Zorro he was not

Recently, I wondered aloud about the seemingly substantial number of Great Writers who suffered brothel-related misadventures/trauma in pubescence. Someone appropriately named “tlon” simply replied “Borges,” and sure enough, here it is in this month’s Harper’s (and elsewhere, no doubt) in a review of Edwin Williamson’s Borges: A Life:

Williamson has Borges caught between the noble sword of his heroic grandfather and the gaucho knife. His mother enforced the one; his father, the other. Borges went off to his first day of school with a knife his father gave him for fighting duels on the playground.


When Borges was a shy adolescent, his father made an appointment for him at a Swiss whorehouse. He couldn’t bring himself to go. The trauma of this reluctance, Williamson explains, remained with him throughout life: he had let down his father’s chivalric ideal of a man wielding sword and penis with equal fervor, a man with balls enough to engage in a bloody knife fight at every opportunity. On the other hand, he had lived up to his mother’s ideal of moral purity.

Somewhere, surely, a Freudian is smiling.


  1. My favorite in this category has got to be Boswell, who I think qualifies as both a Great Writer and a Great Curiosity. Of course, he didn’t confine these to pubescence. I highly recommend seeking out a book called “Boswell’s Clap: (Really Long Subtitle I Can’t Remember Off the Top of My Head).” He just never learned.

  2. There’s a nice one mentioned in one of Jonathan Ames’s column collections, which I think took place when he was 12. I’m not sure that he could be yet counted as a Great Writer, though. Maybe a great writer?

  3. (The story involves a drunk Ames, who shouts to a hooker, from whom he’s just received a BJ, that he loves her. She throws hot tea into his face, and her prostitute friends, who are all lined up beside her, laugh at him..)

  4. Which makes me wonder, has anyone ever had a good experience in a whorehouse?

    If a young writer went to a brothel and lost his virginity to a soiled but compassionate prostitute, would the experience be worth writing about?

    The only one I can think of is Biloxi Blues.

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