Having just read a couple of novels where the plot involved adultery, I found myself keen to re-read this collection. The Penguin Book of Infidelities, edited by Stephen Brook, is a rich collection of literature on the subject of marital and/or sexual infidelity. The selections include poetry, fictional accounts, letters, and historical records.
Brook’s stated aim is to entertain, not judge or dispassionately research the subject, and he’s made his selections accordingly. Casanova’s memoirs are “dreary reading,” so they are excluded, and tales of activities at the French courts are more entertaining than the “scabrous verse squibs with which English observers used to chronicle licentiousness at court.” With regard to Henry Miller and Anais Nin, Brook says “I cannot bear their prose styles and am therefore exercising editorial prerogative by protecting the reader from their work.” Finally, with regard to more recent scandals, “one politician’s romp with an actress becomes hard to distinguish from any other politician’s romp with another actress.”
The bulk of the book is excerpts, some lengthy, with very little commentary. Part One begins with a broad survey and then provides a chronological path through famous affairs. Part Two organizes the material by the stages of an affair: Cravings, Deception, Seduction, and so on until inevitably: The Sense of Betrayal and After the Affair. Justifying it as an uplifting conclusion, Brook ends with a couple of nods to fidelity.
The joy of this book is not just the variety of awkward arrangements to obtain a little on the side, but the many expressions of desire – and justification. This is a great source of elegant phrases and endearments, no less romantic for being used in pursuit of forbidden fruit. Indeed, when marriage was little more than a business arrangement, as it has been for much of history, passion is found elsewhere. The book is also a handy sampler of period outlooks and terms, as well as literature in general. Many of the excerpts tease about the pleasures to be found if I could perhaps arrange to spend a little more time with them. Recommended as both an entertaining read and a reference work for any romance writer.