Love in the Time of Victoria: Sexuality, Class, and Gender in Nineteenth-Century London

Love in the Time of Victoria: Sexuality, Class, and Gender in Nineteenth-Century London

Love in the Time of Victoria: Sexuality, Class, and Gender in Nineteenth-Century London

Love in the Time of Victoria: Sexuality, Class, and Gender in Nineteenth-Century London

Synopsis

There has been a great deal written on the secret longings and sexual hypocrisy of the Victorian era's upper crust, but almost nothing has chronicled the erotic desires and sexuality of London's working class. Now, in this painstakingly researched book, their touching and emotional stories can be told.

Excerpt

There was once a society which is still held above all others to be the paradigm of sexual hypocrisy. An ostensibly, even ostentatiously virtuous society which furtively broke its own rules of conduct; a society which had nothing to say on sexual matters but left them to the professionals: medical specialist, pornographer and prostitute.

This summary image of Victorian society is extraordinarily tenacious. Its origins are to be found in the aesthetic and ideological revolution which swept through the British liberal bourgeoisie from about the end of the nineteenth century: Oscar Wilde to George Moore, Edward Carpenter to D. H. Lawrence. The arrival of 'sexual liberation' in the mid twentieth century revived this critique of sexual puritanism in Europe and America. Once again, past generations were censured for making a taboo of sexuality and dissimulating behaviour thought to have been quite licentious in private. It was believed that to choose this version of reality was to align oneself with radicalism against conservatism, with liberated morals against narrow rigidity, with modernity and progress against the archaism of earlier centuries.

In reality, a glance at the moralizing literature of the nineteenth century shows that proposals for moral reform were accompanied by demands for ever more open discussion of sex. In 1884, only two years after it was formed, the Moral Reform Union expressed satisfaction at the partial ending of the 'conspiracy of silence' covering up male sexual depravity and the scandal of child prostitution. Forty years earlier, in 1843, an Anglican minister writing an introduction to William Logan's book on prostitution attacked 'the false and affected delicacy which betrays the cause of virtue' and called for exposure of . . .

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