Jack’s Naughty Bits: John Fowles, Mantissa

Pin it

Jack's Naughty Bits

scenario is intriguing: a man who has lost his memory lies in a bed in a futuristic
hospital awaiting treatment. The assumption behind the cure is that memory is linked to the
ego, and what impedes a patient’s recovery is the intervention of the superego. The only
way around the barrier is to stimulate the id, and the natural means, so the logic goes, is to get the
patient off. Thus begins John Fowles’ interesting, but very self-reflexively ’80s novel,


While there are other scenes in Fowles’ novels that could (and might later) be used
for Naughty Bits, Mantissa provides not only a rather sexy base scenario, but a
curious interplay of desire, coercion and fantasy. The amnesic patient, Mr. Greene, is
resistant to the treatment; he wants to hold on to his morality (he’s married, doesn’t want to
cheat, doesn’t want to have sex with a perfect stranger, etc.) and tries to keep from getting
aroused. But the more he resists, the more the doctor and nurse redouble their efforts. The
reader, who is made to be complicit in the fantasy, can’t help but imagine himself in this position, trying not to get aroused in hope that the practitioners will proceed to yet more arousing “treatments.” The vicarious thrill of holding back, holding back, holding back until you get exactly what you want: now that’s erotic! Fowles’ short scene demonstrates that even male sexual desire is subject to the push-and-pull dynamics of deferral and inversion and that, despite some popular misconceptions, some male behaviors have evolved since the Neanderthal days.

* * *

From Mantissa by John Fowles

“Give me your right hand, Mr. Green.”


Frozen, he did nothing, but the doctor took the hand from beneath his head and led
it upwards. It touched a bare breast. Once more shocked and horrified, he opened his eyes.
Dr. Delfie was leaning over him, with the white tunic open, staring at the wall above his
head, as if she were doing no more than take his pulse. His hand was led to her other breast.


“What are you doing?”


She did not look down. “Please don’t talk, Mr. Green. I want you to concentrate on
tactile sensation.” . . .


She leaned across him, supporting herself on either side of the pillow. “Now both
hands. Anywhere you like.”


“I can’t. I don’t know you from Adam.”  . . .


“You’re in a hospital, for heaven’s sake. There’s nothing personal in this. Nurse
and I are simply carrying out standard practice. All we ask is a little cooperation. Nurse?


“Still negative doctor.” . . .


He sought for something in her eyes: the faintest trace of humour, of irony, of
humanity even. But there was none. She was implacably indifferent to his scruples, his
modesty, his sense of decorum. In the end he shut his eyes and found the breasts again,
then felt cautiously upwards to the delicate throat, to the angles where the neck joined the
shoulders; then down to the breasts again, to the sides, the curved indent of the waist, with
the light linen of the opened tunic on the backs of his hands . . .


After a moment, Dr. Delfie crouched over him. A nipple touched his lips, then
again, and the scent of the myrtle-flowers was stronger, evoking in some lost recess of
mind sunlit slopes above azure seas. He opened his eyes, in twilight now, tented beneath
the sides of the tunic; once more he was invited to suckle the insistent breast. He twisted
his head to one side.




“Excellent. Anything that spurs your libido.”


“You’re no doctor.”


“Bonds. A whip. Black leather. Whatever you fancy.”


“This is monstrous.”  . . .


“You’re only getting this because you’re a private patient, Mr. Green.”

© John Fowles