To be honest, I first picked up this little book off a display table because of its striking resemblance to the cover designs of the even littler Cloverfield Press limited editions my sister designed and printed not long ago (see samples below, including the Miranda July booklet that's now selling for $200+ on Amazon). The resemblance is striking, no? Just sayin'. But I should also say that if there is a nonrandom connection between the two, it speaks well of both parties, since a) they are all lovely covers, striking not only because of their similarity, b) imitation--->flattery, etc., and c) the Wakefield Press series of which The Hierarchies of Cuckoldry and Bankruptcy is part looks really promising.
The reason I not only picked up The Hierarchies of Cuckoldry and Bankruptcy but took it home with me is that when I flipped through its pages it made me laugh again and again. It is, to begin with, exactly what it says it is in its fabulous title: a taxonomy of these two roles central to society's exchanges, by Charles Fourier, the pre-Marx French utopian socialist best remembered from your economics classes (by me at least) as the guy who thought the seas would turn into lemonade.
What makes you laugh about these hierarchies, though, is not their preposterousness but their relentlessly clear-headed qualities of observation. They aren't the formulations of a fantasist, but a novelist: a nineteenth-century realist novelist, to be specific, for what would the nineteenth-century novel be without the two subjects of adultery and financial failure? Fourier lists eighty different species of cuckolds and thirty-six of bankrupts, and each description reads like a novel (or at least a Maupassant story) in miniature. For example:
19. The Auxiliary or Coadjutor Cuckold is a man who rarely makes an appearance in the household and only shows up to spread joy, reproach his wife's fear-stricken lovers for not laughing and drinking, and urges them to forget their squabbles and live like good republicans and share and share alike. He is an aid to commerce: horns are roses for him.
55. The Pretentious, or Self-Satisfied, Conceited Cuckold is a man who believes his wife to be so honored to have him as a husband that she would not even dream of paying heed to any suitors, whom he looks upon as victims unworthy of consideration. They gain ground all the more easily: the security in which he lives makes a husband easygoing and negligent on matters of surveillance, and eventually favors the secret affair within the household.
16. The Transcendant Bankruptcy calls for a wide-ranging plan, immense and rapid growth, a trading syndicate utilizing thirty or forty sales assistants, numerous ships, colossal reations with every country, and then a sudden collapse, a terrible fall whose repercussions echo throughout the four corners of the world and leave behind such a tangled mess that businessmen will be skimming profits off its repercussions for ten years after. It is an operation in which mercantile genius reveals itself in all its glory. It must offer a loss of at least three-quarters, for everything needs to be lavishly drawn in this vast tableau.
Honestly, if you're a novelist (particularly a nineteenth-century one), I urge you to pick up a copy of The Hierarchies for purely practical reasons: it's a reference far more fecund than a whole stack of those Writers Digest fakebooks, and, of course, more entertaining. I've only glanced through the little book so far, and I'm hardly doing Fourier's philosophy justice with this amused cherry-picking (these funny sketches were in the service of extensive and wryly revolutionary ideas about sex and commerce), but at the least, if you are in the market for amused cherry-picking, you really could not ask for more.
P.S. As promised, here are few from the Cloverfield vaults: