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The Bedtrick

Tales of Sex and Masquerade

"Somehow I woke up one day and found myself in bed with a stranger." Meant literally or figuratively, this statement describes one of the best-known plots in world mythology and popular storytelling. In a tour that runs from Shakespeare to Hollywood and from Abraham Lincoln to Casanova, the erudite and irrepressible Wendy Doniger shows us the variety, danger, and allure of the "bedtrick," or what it means to wake up with a stranger.

The Bedtrick brings together hundreds of stories from all over the world, from the earliest recorded Hindu and Hebrew texts to the latest item in the Weekly World News, to show the hilariously convoluted sexual scrapes that people manage to get themselves into and out of. Here you will find wives who accidentally commit adultery with their own husbands. You will read Lincoln’s truly terrible poem about a bedtrick. You will learn that in Hong Kong the film The Crying Game was retitled Oh No! My Girlfriend Has a Penis. And that President Clinton was not the first man to be identified by an idiosyncratic organ.

At the bottom of these wonderful stories, ancient myths, and historical anecdotes lie the dynamics of sex and gender, power and identity. Why can’t people tell the difference in the dark? Can love always tell the difference between one lover and another? And what kind of truth does sex tell? Funny, sexy, and engaging, The Bedtrick is a masterful work of energetic storytelling and dazzling scholarship. Give it to your spouse and your lover.

Table of Contents

Preface: Why a Book about a Bedtrick?
Texts and Approaches
Texts as Contexts
The Uses of Insomnia
Apologia for the Length of This Book


Introduction: Sex, Text, and Masquerade
Telling the Difference
Sexual Lies and Sexual Truth

One: How to Commit Adultery with Your Own Spouse
The Double-Back
The God Who Committed Adultery with His Own Goddess
Double-Backing Husbands
The Double-Play, or Mixed Doubles
The Double-Cross
The Double-Back-Cross
The Double-BackBCross-Play
The Double-Bind
Approach One: Philosophy, or Love/Sex = Mind/Body?
Body and Soul (and Mind)
Sex and Love
Desire, Duty, and Domination

Two: The Rape of the False Mother
Sexual Violence in Ancient India
Is a Bedtrick a Rape?
The Abandoning Mother and Lover
Approach Two: Psychology
The Case of the Missing Identity
Freudian Bedtricks
Otto Rank on the Double
Lacan on the Mirror Stage

Three: Waking Up in Bed with an Animal
Animal Lovers: Beauty and the Beast
Horses and Swans
Snakes and Mermaids
The Fatal Error
Animal Husbandry and Animal Brides
Night and Day
Approach Three: Zoology
The Cuckoo’s Nest: Sexually Deceptive Animals
The (Teaser) Mare’s Nest: "Not as Good as Stallions"
Is Zoology Destiny?

Four: The Lovely/Loathly Lady
The Lovely Lady
The Loathly Lady
The Magic Kiss
Old Women Masquerading as Young Women
The Substitute Bride. 1: Mothers
The Substitute Bride. 2: Sisters
Twin Sisters
Double Takes: The Twin Sisters on Film
Cats and Candles in the Dark
Are All Beautiful Women Alike in the Light?
Approach Four: Feminism, or Women Are Good to Think With
The Silent Woman
Night Blindness
The Mouth Says No but the Eyes Say Yes
The Double Standard: Asymmetrical Gender Patterns
Deconstructing and Reconstructing Beauty
Why Is Old Ugly?

Five: The Cuckolds of the Heart
Cuckolding to Kill
Sleeping with the Enemy
Paternal Insecurity, Family Resemblance, and Male Jealousy
Parental Imprinting
Approach Five: Theology, or When God Has Lipstick on His Collar
The Sexual Masques of God
Divine Betrayal
Human Blindness and Divine Invisibility

Six: Designated Hitters
Legal Male Surrogates
Twin Beds
The Levirate, Hindu Style
The Levirate, Jewish Style
Bedtricksters in the Lineage of Jesus
Transformations of the Levirate
The Droit du Seigneur
European Subversions of the Droit du Seigneur
The Diritto della Signora
Hindu Subversions of the Droit du Seigneur
Jewish Subversions of the Droit du Seigneur
Approach Six: Law, or Loopholes in the Penal Code
Rape and Sexual Fraud
Rape and Multiple Personalities

Seven: Color, Class, and Clout
Color-Blind and Outcaste
In the Light, All Black Cats Are Black
Why Orientals Make Good (Masquerading) Wives
Close Your Eyes and Think of England
Double Penetration Agents
Pretending to be an American in Hollywood
Approach Seven: Weapons of the Weak

Eight: Cross-Cultural Cross-Dressing
Cross-Dressing to Kill
Cross-Dressing for Love
Gender-Bending in Hollywood
The Double-Cross-Dress
The Double-Back-Cross-Dress and Double-Back-Cross-Dress-Play
The Double-Cross-Dress-Back-Play
The Myth of Gender-Transcending in Reality
Turning the Transsexual Tricks of the Trade
Approach Eight: Queer Studies and the Theater of Deception
Cross-Dress Rehearsals
Operatic Scenarios
Sexual Objectives and Sexual Objects

Nine: Incest
Incest and the Bedtrick
Mothers and Sons
Fathers and Daughters
Brothers and Sisters
The Family Romance as Comedy and Tragedy
Approach Nine: Sexual Rhetoric
Aural Sex
Dirty Stories
The Double Entendre
A Lover by Any Other Name

Ten: Real Sex and Fantastic Sex
The Sexual Act
Postcoital Sleep
When a Kiss Is Not Just a Kiss
Penis Envy
The Wo/men’s Room
The Return of the Return of Martin Guerre
Sexual Unreality-testing
Ten Ways Not to Know Your Lover
Fantastic Sex
When Dreams Become Nightmares
Double Beds Hold Three or More People
Approach Ten: Structuralism
Splitting Hares
Minimal and Other Pairs
The Structure of the Bedtrick
Sexual Paradox
Paradox Lost

Conclusion: Carnal Ignorance and Carnal Knowledge
Carnal Ignorance
Carnal Knowledge
False Ignorance and False Knowledge

Appendix: Bedtricks in Stith Thompson’s Motif-Index

Filmography: Double Features: Bedtricks (and Related Plots) on Film
Index and Glossary

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