One of the things I have always wanted to be in the dubious eventuality that I grew up was a curmudgeon. My image of the curmudgeon comes from examples like H. L. Mencken and Albert Jay Nock: sharp, witty critics of all around them.
The curmudgeon should not be confused with the similar figure of the cranky old fart. The latter is nasty, mean-spirited, and generally nowhere near as amusing. It seems that cranky old farts are most likely to condemn that which they can no longer do. The classic cranky old fart was St. Augustine. In his youth, he prayed, "Lord, give me chastity, but not just yet." When the Lord eventually did, he spent much of his remaining years condemning women, and those who could still enjoy them in the ways he used to.
A more contemporary ex-rake was Malcolm Muggeridge. With every anti-sex proclamation from St. Mug, I found myself praying for a God with my sort of sense of humor to grant him one last erection, to make him question all his new theories.
I used to suffer from the delusion that curmudgeons had to be old and male. I now know better. It seems likely that P.J. O'Rourke, for instance, was born a curmudgeon. And Florence King was obviously a female curmudgeon. In books like Southern Ladies and· Gentlemen and WASP, Where Is Thy Sting? she took a sardonic look at our culture.
One aspect she was particularly amusing about was sex. She was positive about sex, in a sense twice as much so as most curmudgeons, as she wrote about enjoying men and women. She also mentioned a career as a smutmonger. She never said explicitly which Bee-Line books she wrote, but if a couple of my assumptions about their pseudonyms are correct, she has participated in more of my sexual satisfaction than most people I have met in the flesh.
But then something happened. First, there was Reflections in a Jaundiced Eye, with a bit more nastiness, most of it directed to other women, than we'd come to expect. That was followed by Lump It or Leave It, and one is forced to conclude that she has become a cranky old fart.
The Horrible Example is that she has decided that Andrea Dworkin is a pretty nifty person, and that she is in basic agreement with Dworkin's crusade against pornography. She now repents of her work in that field, though she told Publishers Weekly that her efforts weren't real pornography because the characters were nice to each other.
Along with the smut stomping, the nastiness towards women remains and worsens. She herself, she tells us, was able to live alone because she knew how to keep her apartment from looking "sluttish" and thus attracting the wrong kind of attention from men. If today's women don't defend themselves in that manner, she strongly implies, what happens to them is their own fault.
An amusing thing about all this is that King appears to have become a cranky old fart in the same sort of way that her male predecessors did. She reports that menopause took away all her sexual desires, and she is just as happy to be rid of them.
The book is not entirely bad; she has not, after all, become Andrea Dworkin. She still says curmudgeonly things like "Whenever a South Seas castaway novel is plugged with the phrase 'veneer of civilization,' you know someone is going to be eaten," and she summarizes prayerful pitcher Orel Hershiser as "Goody Two-Spikes." But I miss the lovable, lecherous old curmudgeon she once was.