Ellie Levenson: British men and the art of seduction

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The Independent Online

Macmillan are going to publish Love Letters of Great Men, an invention by the makers of the film version of Sex and the City which, until now, didn't exist. The book, which Carrie reads while in bed with her lover Mr Big, and which he copies and sends in emails in order to woo her back after leaving her standing at the altar, includes letters by Pliny, Henry VIII, Mozart and Napoleon. Leaving aside the question of whether Henry VIII, divorced from two wives and murderer of two more, should be feted as an example of how to woo a woman, I am not convinced that sending love letters is the way to a woman's heart.

After all, the potential for errors is vast. I know a woman who won't date a man if he has an apostrophe in the wrong place, and we all know that the sweetest sentiment whispered in your ear in a romantic moment can look somewhat trite written down. Plus, there is the ongoing terror that love letters can be passed around friends for all to see, exposing the sender to ridicule, if not now then in the future when the passion has dulled and they've been caught whispering sweet nothings into somebody else's ear.

I don't think I have ever received a proper love letter. Drunken requests for sex sent by text at 3am, yes, but thoughtful poetry or declarations of undying love, no. I was, however, once sent a book and some chocolate by a man who had asked me out on a date. Deciding not to go on the date, I greedily ate the chocolate and put the book to one side. In fact, I only rediscovered it earlier this year while unpacking some boxes when I moved house. The book was a collection of poetry, The World's Wife by Carol Ann Duffy, in which poems are written from the perspective of the wives of famous men in history and literature.

My favourite is short and sweet, and reminds me of that feminist slogan: "Behind every great man there's a great woman." Written as if by Mrs Darwin, and dated 7 April 1852, it says: "Went to the zoo/I said to Him/ Something about that chimpanzee over there reminds me of you."

Sending me this book was the ultimate self-deprecating act against all of his gender, and in retrospect was very attractive. If only I had looked at it before casting it aside, the course of my life might have been rather different. For a study into the art of seduction, due to be published next month in the Journal of Evolutionary Psychology, has found that self-deprecating humour is the way to a potential mate's heart rather than the poetic musings favoured by Carrie and Mr Big.

The study, by the anthropologist Gil Greengross, looked at the seduction techniques of British people, and found that taking the mickey out of yourself makes you more desirable. This is a peculiarly British form of humour, allowing you to both show off your achievements and show a sense of modesty and, found the study, rarely works when used on foreigners, who tend to take what we say at face value.

I'm not a Darwin expert so don't know whether self deprecation was one of his talents. If it was, however, then he could well have developed it as an evolutionary method to find some extra-marital rumpy pumpy with any admirers of his work.

After all, if Greengross is to be believed, all he would have to do to make women swoon would be to shrug his shoulders and self-deprecatingly say. "it wasn't me, it was all my wife", something that would have saved the men in Macmillan's new book a whole lot of effort.