Title: Swoon: Great Seducers and Why Women Love Them
Author: Betsy Prioleau
Publisher: W.W. Norton and Company
Pub Date: February 4, 2012
How Acquired: Through the publisher for TLC Book Tours
What it’s About: Swoon is a glittering pageant of charismatic ladies’ men from Casanova to Lord Byron to Camus to Ashton Kutcher. It challenges every preconceived idea about great lovers and answers one of history’s most vexing questions: what do women want?
Contrary to popular myth and dogma, the men who consistently beguile women belie the familiar stereotypes: satanic rake, alpha stud, slick player, Mr. Nice, or big-money mogul. As Betsy Prioleau, author of Seductress, points out in this surprising, insightful study, legendary ladies’ men are a different, complex species altogether, often without looks or money. They fit no known template and possess a cache of powerful erotic secrets.
While these men run the gamut, they radiate joie de vivre, intensity, and sex appeal; above all, they adore women. They listen, praise, amuse, and delight, and they know their way around the bedroom. And they’ve finessed the hardest part: locking in and revving desire. Women never tire of these fascinators and often, like Casanova’s conquests, remain besotted for life.
Finally, Prioleau takes stock of the contemporary culture and asks: where are the Casanovas of today?
My thoughts: I had read and enjoyed Betsy Prioleau’s previous book Seductress immensely. Funnily enough, I had also bumped into her one day in the romance section of Posman Books here in New York City as she was doing her research for the book. So when Lisa at TLC Book Tours emailed me about reviewing the book, I leapt at the chance.
First of all, the cover is absolutely gorgeous. The jacket painting is entitled the Storytellers of the Decameron by Boccaccio by Francesco Podesti. I have never seen this painting before, but I love the fact that it seems to embody the title of Swoon. Swoon is a fun, frothy look at the myth and reality of lady killers or Casanova’s from the dawn of time to the 21st century. She discovers that these men, far from being heartless seducers, love, respect and even admire women. They take pride in being able to give a women not just pleasure but fun. They are not only great conversationalists, but they actually listen to women and what they want, they are people pleasers.
While I devoured the book in one sitting, the book can also be read a little bit at a time, dipping into each section like dipping into a box of particularly good chocolates accompanied by a bottle of expensive wine. The book is divided into mini-sections with titles such as ‘The Satanic Seducer,’ ‘The Real Alpha Male,’ and ‘Social IQ’ just to name a few. Prioleau provides examples of as they pertain to each section. Some of the men fit into more than one category such as Casanova or Gabriele D’Annunzio. Prioleau provides bite-size nuggets of information about each man which left this reader wanting more. She mentions that one of Napoleon’s sisters was the lover of Metternich but doesn’t mention which one (Pauline, Caroline, Elise?).
Prioleau gives details of not just historical lovers but also how figures of both Western and Eastern mythology. By far my favorite parts of the book, however, are her interviews with contemporary lady killers, none of whom are rich or particularly handsome. In fact, for the most part, the historical and contemporary figures she profiles would never make People Magazine’s Sexy Man Alive issue. Men like Jean Paul Sartre who was not quite five feet tall and blind in one eye, or Robert Louis Stevenson who suffered from tuberculosis. It’s interesting that a large number of the men profiled in the book were raised and pampered by women. Perhaps that early exposure to the feminine world helped to shape their perceptions that women weren’t the enemy, or inferior creatures but should be cherished and adored. Above all, most of the men profiled in the book took the time to be friends with the women they loved and seduced, which is probably why so many of these men had great relationships with their ex-lovers after the relationship ended. The art of how to end a relationship successfully could be a whole other book.
Prioleau points out that the contemporary man seems to have gotten the wrong idea of how to go about being a ladies man. They are inundated with images in men’s magazines from Maxim to Playboy that sexualize women as objects of desire but not as real women. They are also mis-educated in romance by their friends and popular books by pick-up-artists who are all about the conquest which is just the starting off point if one wants to be a ladies man. Another interesting fact that Prioleau points out is that a great number of great seducers had a strong feminine side or an androgynous side. Just look at Scott Disick, the boyfriend of Kourtney Kardashian. That’s a man who isn’t afraid to rock pastel colors or to spend a great deal of time on his appearance.
I found the men who were left out of the book to be particularly interesting, in particular men such as Rasputin, Wilfred Scawen Blunt, HG Wells, Henry Fuseli, Henri IV, Louis XIV and Louis XV of France. Even Emo boy Shelley doesn’t make the cut. I was however disturbed by Prioleau describing romantic fiction strictly as fantasy or ‘fantasyland’ as she calls it. Yes, there is an element of fantasy in romance but that sells the whole genre short. She seems to have read only a handful of romances by a few bestselling authors such as Mary Jo Putney, Jennifer Crusie, Nora Roberts, Susan Elizabeth Phillips and Lisa Kleypas. She states in a Q&A that romance novels reflect women’s fondest erotic dreams. I think these books reflect women’s fondest desires of the type of relationship that they are seeking, not just sex.
In the end, this is a book that the men of the world desperately need to read, if they want to learn what it is that women really want from a man in a relationship. Whether or not they do is another story.