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By Monsieur X

NEW YORK, 2 APRIL 2009 - We have let it be known that, in a misspent youth, we enjoyed nothing better than to join good friends in a lively game of Spank the Maid. Game equipment remains simple: score pad, pencil, chambermaid, regulation paddle, dice. For the tournament edition, add whipped cream.

That pastime is fiction, but we were not surprised to see its gameplay, or something like it, beautifully illustrated in the introduction by Alexandre Dupouy to Erotic French Postcards (originally published as Sous le manteau: Cartes postales érotiques des Années folles, translated by Louise Rogers Lalaurie). The disciplinarian in the illustration is the lady of the house, who aims her finely gloved hand at the bare backside of what looks to be her errant but repentant maid. The image is from Mr. Dupouy's collection of the kind of sepia-toned erotic postcards that appeared in such numbers in the early part of the twentieth century, they must have altered the job description for postal workers throughout France.

[Grundworth ?], on chamois paper, c. 1935
Alexandre Dupouy Collection
From Erotic French Postcards (Paris: Flammarion, 2009)
Photo courtesy of Rizzoli

Eroticism is as much about fiction as fact, and four short stories accompany the fine selection of genre postcard photography. The photographs are all staged and therefore are themselves works of pure fiction. Some reference reality just enough perhaps to make you wonder, most are exaggerated beyond all plausibility, and a vigorous few could probably have got the sender arrested if dropped into an American mailbox of the period. (In Eros as well as food , clothing, wine and painting, the USA spent much of the twentieth century trying to catch up with France.)

One safe way to legitimize erotica is to make it academic, which can be illuminating but is usually disappointing. A better way is to make it chic, and the book has wisely been published as a fine and hand-holdable bit of prurient elegance. It is a look at a fantasy world populated by women who seek only to fascinate. Frozen by the camera, their allure immune to the passage of time, they symbolize their era, but they belong to eternity.

Erotic French Postcards
Written by Alexandre Dupouy, Contribution by Philippe Jaenada, Serge Joncour, Anna Rozen and Delphine de Vigan

Hardcover: 144 pages
Flammarion: January 2009
Distribution: Rizzoli
ISBN: 978-2-08-030083-6 (2-08-030083-0)
US Price: $24.95
CAN Price: $27.95

Title photo: [Grundworth ?], on chamois paper, c. 1935
Alexandre Dupouy Collection
From Erotic French Postcards (Paris: Flammarion, 2009)
Photo courtesy of Rizzoli

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