The Language Of Libido


Sir, - I greatly enjoyed Brian Fallon's review of The Erotomaniac: the Secret Life of Henry Spencer Ashbee (Books, March 17th). I am somewhat troubled, however, by the rather unusual use of the word "erotomaniac" in the title of Mr Gibson's book.

It is wise to hesitate before suggesting that Mr Gibson is actually wrong in these matters; and indeed the Oxford English Dictionary assures me that "erotomania" can be used to signify abnormal or excessive erotic desire.

However, it is important to note that in contemporary English the word erotomania is most commonly used to denote a mental illness characterised by a delusion that one is loved from afar by another person. Ian McEwan's novel Enduring Love provides a magnificent description of classical erotomania.

Therefore, erotomaniac, with its suggestions of mental illness, may not be the most appropriate word to describe the likes of Henry Spencer Ashbee, who may well be construed as merely possessing highly developed erotic sensibilities. "Erotocist" and "erotophile" are two alternatives that come to mind. Best of all, however, is the deliciously melodramatic "servant of Eros". - Yours, etc.,

Brendan Kelly, Rathdown Road, Phibsborough, Dublin 7.