Shewing Naked In Utopia
The discovery of the Americas encouraged the European tendency, already seen in Plato, to invent perfect societies beyond the sunset. One such philosophical kingdom, which has given us the commonest modern word, was Thomas More’s Utopia. This is a kind of puritanical small-c communism with some features that are startling given More’s own Catholic faith; how far these was meant seriously, how far as satire and how far perhaps as jeu d’esprit, must be left to Renaissance scholars.
The juiciest bit from the point of view of schoolboys of my own generation is surely the Utopian custom of a prospective bride and bridegroom being shown naked to one another. In controlled forms via a respectable matron, please note, we are not talking pre-marital sex here – which was a crime in Utopia. The author thought it strange that we examined horses and cattle, but, when entering into matrimony, bought a pig in a poke.
Which is exactly what was being done as late as my own schooldays, when knowing what the intended looked like under her clothes was very, very scandalous. You were not meant even to think about this. But what, I wonder, were even these “repressed” types of the Eisenhower Era actually missing from not knowing what the other party’s body looked like? Is being shown naked by a matron any guarantee of sexual compatibility? Certainly not; but since the Utopians allowed themselves no “test-driving”, if one party were perfectly formed but frigid or perverted, they would be none the wiser. That particular pig was still bought inside the poke.
If this institution was shocking, not only to the 16th century but as late as my own day, what does that tell us? If not only test-driving was prohibited, but even knowing what kind of hideous deformity was being concealed (something More was specifically out to prevent), what follows from this? First, that having entered into matrimony you had to go ahead and consummate it despite said hideous deformity. This seems tough, unless perhaps you are the person with a hideous deformity who still wants to get married. Which may, as a reductio, emphasise how, in these latter days of fuckbuddies and labial piercings – in which millions of girls show what they have got, not via a respectable matron but over the Internet – even the moderately unattractive are right out of luck. The bar has been raised, with a liberalism that is not at all the same kind as the Epicurean-influenced More was playing around with.
And of course, being perfectly formed and not perverted or frigid is still no guarantee of anything at all. More’s “progressive” ritual seems to be saying that appreciation of the partner’s figure, below the neck, is the most important thing in a marriage. I find that actually rather depressing.
In: BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, The Life Unbeautiful