Literature With Libido
Michele Jaffe ’91 gives a whole new meaning to the phrase ‘close reading.’
March 01, 2006
If Michele S. Jaffe’s ’91 freshman writing preceptor had gotten her way, Jaffe’s literary career would have started and ended with an uninspiring D in Expos 20. Luckily, Jaffe found her own explanation for her instructor’s criticism.
“My Expos teacher said, ‘Please go in to the sciences, you are the worst writer ever.’ But that’s okay, because I think she was a struggling novelist.”
Nearly 20 years later, the same cannot be said for Jaffe. After graduating from Harvard as a History and Literature concentrator with a summa thesis and a penchant for the past, Jaffe went on to pen a number of steamy historical fiction romances that have captured the minds (and groins) of many sex-deprived students at her alma mater.
“Seriously, I have never read a sex scene from a book like that!” Guillian H. Helm ’09 says. “In terms of detail, she blows me away!”
HER TRUE CALLING
Despite her dreaded Expos experience, Jaffe realized by her senior year at Harvard—and then later when she was composing her dissertation in Venice—that she had a passion for writing. Furthermore, the romantic genre that she quickly fell into gave her the chance to use the plethora of vocabulary Jaffe didn’t get to use on her thesis.
Still, Jaffe wasn’t sure she didn’t desire a life in academia until she finished writing her dissertation and realized that scholarly constraints did not sit well with a free spirit like herself. For Jaffe, the boiling point came when she was approached by a female professor at the culmination of her thesis.
“The woman came up to me afterwards and said she wanted to give me ‘female advice,’” Jaffe says. “And I was like, ‘Is she going to talk to me about douching?’ But then she said that my nails and my clothes were ‘inappropriate,’ and she wondered about my relationship with my male professors.”
It was then that Jaffe knew that she didn’t belong in what she perceived as a feminist-free world where women were constantly at each other’s throats.
“But you know,” Jaffe adds, “she was probably just jealous of my hair.”
While this wicked sense of humor makes Jaffe’s writing so amusing, it is the racy scenes dispersed throughout both her historical romances and thrillers that have given this Harvard graduate her many more than 15 minutes of fame. And, of course, a little personal satisfaction. Jaffe has an extra special spot in her heart for an “organic” and “orgasmic” sex scene from her novel “Bad Girl.” However, she’s not too picky.
“I like the scenes involving food. I think I have a food and sex thing,” she says.
Food and sex indeed. In her novel “The Water Nymph,” a number of truly epic maneuvers are orchestrated with the simple tools of peaches and cream, which were most likely not gleaned from her History and Literature junior tutorial.
For Jaffe, the best way to find the perfect equation for hot and heavy was through a combination of constant self-assessment and outside contributions from some unlikely sources.
“My husband’s mother told me, ‘I read every word and now I can’t look you in the eye anymore because you’re married to my son!’” says Jaffe. “But she got over it.”
Many years and steamy scenes later, Jaffe changed her focus and now writes novels for young adults.
“I guess I just got tired of writing sex scenes,” Jaffe explains. “I mean I visualized every pose, and then I was like, “Okay, let’s add a dog,” and then there’s only so much you can do.”
While the teen audience does not allow for the number of racy scenes present in her previous books, Jaffe’s new readers are no less interested in that elusive climax. According to Jaffe, nearly half of the letters she receives from her younger readers have something to do with sex. This should come as no surprise, considering Jaffe, like her novels, has had plenty to blush about. Especially in her four years at Harvard.
THE HOLY TRINITY
In addition to being ad-boarded for a particularly raunchy pre-Harvard Yale party, Jaffe’s scandalous Harvard career led to her near completion of the three famous prerequisites for graduation.
“Well I definitely did have sex in the stacks, and I might have peed on John Harvard when I was drunk, but that seems unfair—it’s a lot easier for guys!” she says. “I never heard of the primal scream, but it sounds like so much fun! I love running around naked!”
As one might hope of a racy author, her literary sexcapades do not end with one passionate Widener embrace. Jaffe left Harvard with plenty of experience and a number of helpful tips.
“I really liked having sex in the Widener Stacks, but the Pusey Stacks are okay too. The key is to go to the Gov Docs floor or the PR site,” she suggests. “And go on a long weekend. Saturday of a holiday weekend is a good day because no one is doing homework then.”
Jaffe’s advice for floundering Harvardians extends beyond the groin region, proving she’s not just about sex.
“You need to be successful on your own terms, and I think it’s actually better to not have a focus. I mean, it’s the one time in your life that people will be paying for you to read and learn!” she says. “You should try things out, have four or five careers. And enjoy what Harvard has to offer.” Clearly, Jaffe did.