The Sexual History of London: From Roman Londinium to the Swinging City---Lust, Vice, and Desire Across the Ages

The Sexual History of London: From Roman Londinium to the Swinging City---Lust, Vice, and Desire Across the Ages

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by Catharine Arnold
     
 

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If Paris is the city of love, then London is the city of lust. From the bath houses of Roman Londinium to the sexual underground of the twentieth century and beyond, this is an entertaining, vibrant chronicle of London and sex through the ages.

For more than a thousand years, England's capital has been associated with desire, avarice, and the sins of the

Overview

If Paris is the city of love, then London is the city of lust. From the bath houses of Roman Londinium to the sexual underground of the twentieth century and beyond, this is an entertaining, vibrant chronicle of London and sex through the ages.

For more than a thousand years, England's capital has been associated with desire, avarice, and the sins of the flesh. Richard of Devises, a monk writing in 1180, warned that "every quarter abounds in great obscenities." As early as the second century AD, London was notorious for its raucous festivities and disorderly houses, and throughout the centuries the bawdy side of life has taken easy root and flourished.
In The Sexual History of London, award-winning popular historian Catharine Arnold turns her gaze to London's relationship with vice through the ages. London has always traded in the currency of sex. Whether pornographic publishers on Fleet Street, or courtesans parading in Haymarket, its streets have long been witness to colorful sexual behavior. In an accessible, entertaining style, Arnold takes us on a journey through the fleshpots of London from earliest times to present day. Here are buxom strumpets, louche aristocrats, popinjay politicians, and Victorian flagellants—all vying for their place in London's league of licentiousness.
From sexual exuberance to moral panic, the city has seen the pendulum swing from Puritanism to hedonism and back again. With latter chapters looking at Victorian London and the sexual underground of the twentieth century and beyond, this is a fascinating and vibrant chronicle of London at its most raw and ribald.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
A London social historian (Necropolis) certainly knows her city and displays her knowledge with verve and savvy in this substantial and engaging work. Arnold reaches over an enormous swath of time, essentially from the founding of the Roman city in A.D. 43, bringing the surge of soldiers who needed servicing in the lupanaria, or brothels, to the unsuccessful 2009 police attempt to clear out prostitution houses in the Shepherd Market area. The Christian clergy had made their peace with prostitution, in the form of nunneries, and Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, for example, nicely illustrate the prevailing “ecclesiastical mischief.” The Bankside brothels (a map of London might have been helpful for American readers) became known as “the stews,” and in 1161 King Henry II actually managed to regulate them, while soldiers returning from the Crusades brought back all sorts of novel Eastern notions, such as the Turkish bath. Thanks to the whimsical tastes of centuries of monarchs, Arnold furnishes a cornucopia of prurient material, though readers will be surprised to hear that randy Henry VIII himself passed the Buggery Act—a “blanket term for sex crimes”—and later ordered the closure of London’s brothels to stem the epidemic of syphilis. Famous concubines jostle next to equally notorious madams, rakes, “mollies” (effeminate men), “sodomites,” and lesbians, from Haymarket to the slums of the East End. Arnold offers a titillating, soundly researched omnibus for the anglophile. (Dec.)
Kirkus Reviews
A chronological history of prostitution in London. A more accurate title for this book is A History of Prostitution in London, Plus Oscar Wilde. Arnold does indeed address Wilde's famous trial, as well as Regina v. Penguin Books, which allowed Lady Chatterley's Lover to be published in England. For the most part, though, the only kind of sexuality addressed is that offered in exchange for money. The book is organized chronologically, which unfortunately means that several opportunities for a more thematic analysis are lost. For example, Arnold discusses both the 1749 erotic novel Fanny Hill and Lady Chatterley's Lover, published in 1928, but since they were written centuries apart, the author does not analyze their publication and reception together. Similarly, Arnold describes the early Roman Londinium attitude that "while brothels were regarded as a healthy outlet for the male appetite...patrician wives and daughters must be paragons of chastity," and the Victorian middle-class belief that "the majority of ‘respectable' women did not enjoy performing their conjugal rites," yet never analyzes the ways in which cultural perspectives on marriage and female sexuality were tied to the demand for sex workers across historical eras. One theme in the book is the chasm between the sexual behavior of the ruling classes and the behavior they expected from, and often legislated in, the lower classes, but this is more an observation than an argument. The presence of footnotes, a bibliography and an index give this book a semi-academic sheen, but this is not a work of scholarship so much as it is a digestion of the research of others repackaged for a popular audience. As popular nonfiction, it will satisfy readers looking for a salacious historical read, and the scholarly apparatus will enable especially curious readers to do more research. This history of sex work is titillating but poorly organized, and it fails to offer a compelling argument.
From the Publisher

“Hugely entertaining . . . [Arnold] is a delightful travelling companion through the centuries of the city of sin.” —Jeanette Winterson, The Times (UK)

“Often titillating, sometimes shocking, frequently entertaining . . . The book is a lively affirmation of sexual desire in all its varieties.” —The Observer (UK)

“To pack 2000 years of vice into less than 400 pages is a challenge, but Arnold achieves it admirably.” —The Independent (UK)

“There's plenty to get stuck into here. Arnold arranges her formidable research lucidly.” —Evening Standard (UK)

“Richly detailed . . . an engaging survey of sex and the city.” —The Sunday Times (UK)

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780312600341
Publisher:
St. Martin's Press
Publication date:
12/06/2011
Pages:
384
Product dimensions:
5.70(w) x 8.30(h) x 1.50(d)

Meet the Author

CATHARINE ARNOLD read English at Girton College, Cambridge, and holds a further degree in psychology. A journalist, academic, and popular historian, her previous books include Necropolis: London and Its Dead and Bedlam: London and Its Mad.

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The Sexual History of London: From Roman Londinium to the Swinging City---Lust, Vice, and Desire Across the Ages 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
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