The Sot-Weed Factor: Poop Is Everywhere
The Sot-Weed Factor is great.
It’s definitely an acquired taste. At 700 pages, and with a unique, old-world style of writing, the novel isn’t a swift read.
To enjoy it, you’ll have to settle in and embrace these characters. It doesn’t hurt if you appreciate a quirky, twisted sense of humor (think Monty Python).
If I had to describe The Sot-Weed Factor in two words, those two words would be “prostitutes” and “poop.” Prostitutes and poop make up about half of the novel.
Let me give you an example of what I’m talking about. In the passage below, the Poet Laureate of Maryland, Ebenezer Cooke, and his friend Henry have run into two men they believe to be pirates.
“Aye, I’m certain oft,” Ebenezer insisted. I’ve read enough in Esquemeling to know a pirate when I see one: ferocious fellows as like as twins; they were dressed all in black, with black beards and walking sticks.”
“Why did you not declare your name and office?” Burlingame asked.’Tis not likely they’d dare molest you then.”
Ebenezer shook his head. “I thank Heav’n I did not, for else my life had ended on the spot. Twas the Laureate they sought, Henry, to kill and murther him!”
“Nay! But why?”
“The Lord alone knows why; yet I owe my life solely to some poor wight, that walking past the window they took for me and gave him chase. Past that I know naught. Pray God they missed him and are gone for good!
“Belike they are,” Burlingame said. “Pirates, you say! Well, ’tis not impossible, after all. But say, thou’rt all beshit and must be scrubbed.”
Ebenezer groaned. “Ignominy! How waddle to the wharf in this condition, to fetch clean breeches?”
“Marry, I said naught o’ waddling, sir,” said Burlingame, in the tones of a country servant. “Only fetch off thy drawers and breeches now, that me little Dolly maught clean ’em out, and I shall bring ye fresh ‘uns.”
“Aye, Joan Freckles yonder in the King o’ the Seas.”
Ebenezer blushed. “And yet she is a woman, for all her harlotry, and I the Laureate of Maryland! I cannot have her hear oft.”
“Hear oft!” Burlingame laughed. “You’ve near suffocated her already! Who was it found you on the floor, d’ye think, and helped me fetch you hither? Off with ’em now, Master Laureate, and spare me thy modesty. ‘Twas a woman wiped thy bum at birth and another shall in dotage: what matter if one do’t in between?” And Ebenezer having undone his buttons with reluctance, his friend made bold to give a mighty jerk, and the poet stood exposed.
“La now!’ chuckled Burlingame. “Thou’rt fairly made, if somewhat fouled.”
“I die of shame and cannot even cover myself for filth,” the poet complained. “Do make haste, Henry, ere someone find me thus!”
I would say there are more scenes with men crapping their pants in The Sot-Weed Factor than all the books written in the 20th century combined.
It’s not just potty humor, even though it is hilarious. Situationally, you can almost understand why all these dudes keep crapping their pants.
I mean, I’ve never crapped my pants, at least since age 3. But I’m not sure if my bowels could withstand the fear of being attacked by 17th century pirates.
Poop has been featured in many a novel that I’ve read since starting 101 Books (like The Corrections and The Grapes Of Wrath and even astronaut dialogue) but never quite like it is in The Sot-Weed Factor.
So far, perhaps thanks to my 4th grade sense of humor, this book’s a winner.