Category Archives: Pietro Aretino

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

The Secret Life of Wives – Pietro Aretino

You may remember back in February that I was completely charmed by a character called Nanna in Pietro Aretino’s risqué ‘The Secret Life of Nuns’. I was then sent the whole trilogy of Nanna’s tales as an early birthday present by the publishers Hesperus Press. I was in a mini book slump the other day (I have been book juggling and it’s made me feel a little wobbly, more on that later in the week) and couldn’t decided what quick read to take on the tube and Nanna popped into my head and I knew I had to read ‘The Secret Lives of Wives’ next.

‘The Secret Life of Wives’ is the sequel to the rather wonderful Italian once banned (and now of course a classic) ‘The Secret Life of Nuns’ and though you could read them separately as they stand alone, once you hear Nanna’s voice and some of the tales she has to tell I can almost guarantee that you will want to read the whole collection. As Nanna and her friend and confident sit in the sundrenched vineyard Nanna regales her favourite partner of gossip with the tales of her marriage and what wives really get up to with their husbands away.

From a wife who took a shine to the local priest, a woman who forgets her husband and unleashes an internal demon after meeting the hermit on her new home land, two women happily married until they meet a local teacher and a prisoner (two separate tales) and Nanna herself who tells us more of her own tale you sometimes forget that this book is around 500 years old. It isn’t all just delightful romp as Aretino looks at two things that make the backdrop of the book whilst all the rogue behaviour goes on in the forefront. Antonia and Nanna do mention the state of the country and indeed Rome in several parts of the book and really Aretino is looking at the sanctity of marriage and what goes on behind closed doors of perfect looking marital homes with tongue firmly in cheek.

In its day it was deemed as erotica of the lowest order and banned. Yet now in our modern times this book reads like pure escapist entertainment, which lets face it we all need from time to time. Though its erotica/escapism (depending on your out look) its marvellously written in the form of two women speaking and having a natter. In fact you could imagine this being a rather wonderful and incredibly eye opening play or TV show as the two main characters are marvellous; Nanna for her gumption and honesty and Antonio for her pure relish of every detail. You feel you are sat with the two friends eavesdropping.

Nanna: Because anything’s better than a husband. For example, just think how nice it is to eat out.
Antonia: True enough: variety is the spice of life. Anyway, I can well believe you, since they also say anything’s better than a wife.

I honestly think that if you are ever looking for a book, or three, that you can read in a single sitting (they are each about 70 pages long) that will make you laugh out loud, possibly blush on occasion and get totally carried away with through the voice of a marvellous narrator then this is the book for you. It’s also a perfect book if you want to try something different. I am going to hold off from the third in the trilogy ‘The School of Whoredom’ for a while as I don’t like thought of not having anything new from Nanna after that, yes that’s how great I think she and this series are. 8/10

Savidge suggests some perfect prose partners:

The Secret Life of Nuns – Pietro Aretino (I always like to start at the very beginning)
Delta of Venus – Anais Nin (beautifully written classic erotica that now too reads like literature and caused interesting discussion on here when I posted about it)


Filed under Hesperus Press, Pietro Aretino, Review

Some Rather Early Birthday Presents…

Now I know two posts in a day when you are posting daily is a bit much but sometimes you just have to and my joy at some rather early birthday arrivals meant I couldnt hold back. Plus at the end of this you could be getting a parcel through your door very soon!

Now its not actually my birthday for over a month (March the 24th just in case you were wondering or wanted to pop it in your diary hee hee) however when I came home today there were two lovely bookish parcels waiting to greet me. I will admit that I was expecting the first as I knew The Converted One had ordered the rest of the Not The TV Book Group but knowing a parcel is coming and actually having it in front of you. Though Brodeck’s Report arrived sooner and I already owned Skin Lane and The Girl With The Glass Feet I thought I would put a picture of them all together as I think it looks quite delightful.

The other parcel was a surprise gift I got offered the other day after writing about The Secret Life of Nuns as the very kind people at Hesperus Press sent me that very book (as they new it vexed me to give it back to the library) and the rest of the trio as ‘an early birthday present’ so now I can find out what happens to Nanna’s daughters and the rest of the rompish tale.

Now I mentioned you could all own a new book and if you look here you will see why. I will also be giving away something rather special on my actual birthday as giving is just as much fun as receiving!


Filed under Book Thoughts, Give Away, Hesperus Press, Not The TV Book Group, Pietro Aretino

The Secret Life of Nuns – Pietro Aretino

Firstly I just want to say a big thanks for everyone who joined in with the NTTVBG yesterday (follow the links), it was lovely to see the support and discussion there. I am slightly nervous about hosting in just under two weeks, how will I compete with those wonderful scones Lynne laid out for us all? Anyway I just wanted to say a big thanks before life goes back to normal for a week or so. 

Back at the start of January when I made my resolutions I said that I wanted to read some things that were ‘different’ this year. I wasn’t quite expecting what I ended up reading with ‘The Secret Life of Nuns’ by Pietro Aretino. I had picked this up from the library (last year) again in part because of the cover and also because it was a Hesperus book and after Lady Into Fox I have been keen to try and read as many Hesperus Press releases as my library stocks.

I am sure I am not alone in one of my favourite pass times. Eavesdropping! You know if you are on public transport, in a café etc and you simply cannot help but listen in on a certain subject. From the blurb it sounded like the tale of a secret gossipy conversation between two women over a dilemma. Nanna, a seasoned prostitute in roam is in a quandary over her daughter Pippa’s future, should she send her to a nunnery, marry her off or make her a courtesan? For advice on it all who better to talk to than her best friend Antonia?

What I wasn’t expecting was for Nanna to then start telling Antonia of her life in a nunnery and for it to be quite so, well… provocative and explicit (if you are of a delicate mind you might not want to read on). After having read more about Pietro Aretino and his nickname ‘the scourge of princes’ maybe I should have been. I read on however and what followed is a very funny, quite rude and fairly graphic (with hilarious metaphors) tale of how Nanna survived her time after her parents sent her to live in a convent. I won’t lie I really enjoyed it as a read. Back in the 1500’s I am sure this was possibly one of the rudest things one could read (it is claimed that Aretino was the originator of European pornography, who know if this is true or not) however by today’s standards with what we see on the telly this is more a whimsical and highly witty romp. I laughed out loud about three times.

There isn’t really too much that can be said in terms of the plot as the actual tale itself only lasts for sixty five pages. I did like the way its almost written as a script with Nanna going into long monologues and Antonia chipping in every now and again which is great in terms of comic timing. It was the context of the book that did make me wonder as in 1550 writing about sex was bad enough, setting it in a holy place was quite out there. I don’t have any religious beliefs but The Converted One does and I did get frowned upon when I explained what the book was about. Each to their own I say.

The only quibble I had with this is that Nanna doesn’t tell us what happens if you become a wife or a courtesan instead. Having now looked into it the author further I find this is the first in a trilogy of books and that we still have two more of Nana’s enlightening and eye opening tales to go…


I think I will be asking for this ‘The Secret Life of Wives’ and ‘The School of Whoredom’ for my birthday in March mainly for the fact that Nanna is one of the best narrators I have read in ages. I loved her, her frankness and her humour. Possibly not a series for the faint hearted but definitely one for the open minded. Has anyone else read this or the rest of the series?


Filed under Hesperus Press, Pietro Aretino, Review