One afternoon when I was perhaps fifteen, Anton gave me a copy of In Praise of Older Women by Andras Vajda, saying that he thought I would find it interesting and adding, as he left, the advice that I shouldn’t pull my wire right off. The book, written by Stephen Vizinczey and published pseudonymously in 1965, is now regarded as a classic of twentieth-century erotica and still draws warm reviews for its psychological insight and its celebration of cheerful sensuality, but at the time it did not carry that connotation.
The book was, of course, banned in South Africa, so it found itself among the likes of Fanny Hill, Lady Chatterley’s Lover, The Tropics of Capricorn and Cancer, and the writings of the Marquis de Sade, not to mention the mass of pornography emanating from the pens and cameras of people who preferred to remain anonymous. The reason was that these publications dealt with sex, an entire pie-slice of human behaviour from which people at that time were required by law to turn their eyes. The boys at SACS, especially the boarders, were particularly keen to turn their eyes onto such literature, and a tattered copy of The Tropic of Cancer had circulated at Michaelis House. I saw the book, which had split and had shuffled pages, and read some before it was snatched away from me, but I do not remember what scene I read. The book was irritatingly full of passages that had nothing to do with sex but it fell open readily at the relevant pages. I read most of another book called Love without Fear, which also circulated among the boys. The author of this book had tried hard, but became technical when the going got tough, so that we had to attempt to make out the details through a maze of medical terminology. How, for example, did one pronounce vagina? We had never heard an adult use the word.
In Praise of Older Women was a revelation to me, but it was also a message. The protagonist tells how older women rescue him from excruciating fumblings with teenage girls and introduce him to a world of carefree pleasure. Anton had the book on loan from S, and I was to read it carefully and return it.