CHAPTER XV

“That’s all!” I murmured by way of conclusion. I was somewhat embarrassed by my uncle’s stubborn silence and feared that I had said too much. Without uttering a word, and with closed eyes, he persisted in drawing imaginary puffs of smoke from his pipe, although it had gone out a long time ago. At last, looking at me so mildly that I was astonished, he said:

“You don’t regret having followed my advice?”

“No, certainly not.”

“Well then, don’t keep your recipe all to yourself, egoistically. Let others profit as well as yourself.”

“In what way?”

“Relate your experiences to them.”

“Never! In your case it’s granted. You inspired the experiment and therefore I owed you an accurate account of it. But can you picture me making bed-room disclosures at a public lecture?”

“Write your story under a pseudonym. But do so very objectively, without any literary complications. Just a simple ‘experimental subject’, to use the language of physiologists.”

“To make them really convincing, my experiences would have to be described in strict chronological order, and without any fear of going into details as regards the multitudinous reactions of desire. But how could one do it without raising a storm of indignation?”

“Let the Pharisees shout as loud as they like. What they want to read about are adulterous women and inverts and enormities in general, suggested in ambiguous words; for the rule of the game consists in evoking scabrous situations by means of a vocabulary with a double meaning.”

“They would therefore accuse me of trickery if I evoked merely healthy conjugal love, and called things by their proper names.”

“On the other hand, other people would be grateful to you. They would approve of you for having frankly and without mock modesty approached that essential problem, — perhaps the most important of all social problems: sexual harmony in marriage.”

“Nevertheless they would object to the needlessness of too many details. Our fathers were content with points of suspension… and the rest was left to the imagination.”

“Carnal imagination? Let’s talk about that. You are well aware that the ‘average man’-whether he be a banker or an engineer-is totally devoid of it. Others find a substitute either in maniacal vices or a string of brutal obscenities; and as regards a household understanding that serves hardly any better purpose. But can one, without hypocrisy, reproach those primary pupils in the art of love with their unskilfulness? Who has ever thought of awakening or correcting their conjugal psychology?”

“Your primary pupils in erotism will always know enough to enable them to caress a woman and bring her to the pitch of their desire.”

“Not at all! The virtuoso in conjugal love is as rare as the true poet. All the others with their big clumsy paws are lamentable, — capable, perhaps, of the beginning of a caress, but soon short of breath for want of inspiration. And it is for their sake (to prevent their wives going elsewhere to slake their thirst for fleshly tenderness) that you ought to publish your ‘experimental subject’.”

“Others have done it before me.”

“They have only done it by half. They didn’t dare to stoop to that humble minuteness as regards details for which the contented egoism of an unimaginative husband is in no way a substitute.”

Without waiting for further objections on my part, my uncle continued:

“Many times when, during the War, we were ‘in the blues’, young officers confided their amorous exploits to me, — and often with splendid vigour. But, in almost every case, what a lack of light and shade there was! — what lamentable ignorance as regards the reflexes of a virgin! — what brutality on the occasion of the initiation! And when I reproached one of them for having celebrated the first night of his marriage cavalierly, without waiting for a few days necessary for his young wife’s fleshly awakening, he looked at me nonplussed and exclaimed: ‘Well, that’s a good joke! We were absolutely alone in my bachelor’s quarters, and I was bursting to have her. Wait a few days before possessing my wife! What should we have done all that time?’ “

“It is to that question that my narrative ought to be an answer.”

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