There has been a lot of talk about books and sex in this space lately, and it’s not just because of yesterday’s holiday. Anyone who has taken English 101 knows that literature has its share of dirty old men — the lascivious, the leering, and the lewd, the men who concern themselves with the baser instincts and darker drives, the author equivalent of the creep in the corner, stroking his chin and staring at the rears of the teenagers. Herein, some of the dirtiest, most salacious and scandalous men in letters, a list of the Top 10 Dirty Old Literary Men.
1. Charles Bukowski
Bukowski, that bawdy sod, boozed, brawled, and screwed his way in and out of literary infamy. A chronicler of low-lifedom, his concerns were carnal, sometimes exuberant, often defeated and depressed. “You boys can keep your virgins,” he wrote. “Give me hot old women in high heels with asses that forgot to get old.”
2. Geoffrey Chaucer
Chaucer, you rogue! Translate The Canterbury Tales from 14th century Middle English, and much of what you’ll find is jokes about butts, buggering, secret sex, and flatulence. “And at the window out she putte hir hole,/ And Absolon, him fil no bet ne wers,/ But with his mouth he kiste hir naked ers.” Loosely translated: Old Absolon, for better or worse, lands a sloppy smooch on his lady’s arse.
3. Vladimir Nabokov
Sure, it’s obvious, but you can’t open a novel by referring to a 12-year-old girl as the light of your loins, and not be included on this list.
4. James Joyce
Ulysses has its share of gutter talk, but it’s in his letters to his wife Nora that Joyce proves himself scatologically inclined. “I think I would know Nora’s fart anywhere. I think I could pick hers out in a roomful of farting women. It is a rather girlish noise not like the wet windy fart I imagine fat wives have . . . I hope Nora will let off no end of her farts in my face so that I may know their smell also.”
5. John Updike
What’s the difference between a misogynist and a dirty old man? The latter, in his essence, loves women; the former, he hates ’em. It’s a kindness to suggest that Updike, WASP satyr, falls into the D.O.M. slot, particularly when you read lines suggesting a woman is simply a “white, pliant machine for fucking, hatching, feeding.”
6. Michel Houellebecq
Alternately lauded as a French literary luminary and disparaged for being a nihilist pornographer, Monsieur Houellebecq, author of The Elementary Particles and Platform, among others, has had a reputation for trying to seduce his female interviewers.
7. Benjamin Franklin
Though not a strictly “literary” figure, per se, autobiographer, kite flyer, and stove enthusiast, Ben Franklin had a mischievous way with the ladies, and a penned a naughty little essay “In Praise of Older Women.” Reason number 8 for choosing the more experienced broad: “They are so grateful!”
8. Henry Miller
He exchanged 1500 letters with a Playboy bunny. Anaïs Nin, erotic heroine, financed him and became his lover. Tropic of Cancer opens with lice, and was banned for all sorts of sex. “Sex is one of the nine reasons for reincarnation,” quoth Miller. “The other eight are unimportant.”
9. William Shakespeare
Think Romeo and Juliet is all star-crossed love? A romance to end all romances? Rose petal poetry? Nah, man, Will Shakespeare was a dog. “Thou wilt fall backward when thou hast more wit.”
10. Philip Roth
Imagine, for a moment, your grandfather writing about a threesome. Imagine him writing about sex with a green strap-on dildo. Yikes! Grandad! Philip Roth, whose The Humbling detailed dildoes and three-ways, is closing in on 80 years old and is still living out masturbatory fantasies on the page.