Many years ago when I was a student I decided to do a J1 in Chicago. While there I managed to stumble into a sales job in one of the best venues in the city, the Art Institute of Chicago. While working there I was able to spend my breaks wandering around appreciating some of the best (and worst) art ever created from a wide range of art genres. However the artist that I came to love the most only had a brief dalliance in the Art Institute (one semester) and to this day I still think he is bloody awesome. That man is the illustrator and writer Edward Gorey (1925-2000).
You may already know of Edward Gorey through some of his works such as The Gashleycrum Tinies, The Curious Sofa and the Dancing Cats And Neglected Murderesses (and many,many more). The has a distinctive style, often macabre and gothic. Many of the books have a Victorian or Edwardian style which adds to their subtle creepiness or as we shall look at below, innuendo.
The book I would like to highlight in this post is The Recently Deflowered Girl: The Right thing to say on Every Dubious Occasion by Hyacinthe Phypps. Published in 1965 it didn’t make much of a splash at the time and went out of print. Luckily for us and for young ladies everywhere the content found its way onto the internet and gained such a following that it was reissued and I was able to finally purchase a copy of my own.
The book was illustrated by Gorey, not written by him, despite internet rumours to the contrary. “Hyacinthe Phypps” is actually Mel Juffe (1929-2005), who was a journalist, teacher, radio presenter and the author of Flash. The humour and ideas in this book was very much Juffe’s and Gorey’s illustrations really give life to his ideas.
So what is the book actually about? The book is a parody of an advice column where young ladies write to Miss Hyacinthe Phypps about situations in which they were recently deflowered and she advises them on their “situation.” It is not meant to be taken seriously at all*, as you will see from some of the examples. Juffe states in the Editors Note at the start of the book that:
“For more than half a century Miss Hyacinthe Phypps has been offering guidance on proper behaviour. Her simple rules of propriety and common sense have helped a generation of girls over the threshold of womanhood.”
The situations that the girls find themselves in are funny, imaginative and outlandish. See for example the girl who was “Deflowered at Seance” by an imposter ghost of Ruldoph Valentino who is outed after she asks for an autograph. Or the girl who was party to a “Deflowerment in Morocan Palace” then had to escape as she was not part of the harem. There is also the creepy “Deflowerment by Old Friend of the Family” or the adulterous “Deflowered by a Marimba Player.
Juffe’s style of writing is fantastic. He lays out this preposterous situations in a funny yet serious manner. They are matched perfectly with Gorey’s illustrations, done simply in black, white and grey shading. They depict the moments after the deflowering or the awkward meetings afterwards.
Hyacinthe Phypps (Miss H.P.) herself is depicted by Gorey as a stiff, glamorous Edwardian lady. She wears a high necked dress and bonnet and is the picture of a stiff upper lip. She is the perfect stereotype of a lady in charge of teaching girls manners and decorum. Even the use of the word “flower” and “deflower” adds to that old, stuffy image. Juffe is writing her responses in a tounge-in-cheek manner and they fit the satirical nature of the book perfectly. Often times she gives advise on the oddest thing in the situation and is always short, sharp and succinct.
For example after “Deflowerment on Amerian Express Tour” the waiter offers the girl a job in the restaurant. Miss H.P. simple states:
“Pay in Parisian Night Clubs is Notoriously Low.”
Or after “Deflowerment in a Doctors Office” the young lady asks if he will waive the fee and Miss H.P. replies.
“Thift is a virtue men like to find in a woman”
What is wonderful about the book is that the way Juffe and Gorey poke fun at the advice columnists. It would apply still today as they dole out terrible advice to poor members of the public. Some of the situations are a bit shuddersome but are done this way on purpose to make you a bit uncomfortable before reading Miss H.P.’s dreadful (or wonderful?) advice.
If you get a chance do take a look at the book and see what you think.
*In fact Gorey is quoted as saying “To take my work seriously would be the height of folly.”
You can get a 2010 edition on Amazon here: The Recently Deflowered Girl
There are also a few first editions knocking about but would cost hundreds!