|The Prince's Person by Roger Peyrefitte|
I've just stumbled across this in the 'Modern Literature' section of the Oxfam bookshop in Kentish Town; a remarkable bit of gossipy historical smut by the flamboyant French gay rights campaigner Roger Peyrefitte (1907–2000), in a cheap 1966 paperback edition. I won't bother reviewing it for you. Here's the blurb on the back cover:
The most bawdy, most ribald true story you'll ever read.
Was 16th Century Italy's young Prince of Mantua impotent? His pre-marital antics seemed to indicate a rampantly priapic nature – but in that case how was it that his teenage wife was still a virgin? Relatives on both sides were outraged. The Catholic Church was scandalised. The succession of the Dukedom of Mantua looked to be in serious danger. Something had to be done. Arrangements were made. The Prince was to prove himself.
By deflowering a virgin – in front of witnesses.
And wow, it is indeed a page-turner, packed with historical details, crude double entendres and unrestrained anti-Catholic merry vitriol. I'll lend it to you when I've finished it. Here's how it begins.
At the back of the book, there are adverts for a couple of other books in the 'Panther Fiction' series. This one especially caught my eye:
THE NIGHTCLERK 5/–
J. Spencer Blight, 'the fattest man in America', presides over 'six floors of rooms to let and enough beds for nearly every bug'. To while away the night hours he reads pornography and ruminates on his years with his beautiful, impossibly corrupt wife, Katy. What years they'd been! What games they'd got up to! . . .
'Mad entertainment' Sunday Telegraph
'Scenes of preposterous depravity' The Guardian
'A roaring success' Daily Mail
Not bad review quotes, eh? I'm inclined to hunt a copy down. Also at the back of the book, there's the following list of other authors published by Panther Books: Henry Miller, Norman Mailer, Karl Marx, Jean-Paul Sartre, Jean Genet, Alan Moorehead, Nicholas Monsarrat, Chester Himes, James Jones, Erich Maria Remarque, Len Deighton, Saki, Jack London, James Hadley Chase, Georgette Heyer, Violette Leduc, Isaac Asimov, Jules Verne, Hans Habe, Marquis de Sade, Doris Lessing, Mary McCarthy, Edmund Wilson, Louis Auchincloss, J.G. Ballard, Henry Williamson, Vladimir Nabokov, Fernando Henriques, John O'Hara, Howard Fast, Hubert Monteilhet, Julian Mitchell, Agnar Mykle, Simon Raven, Marcel Proust, John Rechy, Gore Vidal, John Barth, Alan Williams, Bill Naughton, John Horne Burns, David Caute, Ivan Turgenev, Colin Wilson, H.P. Lovecraft, Rachel Carson, Jerzy Peterkiewicz, Curzio Malaparte, Kurt Vonnegut Jr, Denise Robins.
What a line-up. Wouldn't you like to have been a publisher in the 1960s?