My Grandfather, the Naked Lady, and that Scandalous Book
My grandfather, at age 25, wrote a novel. It was published in 1906. I have a copy.
For decades — nearly a century — this book was not talked about in my family. It was shocking! It’s still shocking to some of my relatives. So much so that the copy I first uncovered 20 years ago was tucked away in someone’s drawer, and I never saw it again. I had to go to a rare book service to get another one of the few still surviving.
Apparently this book was at least partially autobiographical. Grandpa subtitled it, “Being the Little Story of a Young Railway-Office Clerk,” which is just what he was. He used his real name, with a fanciful and romantic faux middle name. Clever disguise!
In his little book, my grandfather wrote about a young man having an unrequited crush on some beautiful girl that he admired from afar as she walked to and from church every Sunday. He longed to marry her. He fell in love, knowing nothing but her name.
And yet… scandalous to his future wife and eventual children.
There’s the shocking scene where he finds a girl in the bushes smoking a cigarette. The wild night when he gets drunk and has to walk all the way home. The desperate pledge he makes to marry another young lady, a pious and beautiful blonde, who goes to the “Italian church.”
And finally — spoiler alert, in case you want to read the book yourself — he gets very ill, and at death’s door sends his best friend to tell the winsome girl who is the object of his affection that he would die happy if she would only visit him once before he shuffles off this mortal coil.
Reader, visit him she does, but when he professes his interest (in a very restrained way), she tells him that she is going away to join a nunnery. Alas… all his hopes are dashed.
To me, it was entirely fascinating to read the young thoughts of a forebear I never met, and to have a little glimpse into his world. Very cool and very tame. I like to think that we would have enjoyed each other, if we had ever met.
But here is the MOST shocking part. I’m not sure if the fuss was about more about the illustrations than the words. Because my grandfather was also an artist, he drew a sketch of (ready for it… gird your loins!) a naked woman.
Clearly, there were no naked women in those days. It’s a wonder my father ever got born.
And thus the lesson, dear writers — behold the power of the book. Here we are more than one hundred years later, and my grandfather’s little story remains a rather scandalous, barely-discussed subject to his family.
Now, imagine what trouble you can stir up when you write something for your descendants to read and devour!