Assuming that we are to use the word in a derogatory sense, any honest definition of pornography must be subjective. For me it reduces itself to that which causes me disgust. (There is also a good kind of pornography, like Fanny Hill, which may give pleasure.) In order fully to appreciate the satire on “bad” pornography in Terry Southern and Mason Hoffenberg’s Candy, it is helpful to dip into some of the aids to erotic enjoyment which are currently filling the bookstores. One of the most notable of these works is Sex and the Single Man by Dr. Albert Ellis, author of an impressive number of studies including the wellknown Sex Without Guilt, The American Sexual Tragedy, and A Guide to Rational Living. Dr. Ellis’s most recent work is an elaborate detailed training manual which pits the bachelor trainee (“you”) against a hypothetical foe known as “your girlfriend.” Most of the tactics in seduction are elementary, and the physiological terrain described by Dr. Ellis is old and trampled ground. The book’s real distinction lies in its style; and since the style, among sexologists as among poets and novelists, is the measure of the man, let Dr. Ellis speak for himself: “Coitus itself can in some instances be unusually exciting and arousing. If your girlfriend is not too excitable at a certain time, but is willing to engage in intercourse, she may become aroused through doing so, and may wind up by becoming intensely involved sexually, even though she was relatively passive when you first started to copulate.”
It is this kind of mechanical howtoism, with its clubfooted prose and its desolating veterinary odor, that constitute the really prurient writing of our time. It is pornographic and disgusting, and it is one of the major targets of Candy in its satirical foray against sickbed, sex, both scientific and literary. Candy was first published in 1957 in Paris by the Olympia Press, which concealed the authors’ names under the swank nom de plume of “Maxwell Kenton.” Although by no stretch of the imagination is Candy an obscence novel, a bizarre feature of the book’s history is that it became—along with a number of others of the Olympia list—one of the few works in English ever to be banned by the French government on the grounds of indecency. This is a circumstance which might make the book appear positively satanic were it not for the fact that Candy is really a droll little sugarplum of a tale and a spoof on pornography itself. Actually, considering its reputation, it may be surprising to discover that much of the book is not about sex at all. At any rate, there was no official reaction in France when, in an evasive maneuver, Candy’s publisher continued to issue it under the name of Lollipop. Now it comes to us in the United States from Putnam, unexpurgated, and with the real names of the authors revealed. Let us hope that Candy, the adorable college-girl heroine of the book, is not hounded into court after the fashion of Lady Chatterley—and this for a couple of reasons. First, since this book too is not a supreme masterpiece, we shall be spared the spectacle of eminent critics arguing from the witness stand that it is. But more importantly, Candy in its best scenes is wickedly funny to read and morally bracing as only good satire can be. The impure alone could object to it, and we should not risk letting ourselves be deprived of such excellent fun even when a certain wobbly and haphazard quality, which may be due to the problems created by collaboration, causes the book to creak and sag more often than it should.
Candy Christian—for such is her beautiful name—is a delectable, neo-Victorian American sophomore on the verge of emancipation: that is to say, she is a girl who has been freed of all unreasonable puritanical restraints yet who dwells in a limbo where up-to-date young females are expected to give sexual pleasure without, however, experiencing pleasure themselves. To this extent, she vaguely resembles Dr. Ellis’s endlessly besieged “girlfriend”—a nightmare in the mind of a Playboy reader—trembling maddeningly at the brink of desire. Yet Candy is not just neo-Victorian but post-1950; for where her college counterpart of half a generation ago was a furtive virgin who did something with boys called (the phrase is almost unprintable) “petting to climax,” Candy is not much improvement, having replaced her virginity with a greedy narcissism based on fantasies of “need.” Such fantasies compel a kind of idiot generosity, and the phrase “Oh you do need me so!” is Candy’s constant secret thought about men.
The need-principle, we learn early in the story has been engendered in Candy, through the influence of her Ethical Philosophy teacher, Professor Mephesto. This ass, full of devious altruism (“To give of one’s self fully…is a beautiful and thrilling privilege,” he mutters to Candy, a fat hand on her knee) is a wonderful caricature of the academic seducer, with his cozy little office and his afternoon sherry, his snuffling importunities (“‘It’s an ‘A’ paper…Absolutely top-drawer.. Comfort those whose needs are greatest, my dear,’ he implored her”); and although Candy evades the gross fellow she is not without immediate remorse:
Selfish! Selfish! she was thinking of herself. To be needed by this great man! And to be only concerned with my material self! She was horribly ashamed. How he needs me! And I deny him! I deny him! Oh how did I dare!
Thus simultaneously chastened and enlightened, Candy resolves to leave college, and it is her wide-eyed, warm-hearted journey through the great world which occupies the rest of the book. Part fantasy, part picaresque extravaganza (the resemblance between the names Candy and Candide is anything but coincidental), the story often suffers from the fact that its larger design is formless and episodic; a number of the sequences, unfortunately, seem to be dreamed-up, spur-of-the-moment notions in which the comic impact is vitiated by obvious haste and a sense of something forced. But in many of its single scenes the book is extremely funny: it is surely the first novel in which frenzied sexual congress between an exquisite young American girl and an insane, sadistic hunchback can elicit nothing but helpless laughter. And at its very best—as with Professor Mephesto—when we perceive that the comic irony is a result of the juxtaposition of Candy’s innocent sexual generosity with duplicitous sexual greed, the book produces its triumphs. For none of Candy’s seducers seems to realize that he needs only to ask in the most direct and human way in order bountifully to receive. Like Dr. Ellis, they are technocrats and experts, possessing a lust to bury this most fundamental of human impulses beneath the rockpile of scientific paraphernalia and doctrine and professional jabber. Swindlers by nature, they end up only by swindling themselves. It is part of our heroine’s unflagging charm and goodness that she confronts each of these monsters with blessed equanimity. They include Dr. Irving Krankeit (né Irving Semite), a messianic psychotherapist crazed with the belief that a cure for the world’s ills lies in masturbation; another medical wretch named Dunlap; Dr. Johns, an unorthodox gynecologist who submits Candy to an examination in the ladies’ room of a Greenwich Village bar; and finally a really superb creation in the form of a character named Great Grindle. Grindle, an egg-bald guru with a luxuriant black mustache and a thick accent, is the spiritual leader of a group of male and female youths who call themselves Crackers—a sort of demented Peace Corps which labors in the national interest deep in the bowels of a Minnesota mine. In Grindle is the gathering together of a number of miscellaneous practices and faiths—Zen and yoga and Reichian orgone theory—and while his interest in Candy is ostensibly spiritual, it is clear from the outset that Grindle, no less than the other quacks she has encountered, is conceiving labyrinthine designs upon “the darling girl’s precious little honeypot.” And so, deep within a grotto the preposterous ogre sets his trap:
“Good!” said Grindle. “Now then, lace your fingers together, in the yoga manner, and place them behind your head. Yes, just so. Now then, lie back on the mossy bed.”
“Oh gosh,” said Candy, feeling apprehensive, and as she obediently lay back, she raised one of her handsome thighs, slightly turning it inward, pressed against the other, in a charming coy effort to conceal her marvelous little spice-box.
“No, no,” said Grindle, coming forward to make adjustments. “legs well apart.”
At his touch, the darling girl started to fright, but Grindle was quick to reassure her. “I am a doctor of the soul,” he said coldly: “I am certainly not interested in that silly little body of yours…”
“Now this is a so-called ‘erogenous zone’,” explained Grindle, gingerly taking one of the perfect little nipples which did so seem to be begging for attention…
“I’ll say,” the girl agreed, squirming despite her efforts to be serious…
“This is another of these so-called ‘erogenous zones’,” announced Grindle contemptuously, addressing the perfect thing with his finger… “Tell me, how does it feel now?”
The lovely girl’s great eyelids were fluttering.
“Oh, it’s all tingling and everything,” she admitted despairingly…
This is not pornography, but the stuff of heartbreak. It is hard to conceive that even Orville Prescott will not somehow be touched by such a portrait of beleaguered goodness.
May 14, 1964