsession, but I think that as an historical document (yes, really), this book might have some value. Discuss.

[1] Freudian typo: I originally wrote ‘mons’ instead of ‘moons’. Make of that what you will.
[2] No, me neither. Sorry. Google him.

I’ve never seen ‘cystitis’ used in an epitaph before

I love inappropriate humour. To me there are few greater pleasures than having to stifle giggles at a time when decorous, ‘adult’ behaviour is demanded. The aftermath of real instances of accidental slapstick, especially the glorious way people attempt to regain their composure immediately after having fallen over (the best instance of which I saw being a pinstriped office-worker slipping in a spilled delivery of strawberry ice cream outside a branch of Baskin-Robbins in Marylebone: I defy anyone not to have roared as he floundered and cursed in a mountain of pink goo on the pavement), young children innocently swearing, or the simple joy of a good, old-fashioned, unseemly remark (e.g. Dr. Graham Chapman’s at Dachau): all are guaranteed to make me laugh.

But it’s very seldom that you find yourself reduced to gales of laughter in a cemetery. In North Sheen (aka Fulham New) Cemetery in SW London there is the most bizarre 20th Century epitaph I’ve seen, one which caused a fit of teary bemusement when I read it. Here it is:

 

Joan Winifred Keats

21.10.28 – 23.6.74

“For cystitis I was treated wrong

For more than three months too long;

Until cancer developed beyond control,

When euthanasia took its toll.”

 

The verse itself is bad, there’s no doubt of that – the last line in iambic tetrameter even recalls Butler’s famed Hudibras, the model of bad verse – but it’s the content that continues to baffle me. That this poor woman seems to have suffered horribly from a misdiagnosed cancer before consenting to a mercy-killing at the age of forty-five is of course no cause for merriment, but what on earth could have possessed her family to have erected this as a monument? It’s just weird. Did she write it herself and demand it be chiselled in to her headstone, an early version of Spike Milligan’s “I told you I was ill”? Is it even jocular? Am I being horribly insensitive in finding any amusement in this at all? Why else, though, would cystitis and euthanasia be mentioned? And such a bad poem being attributed to someone called ‘Keats’ is surely too much of a coincidence, isn’t it? Isn’t it?

Someone please tell me more. There’s a story here and I really want to know it.


 

Regrettably I didn’t have a camera with me at the time of my visit and I can’t remember exactly where the grave is – I think sections 1c 2c 3c are a good place to start but be warned my memory is a little hazy. I’m sure it was around there somewhere.