Seductress: Women Who Ravished the World and Their Lost Art of Love by Betsy Prioleau (Viking/Penguin), 366 pages, $37.50 cloth. Rating: NNNN Rating: NNNNN
The title of Betsy Prioleau's book could have been Seductress: A Career Guide For The Modern Woman. In her liberating look at women's sexuality as a means to empowerment and happiness, Prioleau hypothesizes that women have been shielded from the truth - it's not about looks, it's about brains. Intelligence, wit and humour win out over curves and beauty when it comes to captivating and keeping love-worthy men.
Prioleau presents this image of the siren to prove her point in the chapter on "belles laides" (homely sirens). But how, you ask, can an ugly woman have a battalion of handsome lusty men trailing after her desperately vying for her attentions?
It's easy and, according to Prioleau, it's been happening since the beginning of time. Prioleau weaves breezily written tracts of women's mythology into the biographies of real-life figures from Cleopatra to Mae West. The photographs and paintings provided as illustrations prove that living a passionate life is not limited to the conventionally beautiful.
It's in the telling of her subjects' stories that Prioleau shines. Her passion for them is palpable. It's easy to envision her atop a barricade urging women to revolt against the beauty myth.
She traces the seductress's lineage to Lilith, the vivacious virago who dumped Adam, disobeyed God and opted to bed randy male demons. Is it any wonder male scholars edited her out of the history books?
This book is not about buxom blond bimbos or helpless heroines who were abandoned once their looks faded. Prioleau presents real-life intelligent women who captivated the hearts and minds of men and kept them enthralled for decades - in one case, even after death.
Throughout history, the seductress held one truth dear - in the game of love, looks don't mean a thing.
Write Books at firstname.lastname@example.org