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Thursday, March 21, 2013

Heartbreakers in History that Were Homely... or Let's Face it, Ugly by Betsy Prioleau + Giveaway!

TLC Book Tours presents...

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.

With wit and erudition, Prioleau cuts through the cultural lore and reveals who these master lovers really are and the arts they practice to enswoon women. What she discovers is revolutionary. Using evidence from science, popular culture, fiction, anthropology, and history, and from interviews with colorful real-world ladykillers, Prioleau finds that great seducers share a constellation of unusual traits.

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? After a critique of the twenty-first-century sexual malaise—the gulf between the sexes and women’s record discontent—she compellingly argues that society needs ladies’ men more than ever. Groundbreaking and provocative, Swoon is underpinned with sharp analysis, brilliant research, and served up with seductive verve.

Three Homely Heartbreakers from History

It’s almost impossible to imagine a ladykiller without looks—a chiseled Grecian profile, tousled bangs, and a ripped physique. But strangely enough, some of history’s most devastating lovers lacked any shred of beauty. How was this possible?

Gabriele D’Annunzio, 1863-1938

Few men have ever garnered more female adulation than the Italian poet and politician Gabriele D’Annunzio. Women trailed him around turn-of-the-century Europe, begged for his favors (one offered a fortune for a single night), and many, like stage diva, Eleonora Duse, never got over her “Apollo.”

“Apollo” isn’t the first word that comes to mind. D’Annunzio was short and bald, with hooded eyes, fat legs, and wide hips. But he knew the way to women’s hearts. With him, each woman became the center of his universe, and a semi-divinity—renamed and exalted to the spheres. “To hear oneself praised with that magic peculiar to D’Annunzio,” wrote dancer Isadora Duncan, was like Eve seduced by “the serpent in Paradise.”

Among his other charms (besides stellar sex) was his flair for setting. He believed “love was nothing without the scenery,” and designed his apartments to levitate and intoxicate the senses. Tuberroses scented the rooms, and the décor was pure Djinn palace—soft velvet cushions, rare art, and a red-brocaded boudoir.

No matter how “ugly” women found him, D’Annunzio never failed to enamor and transport them. He was “a ladies’ man,” said contemporaries, “before whose exploits the most dashing Don Juan must bow his head in admiration.”

John Humphrey Noyes, 1811-1886

John Humphrey Noyes, the nineteenth-century American religious reformer was nothing if not “uncomely.” He was jut-jawed with a receding hairline, pinched lips, and a bulbous, furrowed brow. At Yale Divinity School he cut a poor figure, with the reputation of an unattractive loner.

All that changed, however, in his second year. He decided that the Second Coming had already arrived, and God wanted his people to live communally, practice free love, and satisfy women in bed. He founded the Oneida Community in upstate New York for the purpose, and introduced an exotic sexual practice called carezza. At its height, Oneida contained over three hundred members, and he became the love god of the commune.

“He was extraordinarily attractive to women,” said his son, due to sexual “magnetism superadded to intense religious convictions.” Male spirituality, with its promise of personal redemption, has a strong romantic pull on women. Every woman was “eager to sleep with him,” and he took dozens of lovers.

By his sixties, he had sired nine of the fifty-eight children in Oneida and was still irresistible to women. When he was chased out of town after thirty years (the longest utopian experiment in America), a group of besotted female disciples left with him and sweetened his last days in Canada. His face, they said, “shone like an angel’s” until the end.

Aldous Huxley, 1894-1964

The intellectual giant and author Aldous Huxley (of Brave New World and other works) looked so much like a storybook giant that his family nicknamed him the “Ogre.” Writer Virginia Woolf described him as a “purblind,” “pallid,” and “spavined scarecrow.” Over 6’4 ½” with coke-bottle glasses, he had an enormous head atop a skeletal, spindly frame, yet women were mad for him.

When he arrived at Oxford in 1913 nearly blind from an incurable eye infection, he “made a tremendous impression,” especially on girls. Smarter than anyone, high-spirited, and fond of women, he was much sought after. His choices were the crème de la crème: a musician, a playwright, and artist Dora Carrington who spent nights with him on the roof talking about books and ideas and singing ragtime tunes.

He was living proof of the power of mind over matter in love, and the female passion for intellectual excitement in men. In 1919, he married a cultivated Belgian beauty, Maria Nye, who not only consented to an open marriage; she condoned his extramarital affairs.

Among his lovers were a Romanian princess, the political activist and writer Nancy Cunard, and a “mixed harem” of Californians when he moved to Los Angeles in the 1940s. After his wife’s death, he married a distinguished violinist and psychoanalyst who dedicated herself to him, nonexclusivity and all.

When his son’s marriage was breaking up, Huxley told him the secret of his phenomenal success with women: “intelligence,” he wrote, “endows love with effectiveness.”

* * *

None of these three great lovers is unusual. Despite the new emphasis on male beauty, a woman can be bowled over by the ungainliest of men. The man just has to be a ladies’ man: love and appreciate women, grasp their desires, and court them accordingly, with cultivated physical and psychological charms. And cerebral spells are always the strongest in the pack. Shakespeare was right: “love looks not with the eyes but with the mind.”

About the Author

Betsy Prioleau was born and grew up in Richmond, Virginia. Her father was portrait artist Hugo Stevens, and her home life, full of books, art, and talkfests. She attended Sweet Briar College and received both a B.S. and M.A. from the University of Virginia. At one point, she spent a year on a hippie enclave in Vermont.

After a Ph.D. in American literature at Duke University, she taught English and World Literature at Manhattan College, where she was a tenured associate professor. She was a scholar in residence for three semesters at New York University, and most recently, taught cultural history at New York University Liberal Studies Program.

She currently lives in a lively apartment in New York City with her husband, Philip, and a madcap poodle, Poubelle.


Intelligence can be such a turn-on, can't it? It's definitely one of the first things I look for in a guy, up there with charming wits and a six-pack sense of humor. Thanks so much for sharing these homely heartbreakers, Betsy... I can't wait to read about more from your book!

We've got one print copy of Swoon: Great Seducers and Why Women Love Them up for grabs to one lucky commenter! To enter, all you have to do tell us a personal trait that you find attractive :) We know intelligence is sexy, but what else?

Remember: You must make your comment meaningful and provocative to the discussion! Comments only containing the likes of "Good looks, thanks for the giveaway" or "I don't know" will not be considered for entry! (And just between the two of us, I KNOW you can do better than "good looks").

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