Thursday, August 26, 2021

BOOK REVIEW: Unmentionable: The Victorian Lady's Guide to Sex, Marriage, and Manners by Therese Oneill

 It’s one thing to read the thick tomes of Victorian and Edwardian history for the political, socioeconomic, and artistic history of the times, but another thing altogether to get the nitty-gritty history of nineteenth-century daily life, particularly the lives of women. What did they wear for underclothes? How did they clean themselves? What about…excretory functions? What about sex?

Unmentionable: The Victorian Lady’s Guide to Sex, Marriage, and Manners
by Therese Oneill tackles these fascinating but often difficult to tease out questions, taking the answers mainly from contemporary “self-help” books for women, largely written by men. (And men pretending, for the purpose of authorship, to be women.) Mansplaining has been around forever! Misguided and condescending as these pseudo-medical tidbits can be, Oneill’s snarky presentation manages to make it funny rather than infuriating.

The book is informative, but in a big-picture, getting-the sense-of-things manner, rather than providing the more granular analysis (I hate that expression, but it’s currently in vogue) of historical data that novelists might want for historical accuracy. And readers of historical romance might end up with a jaundiced view of the next novel they pick up—things weren’t that rosy! But this is all good stuff to know, and this book is every bit as entertaining as a novel.

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