Sunday, January 28, 2024

Weeds don’t spoil: my reading of SOUTH WIND by Norman Douglas

“Weeds don’t spoil.” That’s my most memorable quote from South Wind by Norman Douglas and a proverb made to order for me. Because I am a weed and I’d like to think that I don’t spoil. Of course this is wishful thinking as I age all the same as anyone else, but there is still something to it because I don’t abide by convention and can therefore perhaps reap some fresher benefits than others. I dare to think differently and be different. You can all read the South Wind here as I’ve put it up on the MRA Archive and styled it pleasantly for reading on all kinds of devices. I have also corrected numerous typos throughout, so I think this is the best version on the Internet. In doing so I felt almost like the character Mr. Eames who says: “Have you ever tried to annotate a classic, Mr. Heard? I assure you it opens up new vistas, new realms of delight. It gives one a genuine zest in life. Enthralling!”

So, why did I bother with this classic, and is it a classic? Given what we know about his personal life, Douglas would have identified as a sexualist or a MAP or both like I do if he had been alive today. That is why I wanted to give him a chance. I like to test the merits of an old sexualist on his word rather than his reputation. He was a weed even in his own time, once (in 1937) having to flee Florence on allegations he “raped” a 10-year-old girl, so it’s quite possible he never attained the literary estimation he deserves. Let us get directly to the sex via the character whom all the men in the novel adore:

He worshipped from afar. He would have liked to worship from a little nearer, but did not know how to set about it; he was afraid of troubling what he called her innocence. Hitherto he had scored no great success. Angelina, aged fifteen, with the figure of a fairy, a glowing complexion, and a rich southern voice, was perfectly aware of his idealistic sentiments. She responded to the extent of gazing at him, now and then, in a most disconcerting fashion. It was as though she cared little about idealism. She did not smile. There was neither love nor disdain in that gaze; it was neither hot nor cold, nor yet lukewarm; it was something else, something he did not want at all—something that made him feel childish and uncomfortable…. And another pair of eyes were watching all the time, her sinuous movements—those of Mr. Edgar Marten. This young scientist, too, cherished loving thoughts about Angelina, thoughts of a more earthly and volcanic tinge; certain definite projects which made him forget, at times, his preoccupation with biotite, perlite, magnetite, anorthite, and pyroxene.

Yeah, that is beautiful. Another sexy passage I just have to quote:

The capacity of an English girl for coming to the point will take some beating. She paralyses you with directness. I will tell you a true story. There was a young Italian whom I knew—yes, I knew him well. He had just arrived in London; very handsome in the face, though perhaps a little too fat. He fell in love with an elegant young lady who was employed in the establishment of Madame Elise in Bond Street. He used to wait for her to come out at six o'clock and follow her like a dog, not daring to speak. He carried a costly bracelet for her in his pocket, and every day fresh flowers, which he was always too shy and too deeply enamoured to present. She was his angel, his ideal. He dreamt of her by day and night, wondering whether he would ever have the courage to address so tall and queenly a creature. It was his first English love affair, you understand; he learnt the proper technique later on. For five or six weeks this unhappy state of things continued, till one day, when he was running after her as usual, she turned round furiously and said: 'What do you mean, sir, by following me about it this disgusting fashion? How day you? I shall call the police, if it occurs again.' He was deprived of speech at first: he could only gaze in what you call dumb amazement. Then he managed to stammer out something about his heart and his love, and to show her the flowers and the bracelet. She said: 'So that's it, is it? Well of all the funny boys. Why couldn't you speak up sooner? D'you know of a place round here—'"

That's my experience with English girls too and I love them for it. It gets even better:

“Chastity be blowed. It's an unclean state of affairs, and dangerous to the community. You can’t call yourself a good citizen till you have learnt to despise it from the bottom of your heart. It’s an insult to the Creator and an abomination to man and beast.

This, I think, is Norman Douglas speaking to us as a sexualist and the heart of his philosophy. But I must say one does not read this book as a sort of erotic story, and certainly not pornographic. It is also not really a discussion of sexual ethics. I waited in vain for any sort of sustained discourse of that nature to pop up. Nonetheless, there are tidbits. There is a character called Mr. van Koppen who is just like Geoffrey Epstein except he keeps the girls on a yacht named The Flutterby rather than Lolita Island and he hoards them all for himself. Whatever discussion occurs of sexual ethics coalesces around this figure:

“Ah yes,” replied Mr. Heard. “I wondered, supposing these reports about the ladies are true, how far you and I, for example, should condone his vices.” […]

“How would you like to be haled before a Court of law for some ridiculous trifle, which became a crime only because it used to be a sin, and became a sin only because some dyspeptic old antediluvian was envious of his neighbour’s pleasure? Our statute-book reeks of discarded theories of conduct; the serpent’s trail of the theologian, of the reactionary, is over all.” [...]

“That is how I feel—expanding, and taking on other tints. New problems, new influences, are at work upon me. It is as if I needed altogether fresh standards. Sometimes I feel almost ashamed—”

“Ashamed? My dear Heard, this will never do. You must take a blue pill when we get home.” [...]

Something new had insinuated itself into his blood, some demon of doubt and disquiet which threatened his old-established conceptions. Whence came it? The effect of changed environment—new friends, new food, new habits? The unaccustomed leisure which gave him, for the first time, a chance of thinking about non-professional matters? The south wind acting on his still weakened health? All these together? Or had he reached an epoch in his development, the termination of one of those definite life—periods when all men worthy of the name pass through some cleansing process of spiritual desquamation, and slip their outworn weeds of thought and feeling? […]

In the first place it was a singular fact, much commented on, that nobody had ever been invited on board the yacht. That alone was suspicious. IF YOU WANT TO GET ANYTHING OUT OF OLD KOPPEN—so ran a local saying—DON'T PROPOSE A VISIT TO THE FLUTTERBY. More curious still was the circumstance that nobody, save the owner and certain bearded venerables of the crew, had ever been known to land on the island. How about the other passengers? Who were they? The millionaire never so much as mentioned their existence. It was surmised, accordingly, that he voyaged over the seas with a bevy of light-hearted nymphs; a disreputable mode of conduct for a man of his advanced years, and all the more aggravating to other people since, like a crafty and jealous old sultan, he screened them from public view. Impropriety could be overlooked—it could pass, where a millionaire was concerned, under the heading of unconventionality; but such glaring selfishness might end in being fatal to his reputation. […]

And then—the difference between himself and the millionaire in life, training, antecedents! A career such as van Koppen’s called for qualities different, often actually antagonistic, to his own. You could not possibly expect to find in a successful American merchant those features which go to form a successful English ecclesiastic. Certain human attributes were mutually exclusive—avarice and generosity, for instance; others no doubt mysteriously but inextricably intertwined. A man was an individual; he could not be divided or taken to pieces; he could not be expected to possess virtues incompatible with the rest of his mental equipment, however desirable such virtues might be. Who knows? Van Koppen's doubtful acts might be an unavoidable expression of his personality, an integral part of that nature under whose ferocious stimulus he had climbed to his present enviable position. And Mr. Heard was both shocked and amused to reflect that but for the co-operation of certain coarse organic impulses to which these Nepenthe legends testified, the millionaire might never have been able to acquire the proud title of “Saviour of his Country.” [...]

“That's queer,” he mused. “It never struck me before. Shows how careful one must be. Dear me! Perhaps the ladies have inevitable organic impulses of a corresponding kind. Decidedly queer. H’m. Ha. Now I wonder…. And perhaps, if the truth were known, these young persons are having quite a good time of it—”

He paused abruptly in his reflections. He had caught himself in the act; in the very act of condoning vice. Mr. Thomas Heard was seriously concerned.

Something was wrong, he concluded. He would never have argued on similar lines a short time ago. This downright sympathy with sinners, what did it portend? Did it betray a lapse from his old-established principles, a waning of his respect for traditional morality? Was he becoming a sinner himself? [...]

“Can it be the south wind?”

"Everybody blames the poor sirocco. I imagine you have long been maturing for this change, unbeknown to yourself. And what does it mean? Only that you are growing up. Nobody need be ashamed of growing up…. Here we are, at last!

Yes, here we are. We are communing with a real man, a sexualist, an antidote to the normies more so now than ever and a breath of fresh air. This is one reason to read this book, but it is not sufficient reason to read 500 pages. One must also enjoy the plot, the style, and the many characters who have little to do with sexualism. What can I say overall? Well, it was slow to get into. It was not like G.K. Chesterton’s masterpiece The Man Who Was Thursday -- also highly relevant to activism -- which I found suspenseful from the first page. But once I got into the South Wind, I can say I enjoyed this novel for all its literary qualities including a liberal sprinkling of humor throughout and good old classical learning which is so homely when you know Latin. It is a beautiful novel.

There is a character named Mr. Keith which for some reason reminds me of our commenter Jack here. He and others really come alive and their various musings are worth listening to. Correct me if this is not also your philosophy, Jack:

Money enables you to multiply your sensations—to travel about, and so forth. In doing so, you multiply your personality, as it were; you lengthen your days, figuratively speaking; you come in contact with more diversified aspects of life than a person of my limited means can afford to do. The body, you say, is a subtle instrument to be played upon in every variety of manner and rendered above all things as sensitive as possible to pleasurable impressions. In fact, you want to be a kind of Aeolian harp. I admit that this is more than a string of sophisms; you may call it a philosophy of life.

The setting, too, is beautiful. A fictional island called Nepenthe situated near Italy shines vividly in my imagination, not least through the brilliant device of Mr. Eames the annotator of a classical work about the island which is often quoted along with potential annotations to update us on how it developed until the present day. The south wind -- the sirocco -- which blows all summer is also an essential ingredient tying it all together. I learned later that Nepenthe has a real equivalent called Capri, but it works just as well as a complete fiction.

And all the characters have flaws which makes them so human, because although it gets over-the-top sometimes it is not far from the truth. Everybody cheats in some way, just like in real life, some in more harmful ways than others. I have to say that cheating the sexual norms like Norman Douglas himself did so much, and I do and we male sexualists and MAPs make our creed and ideology, is one of the more harmless ways to cheat social norms. There is, in addition to the Epstein clone, a forger of antique sculptures, a cruel Duke Ferdinand who used to rule the island (“his method of collecting taxes—a marvel of simplicity. Each citizen paid what he liked. If the sum proved insufficient he was apprised of the fact next morning by having his left hand amputated; a second error of judgment—it happened rather seldom—was rectified by the mutilation of the remaining member”), a drunkard lady who exposes the bad natures of those who profess to be concerned about her, a corrupt judge, the Bishop of Bampopo with an African perspective, a bunch of savage Russians including an illiterate Messiah figure, a murderess whom everyone including the reader excuses, a lawyer who is so immoral that he is moral…

He was profoundly convinced of the prisoner’s guilt. This was lucky for the young man. Had he thought otherwise he would probably have refused to take up the case. Don Giustino made a point of never defending innocent people. They were idiots who entangled themselves in the meshes of the law; they fully deserved their fate. Really to have murdered Muhlen was the one and only point in the prisoner’s favour. It made him worthy of his rhetorical efforts. All his clients were guilty, and all of them got off scot free. “I never defend people I can't respect,” he used to say.

This resonates with me. When I was charged with incitement in 2012, in all sincerity I was and am still the guiltiest man ever to be brought up on those charges since Vidkun Quisling, and that is precisely why I got away with it, because I am not messing around. Sometimes guilt is redemption, especially when one is honest to a fault, because the laws were not designed to catch an honest man and it is below the paygrade of a great lawyer to defend a man who is simply innocent.

Now I understand why Nabokov includes this figure in Lolita as a kindred spirit to MAPs or at least pederasts (Gaston Godin, Humbert's homosexual colleague at Beardsley College, has a photograph of Norman Douglas on his studio wall). Yes, Douglas was a boylover -- but he also says he deflowered 1100 virgins and South Wind is all about girls. It belongs on the MRA Archive and is thankfully out of copyright since it was first published in 1917. It is not a succinct work of activism by any means, but is a literary masterwork and spiritual food for our sexualist hearts. This is forceful writing which leaves me feeling uplifted both on its literary merits and because it offers some escape from the brainless, hateful, humorless, pedophobic antisex bigotry which consumes our present times, especially the Epstein hysteria which is so artfully mocked in the excerpts I have presented herein, proving once again that weeds don’t spoil. Indeed, Norman Douglas is fresher a hundred years later than he could have foreseen and even his normie characters are rebels now.