The Seven Lady Godivas: Dr. Seuss’s Little-Known “Adult” Book of Nudes

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Dr. Seuss (born Theodor Seuss Geisel in 1904 in Springfield, Massachusetts) was one of the most famous authors of children’s books of all time. He wrote over 60 books, including such beloved classics as The Cat In The Hat, How The Grinch Stole Christmas, and One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish. As well as others that are still many children’s first books, decades after their original publications. Seuss only wrote two adult books over his long publishing career: 1986’s You’re Only Old Once and 1939’s The Seven Lady Godivas.

The Seven Lady Godivas was a take on the legend of Lady Godiva and the Godiva family after Lord Godiva’s death. This legend dates back to the 13th century and tells the tale of a woman who rode through the streets of Coventry, England, naked except for her very long hair which she wrapped around her body. According to the story, a man named Thomas watched her ride and was struck blind as a result, which is where the phrase Peeping Tom originated. Dr. Seuss, as usual, had his own individual take on the story and this was his fourth book.

Dr. Seuss’s Long and Prolific Career In Children’s Books

Per the Mandeville Special Collections Library at the University of California, San Diego, Theodor Seuss Geisel attended Dartmouth College where he edited the school humor magazine, Jack O’Lantern, and started using his mother’s maiden name, Seuss, as a pseudonym. He started his career as a freelance illustrator in 1926, sending humorous writing and cartoons to newspapers and magazines. This led to a job in New York with the humor magazine Judge. He married his wife, Helen Palmer, in 1927 and they soon moved to La Jolla, California. There, Geisel put together an incredibly successful advertising campaign for Flit insecticide. Advertising work for Essolube motor oil, Ford Motor Company, NBC, Holly Sugar, and Narragansett beer followed.

Geisel illustrated his first children’s book, the improbably titled Boners, a collection of children’s sayings, in 1931. A sequel, More Boners, followed, but his career as a children’s author really started when he wrote and illustrated And To Think That I Saw It On Mulberry Street in 1937, followed by four more books, including The Seven Lady Godivas.

With the outbreak of World War II, Geisel became a political cartoonist, publishing his work in PM Newspaper. He was commissioned into the Army on December 31, 1942, and worked in the Special Services Division in Hollywood. His projects included drawing for educational publications and he rose to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. After the war, he returned to La Jolla, California, where he would live for the rest of his life.

He was back at writing and illustrating children’s books in 1947 with McElligot’s Pool and was very prolific for the rest of his career, writing “another forty books under the pseudonym of Dr. Seuss, thirteen as Theo. LeSieg, and one as Rosetta Stone.” His reputation and fame were forever cemented with the publication of The Cat In The Hat in 1957, which he wrote as a bit of a challenge to the perception that children’s reading primers were “dull and repetitious.” As a result, Random House created the division Beginner Books specifically intended for children learning how to read, which Geisel headed from 1957 until his death in 1991.

His first wife died in 1967; he married Audrey Stone Diamond in 1968 and she oversaw the Seuss estate until her death in 2018. Geisel won a Pulitzer Prize in 1984 “for his special contribution over nearly half a century to the education and enjoyment of America’s children and their parents.” His books remain wildly popular and have been adapted into TV movies, TV series, motion pictures, musicals, and theme park attractions. He even had a vintage talking plush called Hedwig.

But Why Did Dr. Seuss Write A Book About Naked Ladies?

The Seven Lady Godivas: The True Facts Concerning History’s Barest Family was presented, according to its introduction recounted by Quartz, as “an attempt to set the record straight on the legend of Lady Godiva” about whom Seuss declared, “History has treated no name so shabbily.” According to his story, there were seven Godiva sisters who never wore clothing because “they were simply themselves and chose not to disguise it.” After their father is killed by falling from a horse, they make a pact to put off marriage, despite the fact that they are each dating one of the Peeping brothers, a reference to Peeping Tom from the original legend.

Before marrying, they must warn people about the dangers of horses, which leads to them setting out to learn “horse truths,” which turn out to be common sayings that have to do with horses, including “Don’t ever look a gift horse in the mouth” and “Don’t put the cart before the horse.” It’s easy to see in retrospect how this story might have been a hard sell.

However, according to The Atlantic, when Geisel left his original publisher, Vanguard, for Random House, he had made his new publisher, Bennett Cerf, let him write and illustrate a book for adults before he continued producing children’s books. It was perhaps the book’s cold reception that led to Geisel sticking to writing for kids from then on. In his 1991 New York Times obituary, he’s quoted as saying “I’d rather write for kids. They’re more appreciative; adults are obsolete children and the hell with them.” Indeed, his only other book intended for adults, You’re Only Old Once, written when he was 82 years old was subtitled “a book for obsolete children.”

Despite the Godiva sisters’ nudity, the book full of naked ladies contains no racy or sexual references. Per The Atlantic, Geisel later noted after the book wasn’t very good, and that “[he] attempted to draw the sexiest babes I could, but they came out looking absurd.” Just 2,500 of the 10,000 first edition hardcover copies of its first printing sold, and it was remaindered. It was briefly reissued in 1987, but once again didn’t sell very well. A review in Publishers Weekly noted that the prose “lacks the sparkle of his children’s verse” and proclaimed “his women aren’t as interesting as the real Lady G.” Because of its scarcity, copies of the now collectible book sell for high prices; Amazon prices start at $195.00 and go up from there. In fact, it was just one of two Dr. Seuss books to go out of print until 2021, and I’m sure dust jackets were important in keeping the quality.

Why Did Some Dr. Seuss Books Go Out of Print in 2021?

As reported by the New York Daily News, the estate of Geisel, Dr. Seuss Enterprises, announced in March 2021 that they would stop publishing and licensing six Dr. Seuss books: And To Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street (1937), If I Ran the Zoo (1950), McElligot’s Pool (1947), The Cat’s Quizzer (1976), Scrambled Eggs Super (1953) and On Beyond Zebra! (1955). The company released a statement explaining “These books portray people in ways that are hurtful and wrong,” and noted that they’d reached their decision with the help of a panel of experts, including teachers.

Among the negative portrayals are “stereotypical drawings of African men in If I Ran the Zoo, drawn with bare feet and grass skirts, and an Asian person with yellow-tinted skin and a conical hat, drawn using chopsticks to eat from a bowl in And To Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street.” No other books in Dr. Seuss’ impressively large and popular body of work will be affected by the organization’s decision.

Watch: Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene Co-Opts Dr. Seuss to Troll Joe Biden

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