Dr. Seuss's The Seven Lady Godivas
Children's book review by Steve Barancik
That dirty Dr. Seuss!
I hope no one will be too scandalized by the following historical tidbit:
Dr. Seuss liked naked women.
I'm sure all you ladies are fanning yourselves now...at least those who haven't collapsed in a dead faint. Yes, the good doctor liked the female form, and in fact - in his career as a painter - liked painting it!
(Interestingly, his nudes often tended to look rather cat-like.)
So it shouldn't surprise anyone that one of his two picture books aimed at adults was his 1939 spin on the Lady Godiva legend: The Seven Lady Godivas. (Subtitled The True Facts Concerning History's Barest Family.
Seuss conflates the Godiva legend with the Battle of Hastings - both of which occurred at about the same time (approx. 1066 A.D.), and both of which involved horses. The result is a combination of wordplay and horseplay that comes out like this...
Rather than the single wife of the Earl of Coventry, Seuss gives us seven daughters to the same Earl. An early horseman, the Earl is heading off to the Battle of Hastings when his poorly trained steed throws him to his death.
The daughters - all too busy with deep thoughts to have ever bothered with clothing - resolve to honor their father by delaying their scheduled marriages to the neighbor boys (Peeping Tom, and his six brothers, Peeping Dick, Peeping Harry...) until they can each discover a "horse truth," that is, an important fact about horses.
Each sister gets her own story in the form of a chapter which concludes in a horse truth, each of which turns out to be a familiar old saying about horses (but probably not old in 1066).
Teenie Godiva, for instance, learns not to look a gift horse in the mouth - learns it at the cost of her nose but not of her suitor. Dorcas J. Godiva learns not to put the cart before the horse, since that pretty much removes the horse's disincentive not to ram the cart into a tree.
Some of the Godiva ladies discover their horse truths nearly right away, while others only succeed near the end of life. One is driven to absolute sexual distraction by the waiting.
The Seven Lady Godivas was probably pretty bawdy for its day. (I can't say for sure, as it was published in 1939. I'm old, but not THAT old.) The Seussian illustrations feature the flesh-colored female form naked from the rear and hairless/nippleless from the front. The prose is suggestive rather than overt.
Seuss presents all the silliness as historical fact. Notably, the seven female protagonists in this one book probably outnumber those in his over 60 children's books.
The book is written in prose (unlike his brilliant You're Only Old Once!, a book for "obsolete children"). Of all his prose books, it offers the clearest proof that the man knew his way around a sentence.
Will you want to share The Seven Lady Godivas with the younger set? Probably not, though the pictures - for adults - are more silly than stimulating. But Dad may delight in having his own Seuss, and the book is a nice reminder that there was more to the man than cats, hats, green eggs and elephants.
Complete Dr. Seuss book list, including other books for grown-ups.
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