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Naomi Wolf, Marie Stopes and grand deceit

3 September 2012

11:27 AM

3 September 2012

11:27 AM

‘This man makes a pseudonym and crawls behind it like a worm,’ wrote Sylvia Plath in The Fearful. The weekend’s literary pages were gripped by a story of pseudonyms. R.J. Ellory, the well-regarded and critically acclaimed crime writer, has been caught penning rave reviews of his own work, and damning that of his rivals, under various pseudonyms on Amazon. Ellory ‘wholeheartedly’ regrets the ‘lapse of judgment’.

The story recalls Orlando Figes’s dishonesty with Amazon reviews. Now as then, I’m at loss to understand why someone of Ellory’s reputation felt compelled to dive to this kind of petty chicanery. The additional sales garnered by positive Amazon reviews must only be a small concern, certainly next to the dangers of detection. Perhaps it was merely the cheap thrill of subterfuge, fuelled by professional rivalry? Either way, the internet is not the private place one may imagine it to be.

Ellory was unmasked by the author Jeremy Duns, who is making a reputation as a scourge of sock-puppetry.  Duns’s most famous case, so to speak, is the exposure of American thriller writer Q.R. Markham’s plagiarism in Assassin of Secrets last year. Duns’s present investigations, and in particular his version of his spectacular spat with novelist Stephen Leather, can be followed at his blog, The Debrief.

Elsewhere, Naomi Wolf is back, with a book shamelessly titled Vagina. I advise you to ignore it unless you’re gripped by the ‘denial of the paradox of our feminine autonomy co-existing unsettledly with our feminine need for interdependence.’ But, if you can withstand that, then the book is intriguing. In additional to providing some informative scientific explanation about orgasm and sexual satisfaction, Wolf tries to describe orgasm figuratively. The result does not seem to be 94 years away from Marie Stopes’s strangely mystical account in Married Love (1918). Compare an example from Wolf:

‘post-coital rush of a sense of vitality infusing the world, of delight with myself and with all around me.’ 

With Stopes in full flow:

‘The half-swooning sense of flux which overtakes the spirit in that eternal moment at the apex of rapture sweeps into its flaming tides the whole essence of the man and woman, and as it were, the heat of the contact vaporizes their consciousness so that it fills the whole of cosmic space. For the moment they are identified with the divine thoughts, the waves of eternal force, which to the Mystic often appear in terms of golden light.’

In this light, Wolf is not nearly as modern as some commentators think her to be. Or perhaps it is the orgasm, rather than Wolf, which is not modern.

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