A Gentlewoman Advises

The Technique of the Love Affair was originally published anonymously, “by a gentlewoman,” to avoid irritating the authoress’ in-laws. The gentlewoman turned out to be Doris Langley Moore, a wonderful and talented writer, costumer, fashion expert, Byron apologist and wit, and she acknowledged authorship of Technique only a few years after publishing it. Norrie Epstein has edited the book with notes, commentary, an introduction to D.L. Moore and pertinent quotes from other sources at the beginning of each chapter.

The book is largely written as a Platonic dialog between experienced, pragmatic Cypria (named for Venus’ birthplace) and conventional, naïve Sacharissa (whose name needs no explanation). The middle chapters are almost solely Cypria’s advice without interruption, but the conceit of the dialog quickly establishes the droll, even wry sense of humor with which it is presented. It is for the most part good advice, but it is also satire: it is serious, but not be taken seriously. It is playful.

There are books in which the footnotes and editor’s introduction make no difference at all. This is not one of those. A woman’s situation in 1928 includes many factors either forgotten or taken for granted today. The catastrophic loss of (primarily male) life during the Great War had numerous and enormous implications. The rejection of Victorianism, the shift in social mores, a change in humor, changes in speech patterns, all this and much more is related to that event and terribly disturbing to the mating habits of the Western Human. Through the introduction and copious footnotes (side bars actually, but I don’t much like the word “sidenotes”), Epstein makes it all very clear, explaining literary references, mentioning later studies, and explaining items such as why something was “shocking” to whomever might have been shocked when it was written.

Now to the advice itself. I found myself wanting to laugh aloud frequently, not only because of the humor but also because of an alternation between thinking, “Yes! Oh, this should be required reading!” and “…except for that bit, which doesn’t make sense any more.” Any book of this sort is bound to have the “as then, so now” comments made about it. Partly, that’s true: men are men, women are women, and less than a century’s passing will hardly change that. Yet a horribly frustrating thing to me is how women keep thinking the things about us which have ceased to be true but discard truths about us which have never changed. Ironically, that is one of Cypria’s complaints: that silly Sacharissa clings to Victorian notions which have no support from contemporary reality but insists that the modern man is changed in ways which he is not. A modern female reader must be wary of taking advice to heart which was valid 90 years ago, for it may or may not be so now.

Take, for example, a man’s view of this book: I don’t know about then, but much of the advice applies very well to women now! Several points have in fact reversed entirely as regards which gender holds which point of view. The potential for trouble here is enormous if people don’t (a) think carefully, (b) remember this is playful satire, and (c) have at least some powers of observation. I would dearly love to find a book like this aimed at making men more adept at dealing with women, finding and catching one worth keeping, keeping everyone happy, and protecting themselves from emotional or social injury – in short, a gender-flipped version of this very tome – and I have little doubt such a thing has been attempted, somewhere; but I’d be surprised if it were this good, this fun, or this fascinating.  In any case, if you are a man who meets the above three qualifications, The Technique will be an enjoyable read for you as well.

This very entertaining, informative book is one that I definitely recommend. I may have to also look up Moore’s other works, in particular Pleasure: A Discursive Guide Book, her two plays, and her books about Lord Byron.

You can easily get a copy of the book here.

Join the conversation (new commenters may not appear immediately)

Stranger, here you will do well to tarry; here our highest good is pleasure.