“My New Boyfriend,” by Deborah Ross

Aug 11th, 2010 | By | Category: Nonfiction, Prose

A monologue, inspired by the recent biography by Richard Reeves, John Stuart Mill:  Victorian Firebrand

After all these years of suffering under a hopeless crush, I’ve finally gotten my heart’s desire.  I am literally (sort of) sleeping with John Stuart Mill. And let me tell you, darlings, People magazine needs to make up a new contest, because he is the sexiest man no longer alive.  Or at least he’s the sexiest moral philosopher no longer alive.  For one thing, he is HUGE—485 pages, not even counting the extended bibliography and prodigious notes.   Now like most women, there’s nothing I like better than a long, slow read.  But it’s not just the size.  From the first time I read the Autobiography, On Liberty, and of course On the Subjection of Women, I was sure JStill was the only man who would ever really get me (except maybe Captain Kangaroo).  But I never thought I’d have a chance with him, till Richard hooked us up, and Christmas morning there he was under my tree, and he’s been right there on the pillow next to me ever since.  And no, you can’t borrow him.  You can forget that greatest happiness for the greatest number stuff.   This one is mine all mine.

I guess that means I’m finally over David.  Hume, I mean.  We had great times, sure, but you know how it is, the age difference doesn’t seem to matter at first, but it’s bound to get you in the end.  Two hundred forty-three years!  He couldn’t even tell the Allman Brothers from Lynyrd Skynyrd—said as far as he was concerned, all those flannel shirt guys made the same noise.  And he was starting to feel his age.  Every time I’d come over or call, he’d be taking a nap.  He’d almost completely lost interest in sex, and whenever we did make love it would always be exactly the same way—step one leads to step two leads to step three.  Of course, we’d still end up in the same place, every time, never fail.  But as he said, that didn’t prove anything.  We might just as well be shooting pool.

So when JStill came along, I was ready to move on with my life.  And this time I know it’s for keeps.  It’s not like that thing I used to have a long time ago for Anthony Ashley Cooper.  You know, Lord Shaftesbury.  He was so pretty, with that long curly hair, the ruffled shirt and tight jacket.  But it was just a schoolgirl thing, like crushing on Orlando Bloom as an elf.  Sure, my friend Debbie Sherline and I used to be first in line for the new issue of Sixteen to read the latest on the Shafte, and we always ran down to the 45s section at Woolworth’s to get his new records as soon as they came out.  And okay, I did write him a love letter once.  But it couldn’t last.  I guess you could say he was just too nice.  Debbie actually lost interest before I did.  She got her period months before me, and we drifted apart, and she started hanging around with girls with long bangs, smoking cigarettes behind the Grand Union.   Then one day she found a copy of Leviathan under the mattress in her older brother’s room, and from then on whenever I ran into her it was always Tommy Hobbes this, and Tommy Hobbes that.   For me, that was going too far.  I had to admit, my fantasy of Anthony kissing my hand was starting to get boring, and I couldn’t seem to imagine him doing anything more interesting.  But then David came along, and he was just enough of a bad boy for me.  It’s a shame that by the time he met me he was already pretty burned out.  But it was good while it lasted.

JStill doesn’t mind that he’s not my first.  He’s much less jealous than David used to be, I guess because he’s a lot closer to my own age, and he realizes that even though I’ve barely been around for half a century, I’m bound to have had some experience.  I try not to bring it up too much, though, since I’ve had so much more than he has.  Now don’t think I’m being catty about Harriet.  I don’t mind about Harriet.  I don’t.  Not at all.  Even though he still brings her up at least once a day, and every time he gets all misty.  I think his loyalty is rather sweet.  And anyway, that’s all in the past, and there’s no use dwelling on it.  We have our whole future ahead of us.

I’ll prove to you how okay I am with the whole Harriet thing.  I’m thinking about bringing her back.  I had this great idea for a series of detective novels in which John and Harriet work together to solve crimes.   He would come up with theories, and she would know how to apply them, and so they would outsmart the police, bringing criminals to justice, while she went to Unitarian meetings and he worked on liberal legislation to try and make crime itself, eventually, obsolete.   I can see it already adapted for television, in twelve parts, consecutive Sundays on PBS, or maybe as a Merchant-Ivory film.  I even know who should play Harriet: no, not me.   Greer Garson, the most ethereally sexy actress no longer alive.  JStill of course would play himself.   He can do it, too.  He doesn’t look a day over a hundred.

I don’t know how I would handle their sex life, though.  Even I don’t know the inside story.  He doesn’t like to talk about it, but you can’t get away with that these days.  Everyone would want to know, did they do “it” before her first husband died?  Did they even do “it” after they were married?   He finds these questions embarrassing, though really I think he’s more embarrassed for all those curious biographers than for himself, or for Harriet.  To him, it’s just so off the point.   Until they met, “it” for her had always been a requirement, not a pleasure.  On the other hand, sitting up all night in your PJ’s, chattering away about political economy, or stealing a kiss in the drawing room at Avignon while little Helen was upstairs putting on her bonnet—now that was hot.  I can see what he means.  People really have the wrong idea about utilitarians.  They’re scientific, but they’re not cold—just clear, and truthful.  If JStill thought his sex life with Harriet would further knowledge of human nature or better society in any way, you can bet he’d be as open about that as he was about his mental “crisis.” He just can’t see the use of  talking.

Anyway, I’m not Harriet, and whatever it was, or wasn’t, I’m here to tell you, now, what it is.  And what it is, my friends, to use one of his own favorite words, is vigorous.  And that is, literally, the exact truth.  Sort of.


Deborah Ross is originally from upstate New York but has been living in Hawai’i for thirty years, teaching English at Hawai’i Pacific University while raising two children who speak pidgin.  She has published widely on the history of the novel and women’s stories, as well her own stories in magazines such as CT Review, Hawai’i Pacific Review, Inscribed, and Stone’s Throw.

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