Monday, April 27, 2015

Bulfinch's mythology, as edited by the Duke of Panton

In The Duke's School for Young Ladies, I have a little more of my usual fun with Greek mythology.

“Please take out your edited Bulfinch, girls. Anne, you will find the book in your desk.” She watched the thirteen girls open the desks and take out the book, printed at the duke’s own expense for the use of his girls only the previous year. Until then Clarissa had had to teach the ‘ancients’ lesson, as she called it, using a translation of Ovid that the girls found very difficult to follow and even boring—an unpardonable sin, Clarissa thought, in view of the material.

But when a new compilation of mythological tales had appeared in America five years previous and the duke, an avid student of all things fabulous—if inclined to pursue the more voluptuous sort of tale to the exclusion of the more conventionally edifying sort—had given her a copy with the inscription, “To my dearest Clarissa, my prick’s schoolmistress,” Clarissa had seen an opportunity. She encouraged the duke himself to produce an edited version of Bulfinch’s The Age of Fable, to include elaborations of parts of stories that the duke himself would like to think of his girls reading.

Bulfinch’s own work, of course, was on its own even less suitable than Ovid’s, for the duke’s favorite stories—the ones he also hoped might become his girls’ favorites as well—received no mention at all. In The Age of Fable, one found for example not even a mild version of the story of Pasiphae and her beloved bull, the duke’s very favorite tale of Greek antiquity.

But the duke had taken instantly to the idea of producing an edition embellished by means of his own fertile imagination, as Clarissa had expected he might. They had spent many a pleasant evening working on it together. Clarissa, who had done a great deal of editing in her life, had never edited under the constraint that she not wear a stitch of clothing as she wielded her pencil. Nor had she ever had to answer for any passages she had stricken from a manuscript with the strap applied to her bare bottom and the prick applied to her fundament: the whole process had been diverting in the extreme.

“Miss Solmes, as our newest girl,” Clarissa said, after she had sat at her desk and observed that every one of her pupils had her book before her, “you have the honor to read to us first. Please, girls, turn to page thirty-seven. Miss Solmes, you will stand and read out the story of Cassandra, if you please.”

Bulfinch’s version of the story of Cassandra read as follows, in its entirety:

Queen Hecuba and her daughter Cassandra were carried captives to Greece. Cassandra had been loved by Apollo, and he gave her the gift of prophecy; but afterwards offended with her, he rendered the gift unavailing by ordaining that her predictions should never be believed.

Anne Solmes, newest pupil of Miss Halton’s Preparatory Academy for Girls, read in a fine, clear voice, having stood up with only a moment’s hesitation from her desk, “Queen Hecuba and her daughter Cassandra were carried captives to Greece, after the Achaeans had sacked their city, Troy.” (One of the duke’s more pedestrian tasks had been to ensure that each of the stories into which he divided his version of The Age of Fable could stand on its own for a morning’s lesson.)

Anne looked up with a shy but eager expression, surely to see if Clarissa approved. Clarissa gave her a smile and a nod, and she continued, with an adorable little blush, “Cassandra had attracted the favorable attention of the god Apollo, when she had come of age. He would sit atop a mountain near Troy and watch her with his keen eye, and every time he saw her going about her maidenly business, whether carrying water or working at the loom, he would consider the many things he would like to do with her, could he only carry her away to a secluded spot among his craggy peaks.”

Anne’s voice faltered a little as she began to understand that her textbook, despite having the appearance of a very upright and moral sort of a tome, nevertheless contained immodesties much grosser than even the tawdriest of the latest novels. Clarissa thought she could see Anne’s awareness of how she looked in her lovely uniform—sheer drawers that showed the beauty of her thighs and sheer chemise that displayed her adorable nipples—creep across her face, then.

Clarissa remembered Mrs. Fayerweather’s reaction to the duke’s edition of Bulfinch. “You are a clever girl, aren’t you?” the older woman had hissed, holding the printed volume up before her. Then she threw the book down upon Clarissa’s desk so hard that the thump must have been audible to the girls who had just departed the schoolroom for luncheon. “I cannot even whip you for this, can I? For you have made the duke think the idea was his own. But I promise I shall find reason to punish you, you shameless hussy, before long, and I wish you to understand that when I do, I will truly be whipping you for this wicked book.”

Click here to buy it on Amazon! If you're interested in more of my naughty takes on Greek myth, check out Bred by the Spartans

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