The Making of Victorian Sexuality

The Making of Victorian Sexuality

by Michael Mason
     
 

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We tend to think of the Victorians as the personification of prudery and puritanism, a people whose sexual attitudes, practices, and knowledge differed greatly from our own, to their detriment. Indeed, even in the midst of the AIDS crisis and our growing concern about safe sex, the Victorians hardly seem an appealing role model of sexual behavior. But is this image

Overview

We tend to think of the Victorians as the personification of prudery and puritanism, a people whose sexual attitudes, practices, and knowledge differed greatly from our own, to their detriment. Indeed, even in the midst of the AIDS crisis and our growing concern about safe sex, the Victorians hardly seem an appealing role model of sexual behavior. But is this image really very accurate? What did the Victorians really think about sex? What were their sex lives like? And what wider concepts—biological, political, religious—shaped their sexuality?
The Making of Victorian Sexuality directly confronts one of the most persistent cliches of modern times. Drawing on a wealth of sources from medical and scientific texts, to popular fiction, evangelical writing, and the work of radicals such as Godwin and Mill, Michael Mason shows how much of our perception of nineteenth-century sexual culture is simply wrong. Covering such topics as premarital sex, marriage, prostitution, women's sexuality, and male masturbation, Mason shows that, far from being a license for prudery and hypocrisy, Victorian sexuality was guided by a humane and progressive vision of society's future. Mason reveals that the average Victorian man was not necessarily the church-going, tyrannical, secretly lecherous, bourgeois pater familias of modern-day legend, but often an agnostic, radical-minded, sexually continent citizen, with a deliberately restricted number of children. He paints a society in which husbands and wives knew full well about female orgasm and women's sexuality; where if some specialists believed that nervous disorders in women, ranging from epilepsy to schizophrenia, were due to masturbation, most experts emphatically denied the connection; and where the extensive use of birth control devices first began (pioneered oddly enough by the bottom of the middle class: shop-owners, hotel-keepers, and other nonmanual but nonprofessional and nonmanagerial workers). Furthermore, he points out that Victorians were the first to concern themselves about sex education for children, the quality of urban nightlife, commuter marriages, the competing claims of pleasure and procreation in married sex, and the rationale of divorce.
Persuasively arguing that there is much in Victorian sexual moralism of interest to the late twentieth century, this lively and fascinating study offers a radical challenge to one of the most enduring myths of our age.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"...He fits the pieces of his puzzel in a way that will make many of us understand that the puzzle and the myths extend further than we had known. This is an accomplishment of no small order."—Nineteenth-Century Prose

"The view of Queen Victoria's reign as a period defined by sexual prudery was, according to Mason, an arbitrary interpretation imposed erroneously by modern social theorists. Drawing on census figures, 18th-century medical texts and the writings of many social analysts of the era, including William Godwin and Edward Carpenter, Mason details a sexual cutlure of evolving progressive attitudes.....The depth of research and level of analysis presented here will be of great interest to scholars."—Publishers Weekly

"[An] excellent book on Victorian sexuality."—Noel Annan, The New York Review

"Intriguing study....Mason has written a fascinating, tightly argued, densly documented, and stimulating work that provocatively challenges both conventional and revisionist views on Victorianism."—American Historical Review

"Mason's mapping of nineteenth-century attitudes and behaviors is among the most detailed and nuanced yet. Readers will take most pleasure in the riveting descriptions, because Mason's most important contributions lie in his synthetic, detailed analysis of virtually every topic in the history and literature of nineteenth-century sexuality."—Victorian Studies

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780192853127
Publisher:
Oxford University Press, USA
Publication date:
06/28/1995
Edition description:
Reprint
Pages:
352
Product dimensions:
7.69(w) x 5.13(h) x 0.94(d)
Lexile:
1680L (what's this?)

Meet the Author

Michael Mason is Senior Lecturer in English, University College, London.

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