Back before ‘toilet reading’ was a selling point, there was still a market for lightweight, disposable books that people could dip in and out of – pamphlets, cartoon magazines and pre-nudie men’s magazines aimed at the reader who might fancy a bit of throwaway ribaldry. Richard Miles’ Dames Are Dangerous, originally published in 1946 and just reissued in a facsimile edition by Underworld Amusements, a perfect example of this sort of thing. It was originally given away as a free gift to male order purchasers of Tales for Males, a collection of vaguely racy fiction sold through mail-order ads in men’s magazines. With the A6 format that collectors of 1950s glamour magazines will be familiar with, the book could easily and unobtrusively be slipped into your pocket and enjoyed on a lunch break or perhaps quietly on the work commute.
The book is essentially a collection of quotes from male historical figures and authors going back to Homer, in which the mysterious and disreputable nature of the female is examined and generally found to be at best contrary, and at worst thoroughly disagreeable. This is woman as femme fatale, wilful contrarian and soul-sucking harpy. As Platus (254 – 184 BC) says, “there is no such thing as selecting the best woman. It’s merely a question of comparative badness.”
So yes, this a spectacularly misogynistic tract by modern standards, pitched at either the confirmed bachelor or the bitter and unhappy husband. There are two ways to look at it now – either you can chuckle at the impotent rage of, say Colley Cibber (1671 – 1757) when he says “we shall find no fiend in Hell can match the fury of a disappointed woman” or you can chuckle at the thought of furious women reading it and taking it at face value. Or, perhaps, laugh at both.
While I’ve no doubt that many of the quotes included here were said or written with stony-faced bitterness by their authors, there’s a mischievous sense of fun to this book that suggests it was pitched in humour, not anger. At the time of publication, this might have been just the thing to read a few quotes from out loud in gentlemen’s clubs, pubs or at cocktail parties when the ladies have retired. Now, it feels an oddly subversive pamphlet to even own, the sort of thing that would have you cancelled quicker than Supertrain. And so it is all the more amusing and essential.
If you live in the USA, you can order one of the 66 facsimile copies directly here, for the bargain price of $4 – you’ll also find a plethora of other exciting publications that you might well want to pick up to appal your more delicate associates with. Overseas customers cannot, unfortunately, place orders right now, though the plan is to have that sorted out in October.