Tuesday 9 March 2010

The Emperor's Crown and Other Enigmatic Perversions

N.B. This post was originally written about a mystery, but the mystery is now solved. See the wonderfully worldly description in the comments section.

The problem with the Internet is that there's not nearly enough information on obscure sexual practices. It's really quite maddening. For example, I was re-reading Graham Greene's Travels with My Aunt when I came across this line:

There was a brothel in Havana where the Emperor's Crown was admirably performed by three nice girls.

Now, I'm proud to say that I have a depraved and horrible mind. I know what felch means, I know what changing at Baker Street is, and I know at least 5,636,336 synonyms for the word perineum. But I have no idea what the Emperor's Crown might be. So I googled it. And what did I find? Nothing nil zero zilch rien.

It's actually a rather important point in the novel, now lost to understanding.

There are several competing problems with understanding the language of filth. The first is that obscenities are not written down enough, except on the walls of lavatories, which are then demolished or repainted. The second is that those places where they are written down tend to be terribly dubious. There is, for example, a splendid book called Roger's Profanisaurus that lists rude words and their meanings. It is revised each year in time for Christmas and then appears on the tables in Waterstones. Yet ten years of revisions have not got rid of the fact that a chap I know spuriously entered the name of another chap I know with an obscene definition. It's still there. I check every year.

The Urban Dictionary, which is in some ways terribly useful, is the same. There's an Auden poem that opens:

Doom is dark and deeper than any sea-dingle

I happened to mention this aspect of doom to Mrs Malaprop and she didn't know what a sea dingle was. I reached for a dictionary, she for a computer. I found that a dingle was another word for a dell (hence Dingly Dell in Pickwick Papers is a tautology). She found this definition from the Urban Dictionary:

A sex act involving two people in which salmon roe is used as lubrication

Now, that ain't true. I know that ain't true. That's somebody who's read a little too much Auden (if that's possible) and is having a laugh. The problem is that the two best resources for the investigation of obscene English are tainted, infected. They have informational herpes.

And where does that leave the Emperor's Crown? What were the three nice girls doing so admirably? Perhaps Graham Greene was making it up. Almost any words in the right context can sound obscene. Have you ever done a flick Geoffrey? A koala gherkin? A Dutch steamboat?

If you have any idea what the Emperor's Crown is, do leave it in the comments. Otherwise the details may be lost to future annotators of this great novel. All that the prudish, priggish web would tell me was that the Emperor's Crown is usually bestowed by the Pope.

Yes, please.


  1. I expect it's something like a Crown of Sonnets, where the last line of one sonnet becomes the first line of the next.

    So the bottom (figuratively speaking) of one nice girl is joined to the top (ditto) of another nice girl.

  2. That’s the most baffling thing…I can’t find a single dirty reference, and I’ve tried it in French, German and Spanish for good measure.
    I was half-sure it was something dirty in French, but it’s not.

  3. I'm bound to say, when I read the line I thought straightaway of the Dutch steamboat. But you've piqued my curiosity, and I will see if I can discover anything when I'm not at work.

    As a first step I think I'll visit a brothel and ask for one.

  4. The other day I heard a constituency described as an all female three way marginal which taken the wrong way could sound rather outre

  5. I am rather fond of the Alabama hot pot myself.

  6. How does that differ from Lancashire?

  7. The Antipodean19 June 2010 at 09:16

    Is the Dutch steamboat related to the Dutch oven at all?

    This blog is terribly educational, and I may need to add the Urban Dictionary (infected though it is) to my Search Provider list.

    On a slight tangent, it reminds me of the names for the cons in the Ocean's... movies.

  8. The Emperor's Crown...

    I guess you have to ask someone as old as I about that as much of this type of thing happened during the time of Batista.

    There is no nice way to put this (to describe this) other to just say what it is.

    One man -- three women.

    Man is on his back -- one woman (kneeling forward) has her pelvis over the man's face
    while he orally performs on her, another woman (also kneeling forward with her head on the man's chest) mounted on his member and a third woman - again kneeling forward - orally performing on his testicles.

    The outline is:


    Perhaps that was best left in Havana of that day....

  9. Curiously, almost the same line is in Greene's autobiography, "A Sort of Life": "This surely must have had some moral object, though one which eludes me today when I remember how deftly the 'Emperor's Crown' used to be performed by three girls at once in a brothel in Bautista's Havana." This obscure reference sent me to the internet and thus to this post. I'm grateful for the explanation.

    1. Seven years later, reading Greene, I am here for the same reason!

    2. Four years further on, and so am I!

    3. And Dec of 2022 comes along and here I am too.... Reading page 64 of "Travels with my Aunt".... My curiosity picked....

    4. Yes, me too. Also rereading TWMA and I'm sure much of it went over my head the first time around a d anyway there was no internet available to solve such curiosities! Glad to find I'm not the only person who wanted to find out what sexual activity this alludes to. Mr Greene must have lived quite a life. Think I might read his autobiography next.

    5. Almost the end of 2023 and I am similarly educated!

  10. Much appreciated,

  11. The Emperors Crown is a technique that involves ladies hoisting another lady up in a pulley system that leaves her nether regions exposed. With some care and giggling the ladies move the hoisted girl over the mans erect member and can hoist her up and down. However the real explosion occurs when the ladies turn the girls body around several times to twist the ropes holding her. And the at the right moment let her revolve freely on the mans erection ... KABOOM! A modest version of this technique can be seen in the film SIDDHARTHA whtre he is tempted by sexual delights.

  12. This explains why "The Emperor's Crown is rated The Beat backpacking hostel in Perth, Australia!"

  13. "The Emperors crown"is a sexual act where the man lies flat on his back while the first of the three girls sits on his face.The second girl straddles his erect penis ,and the third girl isvface down ass up while juggling the scrotum in her mouth .It was said that when viewed from the side ,it resembled a crown .

  14. I too am stuck on page 70 of the penguin edition and despite a visit to Havana had no idea what he was on about.
    Aunt Augusta is full of surprises!

  15. All those peaks and valleys, quite the landscape