The year was 1941 and Britain was facing the threat of Nazi invasion, it’s cities anticipated merciless bombardment at the hands of the Luftwaffe and the march of the Reich towards the gleaming cliffs of Dover appeared unstoppable. Somewhere in London a man grimly contemplating the destruction, slaughter and rape that may lie ahead was designing ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’ posters, not realising that in 70 years time this would become the motto of similarly embattled Brits facing the difficult challenges of their age such as managing to unload the dishwasher before picking up the kids from school while somehow finding time to place an order with Ocado.
It may seem odd to us now that at a time of rationing one of the books that should be published that fateful year was Rennie MacAndrew’s ‘Encyclopaedia of Sex and Love Technique’. A quick look at the front page informs us of its tremendous success. Between 1941 and 44 when my edition was made, it had been reprinted no less than seven times. To what, one wonders can we attribute such a phenomena? Was it young girls, anxious to avail themselves of the facts of life before the Nazi conquerors turned up in their kinky uniforms? Or inexperienced soldiers, curiously flicking through before visiting the brothels of the western front? Or was it housewives who fancied a spot of ‘how’s your father’ with one of those neat American G.Is without getting ‘in the family way’? Or was it simply part of a very practical and quintessentially British effort to repopulate the islands?
To the modern reader ‘Encyclopaedia of Sex and Love Technique’ is a very strange book indeed. The first thing that strikes you is that there are absolutely no pictures whatsoever. Not even a pie chart. The second thing is the amazing range of subjects that fall into MacAndrews remit. Along side chapters on contraception and childbirth, there are lengthy sections on how women should dress and do their hair and the chapter entitled ‘The Poetry of Love’ is nothing more than an extremely long quotation of Ovid.
For the modern female reader the advice which MacAndrew (a man by the way) offers on how to present oneself in order to attract a husband may be a bit hard to swallow. One of his suggestions is that women dress according to their colouration, which he divides into four categories; The Pale Blonde, The Dark Blonde, The Pale Brunette and the Florid Brunette. Racial minorities such as Black, Asian or Red Head are left out of his reckoning. Of the four types The Pale Brunette is most to be pitied, ‘her skin’ he writes ‘is pale and sallow’ and she should avoid any colour that ‘accentuates this sallowness’ such as white, black, red, blue, purple, green and pink.
He goes on to offer tips on Manicure and Coiffure and on what he describes as ‘the sportiveness of love’ in which ‘the woman pretends to deny her body to her lover, for this brings out the male instinct of chase, at the same time satisfying the female longing to be perused and forced into submission.’ MacAndrew goes on to warn however that ‘care must be exercised not to damage the erect male organ’.
In return for these attentions the man must make an effort not to be impotent and not to be a ‘hasty ejaculator’. The remedy MacAndrew suggests for the second of these maladies is such a protracted and mechanical performance of deep breathing, rests and moderated application that one pities the poor woman, trapped beneath her lover who, book in hand, is subjecting her to these joyless machinations.
Homosexuality according to MacAndrew is acquired and very rare, in the case of Lesbianism he says; “I believe that only about one woman in every ten thousand could be so described” most lesbian relationships come about when a girl “unable to find a male companion will select a woman companion and … make a substitute love affair … but always with the mental reservation that it is a substitute for the real thing”. Male homosexuality is more frequent and “far more prevalent in London” but still only estimates one man in every thousand falls into this category. “The idea of close physical contact between two members of the same sex is of course repugnant to the normal man or woman.” MacAndrew cheerfully states, going on to describe his disgust when “after answering an advert for dancing lessons I found that I was to be taught by a stout, middle aged man instead of an attractive instructress. Having paid for my course, my Scottish caution made me continue with it, but my hatred of embracing another man made me thankful when it was at an end.”
To be entirely fair to MacAndrew his advice reflects the times and could hardly have been much different in a country where homosexuality would not be legalised for twenty years.
At other points in the book his attitudes are surprisingly progressive, if somewhat idiosyncratic. He enthuses at length about the similarly illegal practice of Nudism, which if more prevalent in Britain would lead to less ‘repression and hypocrisy’. Although he does make the reservation that certain people ought not to practice it on ‘Aesthetic grounds’, such people he adds, “have none but themselves to blame if they become an object of censure and disgust.”
Sadism is also to be tolerated, and any problems such urges might cause can be remedied were ‘sadists to marry masochists, and then each would be satisfied.’
While ‘Encyclopaedia of Love Technique’ is of limited value to the modern lover, it does give us an interesting picture of a world emerging from the bloody mire of the early twentieth century, and plodding somewhat encumbered by the baggage of Victorian morality toward the impending swingingness that the children this book helped bring about, would enjoy.