I was looking around the bookshop the other day when my mum, all giddy and excited, called me over. 'Look' she said with her finger pointing to a particular paperback. I grabbed the book from the shelf and admired its front cover. There was a painting of a dark, handsome, Zorro-type caressing a stately, plump strawberry-blonde - once quite the catch, I'm led to believe. Just below the blonde's rosy cheeks read the title: 'Tis Pity She's a Whore.
The combination of the provocative painting and the equally provocative title proved too much to bear. Completely oblivious to what was inside, I bought the book there and then. I had to. It occurred to me that I, for the first time but not the last, had quite literally judged a book by its cover.
The book turned out to be a selection of plays by seventeenth century writer John Ford. I hadn't noticed the relatively boring name of the book's author until I took a second glance. That evening, I skipped passed all the other plays in Ford's collection and went straight for the play that had originally caught my attention. Snuggled in my comfy bed, with absolutely no prior knowledge of the work in hand, I read 'Tis Pity She's a Whore.
I hate to offer laconic praise for such a great work, but Ford's play is, quite simply, brilliant. 'Tis Pity She's a Whore follows the incestuous love affair of Annabella - the titular whore - and her brother Giovanni. All the rich men of Parma are vying for the affection of the whore, but her heart is reserved for her cruel yet charming sibling. Giovanni reciprocates Annabella's feelings and likes to constantly remind the reader of his lustful desires. One particularly beautiful monologue reads:
O, the glory of two hearts like hers and mine!
Let poring book-men dream of other worlds,
My world, and all of happiness, is here,
And I'd not change it for the best to come:
A life of pleasure is Elysium.
So, yeah, Giovanni really loves his whore sister and wants their love to last for eternity. Annabella, however, realizes that it's not really that ethical to sleep with one's sibling and thus seeks redemption through religious confession. She is advised to marry Soranzo - one of the ingratiating royals of Parma - yet at this point she is pregnant. Soranzo, obviously, isn't the father. From here, without giving too much away, shit, as they say, hits the fan.
I have read quite a few well-known, critically acclaimed plays yet none of them were quite as entertaining - or indeed shocking - as 'Tis Pity She's a Whore. Ford explores an extremely provocative subject matter - essentially, the morality of incest - in a sort of lively, almost playful, fashion. I found myself laughing at the most lurid moments - particularly during a brutal argument where Soranzo dubs Annabella the 'Whore of whores!' - and biting my nails through the action packed scenes that ostensibly occur on every other page. Ford's play is a masterpiece and I'm Goddamn thankful that my mum stumbled upon his collection in a desolate West London Waterstones.
Since my mum noticed this strange little play, I have realized that there are so many books in my little library that I have bought after weeks of investigation. This has, traditionally, worked quite well. A few days ago, however, I did what one isn't supposed to do: I judged a book by its cover. This book turned out to be one of the finest that I have ever read.
The next time a book has a fascinating title and a licentious painting adorning its cover, I won't go home, google the title and read about the author. No. I shall buy it. 'Tis Pity She's a Whore has taught me two things: the first is that one should probably try to avoid incest - or face the inexorably dire consequences - and the second is that it's okay to judge a book by its cover.