Confessions of a Failed Southern Lady

I just finished this book and it was hard to stop laughing, at least until the very end, when Florence King, like all good humor writers, switches gears on you. 

The book was published in 1985, but is as contemporary as if it were published this year.  The book covers her childhood, growing up in D.C., with her eccentric family; her college years at American University (she graduated in 1957); her one year of graduate school at Ole Miss; and a short period of time after her return to D.C.  The Ole Miss references gave me a certain degree of nostalgia, mentioning place names that are very familiar to me.  Apparently at the time, the entire state of Mississippi was “dry”, so there are frequent runs to Memphis for, as King calls it, “hooch” as well as to smaller neighboring towns for visits to various bootleggers.  I personally didn’t move to Memphis until 1967, so it’s hard to imagine how it was in 1958.  Living in Memphis, I never had to go to a bootlegger, but I did go to one once, with a man, at a town on the Tennessee River, so I got a taste of the experience.  (It was scary.)

One of the things King makes very clear about Southern Ladies is the importance of being delicate.  This delicacy always takes one of two forms:  “nervous conditions” and “female trouble”.  Nervous conditions may range all the way from fainting spells to nervous breakdowns.  Female trouble also has a range of symptoms, but at the very least it needs to involve intense suffering, and it has to occur at least once a month. 

The book is erotic at times, but mostly bawdy and irreverent.  I thought the funniest passage had to do with her observation about the impact of strict religion on sexuality.  Studies have shown that the reddest and most Bible-thumping states have the highest rates of participation in online porn viewing.  Why does this still surprise anyone?  Why do people gasp when politicians who are Family First, God-Fearing, and “Patriotic” to the max turn out to be involved in the sleaziest and most reckless sexual activity?  Argentina, anyone?  How about the Minneapolis airport?  That suppression of natural instincts or whatever you want to call it causes perversion to leak out like air from a balloon with a pinhole in it.  Here is King’s take on it, still relevant after all these years.

”  The old adage about danger enhancing sexuality is all too true, and the reason why Southerners are so horny.  Much has changed now; liquor is in, and racism, at least the blood-and-thunder kind, is out, but old-time religion is still flourishing and those black velvet nights are still ominous.  I have a feeling that Mississippi is still the best place to be a consenting adult, and might even be our national G-spot.  Just press Jackson and every woman in America will come.”   

I’m not at all familiar with any of King’s other work, but I plan to catch up.  For many years, she wrote a column for National Review, called “The Misanthrope’s Corner”.  She’s a political conservative, which I find odd, but then again, I find all political conservatives odd.  I haven’t met a single one I can truthfully say I understand. 

And yet, you know that exercise where you name five people you’d like to have to dinner?  Florence King is first on my list.


11 responses to “Confessions of a Failed Southern Lady

  1. If I want Sigmund Freud I’ll go back to school. I want cute and cuddly furry animals. I have to disagree with you about Mississippi, I was there for six weeks and it was way too hot for sex.

  2. Eight years ago I removed the sources of my female trouble and have been blissfully free of suffering at least once a month since then. While no one would call me delicate, I still retain various nervous afflictions 🙂

    Like Fakename, I never started serious Southern Lady training, much to the chagrin of our Mama, who never failed to note, out loud, that I walked “like a clodhopper”.

    I blow out matches; I speak my mind in public, sometimes with cussing. Oh, woe, what’s become of the world?

  3. Clodhopper? That is very interesting. People have always said I walk funny. I wonder if it runs in the family?

  4. It’s the genetically misshapen feet!

  5. masteroftheuniverse

    My late, lovely wife was so Southern that King could have written an entire book about her. In fact, I bought her King’s book as a joke and she never read it, instead preferring to use it as a coaster next to our bed. Margret Mead should have written volumes about Southern women.

    That being said, I love your blog and added it to my blogroll. Please let me know if you get any hits from me.

    I spend about a third of my time in Nokomis, Fl and the rest in NYC. My lovely wife never liked Florida, saying that in Florida one had to drive north to get to the South.


  6. Oh…I am really sorry about the loss of your wife. That is too hard. And she was right. Florida is not the South. Florida is Florida, an island unto itself.
    Meanwhile, thanks for adding me. I had to Google Nokomis btw. Never heard of it. I hope you are reaching a peaceful place.

  7. masteroftheuniverse

    Thanks for the condolences, but I am moving on with my life just like she would have wanted.

    I am keeping my place here, but am moving up to Manhattan for at least 6 months a year. Florida residency has its advantages, and I will enjoy the best of all worlds. The only downside to Manhattan, besides the cold, is that you simply cannot get a good glass of sweet tea or a decent BBQ. Sonny’s or Woody’s BBQ is better than the number one ranked place in Manhattan. They also add strange things to their iced tea such as raspberry, pomegranate, and other fruits that ruin a decent glass of tea.

    Nokomis is a pretty nice place as there are height restrictions on Casey Key, and no condos….yet. Still, I have one of the few remaining beach shacks on my key, the rest having been torn down by snowbird Yankees who built very ugly McMansions.


  8. You crack me up. My sister, who is from Georgia, seemed to be astonished that in Florida, you have to specify whether you want your tea sweetened or not. Apparently in Georgia it is assumed that you want “sweet”. If you don’t, you have to ask for an exception. I think it should be the other way around.
    And don’t even get me started about Sonny’s BBQ. They boil it and then throw sauce on top of it. Ick. Go to Memphis…

  9. masteroftheuniverse

    Oh I agree with you 100% about Sonnys, which I used as an example on just how bad the BBQ is in Manhattan. The best BBQ in Florida IMHO is a little place in Arcadia called Slims, which has been in the same family for 55 years. Still, Sonnys was better than the #1 ranked place in Manhattan, and that Manhattan place had a huge line out the door.

    In my area, sweet tea rules, and I haven’t experienced being asked if I want it unsweetened. Speaking of sweet tea, there’s a place in Greenwich Village that touts itself as having Southern Cooking. They charged for refills on unsweetened tea that was mint flavored and put brown gravy on Chicken Fried Steak. Their Okra was steamed also.

  10. I think that steaming okra is probably an offense punishable by death in the South. Okra and tomatoes, gumbo, fried okra, sauteed very young pods…
    I’ve never been to NYC (!) except for passing through all three of its airports on the way to Canada. Ick.

  11. I meant to also say, thanks for adding me to your blogroll. I added you too. I commented on your art collection, which is a little bit like the proverbial bull wandering into the china shop.

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