The School of Whoredom – Pietro Aretino

What I think is interesting with the whole phenomenon of ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ is the fact that it seems to have opened up the whole debate of reading erotica amongst the masses. What I also find funny is the fact that some people think this is the first time such a book has been written. It seems D. H. Lawrence’s ‘Lady Chatterley’s Lover’ and the furore that caused has been long forgotten, not to mention Anais Nin or even Pietro Aretino, a name not many would say they know and yet is the man who it is believed wrote the first erotic novels back in the 1500’s. I have been reading his books for the last few years and like Nin and Lawrence yet unlike E. L. James (from the small amount I read of ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ before giving it up and away) story, prose and characters are as important to the books as the erotica is.

Hesperus Press, 1535 (republished 2003), paperback, fiction, 99 pages, kindly sent by publisher

I am rather confused as to whether ‘The School of Whoredom’ is the first or the last in the series of three novella’s (the other two being ‘The Secret Life of Nuns’ and ‘The Secret Life of Wives’) featuring the wonderfully forthright, blunt and no nonsense Nanna. Either way it is a tale of Nanna advising a young woman, this time her daughter Pippa rather than Antonia (who does get a mention), in the art of whoredom and how to be the perfect courtesan.

Initially this may seem like a simple excuse for the author to write something sensational and a little bit vulgar and, if I am being honest, there is something about those qualities that make it so readable. As the book has dated it really isn’t that shocking, though I seem to remember I was a little shocked at ‘The Secret Life of Nuns’, it is more slightly titillating and then more of a fun romp than anything else as Nanna explains all the skills you need as well as all the wiles. However the more I have thought about this novella the more I think that Aretino actually depicts society and people in Italy at the time he wrote it in the 1500’s and that is what makes the book all the more interesting and more than just a bit of historical raunch.

As Nanna advises Pippa on what her clientele will want she also tells Pippa all about them. Initially there are the different ages of men, then the different walks and positions in life these men have and finally how different men from different parts of Italy will also differ and yet have things in common. This, along with her insights and experience in the world of the courtesan, really does give conjure up the atmosphere and life at the time. I found it quite fascinating.

One of the things I have always loved about the series is Nanna. As all three of these books have been told as a two woman dialogue you really feel like you are eavesdropping on a very private conversation. Nanna makes it all the more entertaining with her exaggerations, dramatics and rather saucy sense of humour. She really is one of my favourite characters in literature (and yes I would say these books are deemed literature) and one I am definitely going to miss now I have read all three.

“Nanna: Pippa, though I make people believe you are sixteen, you’re twenty clear and plain; you were born just after the end of Leo’s conclave, and when all Rome was shouting ‘Balls, balls!’ I was screaming ‘Oh God, oh God!’ And it was just as the arms of the Medici were being hung on the door of St Peter’s that I had you.”

Some people may be rather shocked or disappointed that I have chosen to include a review of a book like ‘The School of Whoredom’ on the blog, but to be honest as the whole world is discussing the Fifty Shades series I would like to send you in the direction of some erotica which has deeper characters, finer prose, a sense of irony and some historical context. You get all of those and a good titter too with this series and with each one being under 100 pages you don’t have to get to page 131 for the, erm, action to kick off as it were. Plus I am pleased Fifty Shades has got erotica out there more, I mean why should you be ashammed to read it? Go on; give them a whirl I say!


Filed under Hesperus Press, Pietro Aretino, Review

10 responses to “The School of Whoredom – Pietro Aretino

  1. Thank you! I have a couple of trusted friends who warned me off the current craze, but I would love to check out this one. I found a very affordable used copy online.

  2. Actually, this series sounds great! At less than 100 pages, it’s totally worth it to try one. Thanks for the suggestion!

    • A pleasure, they are very short and rather naughty but really interesting too, this one most of the three, the others are more ‘shocking’, well they were shocking then, more titillating now.

  3. Louise

    I don’t understand how people would think erotica isn’t literature… aren’t all books literature?… gah, book snobs are really pissing me off lately! I just LOVE this title, sound like fun to me, and reading is meant to be fun 🙂

  4. Good erotica is very hard to find and yes it should be treated exactly like any other form of literature. Even more rare is to find good books in this area which are truly well written and also genuinely shocking. I recommend Georges Bataille’s “The Story of the Eye” in the latter category.

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