Madonnas and Magdalens: The Origins and Development of Victorian Sexual Attitudes

Madonnas and Magdalens: The Origins and Development of Victorian Sexual Attitudes

Madonnas and Magdalens: The Origins and Development of Victorian Sexual Attitudes

Madonnas and Magdalens: The Origins and Development of Victorian Sexual Attitudes

Synopsis

Surveys the sources, evolution, and literary and journalistic expressions of Victorian middle-class attitudes toward sex, nudity, and woman, noting gaps, when they occur, between attitude and actual behavior.

Excerpt

Victorian sexuality has been treated in numerous catchpenny works in a facetious, sensationalist or righteously indignant vein. Even the attention it has received from serious scholars has, with a few exceptions, been deficient in depth of historical sympathy, in comprehensiveness of scale, and in complexity and clarity of generalization. This book is an attempt first to explain sympathetically the sources of Victorian sexual attitudes and in particular the Victorian view of woman; and then to trace through, I hope, a complex yet cogent analytical model the gradual evolution of these attitudes from the middle of the eighteenth century to the beginning of the twentieth. Believing imaginative literature to be the best index of the inward thoughts of past societies, I shall refer extensively to the writers of the day, from the timeless genius to the long-forgotten hack, from the most facetious journalistic flotsam to the most solemn dissertations of the pulpit; but I shall attempt also to illuminate the discrepancies between literary image and sociological fact, the gap where it existed between expressed attitudes and actual behaviour.

It need hardly be said that, with such an abundance of materials, I have treated only certain kinds of sexual attitudes (homosexuality, the so-called perversions, and the huge subject of woman's view of man, for example, receive very little discussion); and I have confined myself largely to the thought and conduct of the middle classes (the London middle classes in particular), with less attention to those of the aristocracy and still less to those of the proletariat.

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