Pardon My Body (1952)
Don’t kick yourself for not sending a card, but last year was the 60th anniversary of Harlequin, the press that has been best known over the years for its line of romance titles. Turns out Harlequin published a much more diverse range of genres in its early years, including a few crime pulps. As part of the anniversary celebration, Harlequin reprinted six of these titles last year.
Pardon My Body seemed like a good place to begin. I mean, come on, pardon my body! Starts out okay: a guy is driving around one night minding his own business when suddenly he finds a nymphomaniac passed out in the middle of the road (hence, "pardon my body"). Who can’t relate to that? But then the story devolves into a rather boring account of what I think the gumshoes used to call “leg work.” As sometimes happens in a really terrible book, I hit that point where I realized I had been “reading” for 20 or so pages and had no idea what was going on anymore. Case closed, whoever you are, I’m going to go make a sandwich.
I wanted to give another title in the series a chance…but then I found this little nugget over at the Harlequin website.
Remember, our intention was to publish the stories in their original form. But once we immersed ourselves in the text, our eyes grew wide. Our jaws dropped. Social behavior—such as hitting a woman—that would be considered totally unacceptable now was quite common sixty years ago. Scenes of near rape would not sit well with a contemporary audience, we were quite convinced. We therefore decided to make small adjustments to the text, only in cases where we felt scenes or phrases would be offensive to a 2009 readership.
No wonder Pardon My Body was so terrible. Thank you, Harlequin, for completely negating the entire purpose of reprinting these books. I agree it’s totally unacceptable to hit a woman, but if I was going to pummel one with cruel mockery, it would be the editorial schoolmarm who decided that a gangster slapping a cocktail waitress around is somehow more offensive than a company churning out a half-century of pornography designed to enslave women in the fantasy that they might one day be transported to a fundamentally impossible emotional universe. Which is worse? To encounter an ugly convention of the post-war pulp in its period context, or to read the more “modern” Harlequin titles that promise a handsome Italian surgeon will suddenly materialize in the kitchen to save you from all the half-finished wine coolers, stray candy wrappers, and Shiztu fur that covers the apartment?