In Woody Allen's short story "The Kugelmass Episode," what are the disadvantages of Temple Drake and Nana as potential lovers of Kugelmass?
In Woody Allen's short story "The Kugelmass Episode," the author's protagonist is described as a nondescript, emotionally vacant humanities professor, "unhappily married for the second time to an oaf." He has "two dull sons by his first wife, Flo, and was up to his neck in alimony and child support." The parallels to the author's life are instantly and inevitably clear:
"'Did I know it would turn out so badly?' Kugelmass whined to his analyst one day."
As with many of Allen's protagonists, Kugelmass is the author's alter-ego, possessed of the same insecurities as the famous comedian, fraught with the same anxieties and subject to periods of depression. In Kugelmass's desperate struggle for sexual and emotional fulfillment, he visits Persky, whose invention can transport the user into the lives of whichever literary figure desired. Kugelmass being a professor of humanities, he is influenced by female literary characters. Discussing his options with Persky, the latter suggests some prominent female figures from literary history:
"Kugelmass reached for his wallet. 'I'll believe this when I see it,' he said.
Persky tucked the bills in his pants pocket and turned toward his bookcase. 'So who do you want to meet? Sister Carrie? Hester Prynne? Ophelia? Maybe someone by Saul Bellow? Hey, what about Temple Drake? Although for a man your age she'd be a workout.'
'French. I want to have an affair with a French lover.'
'I don't want to have to pay for it.'
'What about Natasha in War and Peace?'"
Temple Drake is the main protagonist in William Faulkner's novel Sanctuary. She is a tragic figure, raped with a corn cob by the vicious Popeye. Nana is the protagonist in Emile Zola's 1880 novel of the same name, a one-time prostitute who succeeds in ascending the ranks of Parisian society. Kugelmass's suggestion that he doesn't "want to have to pay for it" is a direct reference to Nana's life as a prostitute. Neither Temple Drake nor Nana fit Kugelmass's ideal of the more refined, upper-class and highly-sexualized female personified by Emma Bovary. Nana could, conceivably, have been chosen, but certainly not the thoroughly victimized and tragic figure of Temple Drake.