“A Brief Study of Dendrophilism” (E60)

  • Originally printed:  The New Yorker, February 18, 1933
  • First reprinted in:  From Bed to Worse (1934)
  • Original Byline:  Robert Benchley



Always a dicey proposition when an early 20th century writer dabbles in mock-anthropological and/or mock-psychotherapeutic discourse. Here, Benchley essays both, with results that fail to justify the gamble. Sprouted from the unimpeachable (although by now axiomatic) kernel of a connection between the aficionado and the fetishist, the piece soon gets lost in the thorny underbrush of the Eurocentric unconscious, projecting all manner of outré tree trysting upon the usual targeted demographics before doubling back to take stock of the photosynthetic perversions being practiced “right here where we live”. I always want to give Benchley the benefit of the doubt when he slips into these callow catalogues of counterfeit cultural relativism. Certainly, the wild sociology of the period required caustic pruning back, but when an author resorts to mere ridicule by reproduction, the roots of the enterprise are blighted.

Favourite Moment:

In America, dendrophilism has not gained much headway, owing to there being so many other things to take up people’s minds, although Kiernan, in the Detroit Lancet, does mention a case of  a woman who was under suspicion of going pretty strongly for an old elm, which she claimed had been in the family for a hundred years and which she wanted to have brought into the house just to keep her company.

Reprint Notes:

  • Illustration not reprinted