Unexpected descriptions in literature
December 28, 2012 9:34 PM   Subscribe

Do you know of a detailed description from literature of a non-literary subject which was not primarily meant as literature you would care to share with me?

Do you know of a detailed description from literature of a non-literary subject which was not primarily meant as literature you would care to share with me?

Two examples that brought me to ask this question: Orwell's tea recipe and Brion Gysin's Haschigh Fudge entry in The Alice B. Toklas Cookbook.

While both of these examples are of recipes, what I'm looking for would preferably be about personal male grooming or men's attire, while the White Whale of answers would point me to a pre-1960s description of anything having to do directly with male hair care or styling.

I also include the two examples because they are not simply directions; they both include commentary, which is important. 

It would come, ideally, from an essay, though it may come from a section of a larger work as well. 
posted by slowlikemolasses to Writing & Language (10 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Any of Melville's passages on the biological nature of the whale in Moby Dick, though they are not considered scientifically accurate today.
posted by Sara C. at 9:42 PM on December 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

The first thing that comes to mind is the dissertation from Cryptonomicon on the proper method of eating Captain Crunch.
posted by 256 at 9:49 PM on December 28, 2012 [3 favorites]

Walter Prichard Eaton's essay on Barbershops of Yesterday from this book may be of interest to you.

Also, L. Rust Hills's essay on How to Eat an Ice Cream Cone.
posted by Sidhedevil at 9:55 PM on December 28, 2012

The histories of Genesis and Whitney Houston in American Psycho.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 9:56 PM on December 28, 2012

Does Nabokov's description of boiling eggs fit?
posted by trip and a half at 10:30 PM on December 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Yes, it fits quite nicely. Do you know for what original purpose Nabokov wrote it?
posted by slowlikemolasses at 10:40 PM on December 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

Google search, but I'm fairly certain it's from an "interview", rather than a published work of his own authorship, which is what gave me pause. It might be from Playboy magazine. He regularly wrote both questions and answers for his own interviews. I can look it up, and report back, but right now I have to go out in the rain and purchase cigarettes. I'll check in later if I find the original source.
posted by trip and a half at 10:52 PM on December 28, 2012

A bit more context, perhaps?

Found among Vladimir Nabokov's archives is the following recipe, dated November 18, 1972, and addressed to Maxime, who presumably requested it for inclusion in her cookbook. Nabokov noted on the top of the page "Maxime de la Falaise McKendry for a cooking book"; a later note reads, "Never acknowledge by Maxime."

An unanswered letter, rather than an interview? I am sure I can dig up more on this, but I am exhausted from my drenched drug run. Feel free to MeMail me.

(There might be more at that blog to interest you.)
posted by trip and a half at 12:09 AM on December 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

In "American Psycho" there are quite a few chapters on various bands from the (mostly) 80s.
posted by backwards guitar at 3:57 AM on December 29, 2012

Best answer: My first thought was American Psycho, too. There's a passage near the beginning of the book where Patrick describes his daily grooming ritual in fetishistic detail:

In the shower I use first a water-activated gel cleanser, then a honey-almond body scrub, and on the face an exfoliating gel scrub. Vidal Sassoon shampoo is especially good at getting rid of the coating of dried perspiration, salts, oils, airborne pollutants and dirt that can weight down hair and flatten it to the scalp which can make you look older

.. and so on, and on. It's not so easy to come up with a pre-1960s example, but perhaps a passage from Lord Chesterfield's Letters to his Son might fit the bill:

You will possibly think, that this letter turns upon strange, little, trifling objects; and you will think right, if you consider them separately; but if you take them aggregately, you will be convinced that as parts, which conspire to form that whole, called the exterior of a man of fashion, they are of importance. I shall not dwell now upon these personal graces, that liberal air, and that engaging address, which I have so often recommended to you; but descend still lower, to your dress, cleanliness, and care of your person.

When you come to Paris, you may take care to be extremely well dressed; that is, as the fashionable people are; this does by no means consist in the finery, but in the taste, fitness, and manner of wearing your clothes; a fine suit ill-made, and slatternly or stiffly worn, far from adorning, only exposes the awkwardness of the wearer. Get the best French tailor to make your clothes, whatever they are, in the fashion, and to fit you: and then wear them, button them, or unbutton them, as the genteelest people you see do. Let your man learn of the best friseur to do your hair well, for that is a very material part of your dress. Take care to have your stockings well gartered up, and your shoes well buckled; for nothing gives a more slovenly air to a man than ill-dressed legs. In your person you must be accurately clean; and your teeth, hands, and nails, should be superlatively so; a dirty mouth has real ill consequences to the owner, for it infallibly causes the decay, as well as the intolerable pain of the teeth, and it is very offensive to his acquaintance, for it will most inevitably stink. I insist, therefore, that you wash your teeth the first thing you do every morning, with a soft sponge and swarm water, for four or five minutes; and then wash your mouth five or six times. Mouton, whom I desire you will send for upon your arrival at Paris, will give you an opiate, and a liquor to be used sometimes. Nothing looks more ordinary, vulgar, and illiberal, than dirty hands, and ugly, uneven, and ragged nails: I do not suspect you of that shocking, awkward trick, of biting yours; but that is not enough: you must keep the ends of them smooth and clean, not tipped with black, as the ordinary people's always are. The ends of your nails should be small segments of circles, which, by a very little care in the cutting, they are very easily brought to; every time that you wipe your hands, rub the skin round your nails backward, that it may not grow up, and shorten your nails too much. The cleanliness of the rest of your person, which, by the way, will conduce greatly to your health, I refer from time to time to the bagnio.

My mentioning these particulars arises (I freely own) from some suspicion that the hints are not unnecessary; for, when you were a schoolboy, you were slovenly and dirty above your fellows. I must add another caution, which is that upon no account whatever, you put your fingers, as too many people are apt to do, in your nose or ears. It is the most shocking, nasty, vulgar rudeness, that can be offered to company; it disgusts one, it turns one's stomach; and, for my own part, I would much rather know that a man's fingers were actually in his breech, than see them in his nose. Wash your ears well every morning, and blow your nose in your handkerchief whenever you have occasion; but, by the way, without looking at it afterward. There should be in the least, as well as in the greatest parts of a gentleman, 'les manieres nobles'. Sense will teach you some, observation others; attend carefully to the manners, the diction, the motions, of people of the first fashion, and form your own upon them.

posted by verstegan at 3:22 AM on January 1, 2013 [2 favorites]

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