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Unmentionable: The Victorian Lady's Guide to Sex, Marriage, and Manners

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Have you ever wished you could live in an earlier, more romantic era?

Ladies, welcome to the 19th century, where there's arsenic in your face cream, a pot of cold pee sits under your bed, and all of your underwear is crotchless. (Why? Shush, dear. A lady doesn't question.)

UNMENTIONABLE is your hilarious, illustrated, scandalously honest (yet never crass) guide to the secrets of Victorian womanhood, giving you detailed advice on:

~ What to wear
~ Where to relieve yourself
~ How to conceal your loathsome addiction to menstruating
~ What to expect on your wedding night
~ How to be the perfect Victorian wife
~ Why masturbating will kill you
~ And more

Irresistibly charming, laugh-out-loud funny, and featuring nearly 200 images from Victorian publications, UNMENTIONABLE will inspire a whole new level of respect for Elizabeth Bennett, Scarlet O'Hara, Jane Eyre, and all of our great, great grandmothers.

(And it just might leave you feeling ecstatically grateful to live in an age of pants, super absorbency tampons, epidurals, anti-depressants, and not-dying-of-the-syphilis-your-husband-brought-home.)

307 pages, Hardcover

First published October 25, 2016

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Therese Oneill

2 books222 followers

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 1,503 reviews
November 4, 2017
I finished the book. I wasn't keen on the chatty style and the author addressing me directly and thinking I must be some wilting flower who wouldn't be able to stand the utter repression of middle class women in the Victorian age. (Working class women had to go out to work which is the first step towards independence).

The book was far more about that than crotchless panties. Can you imagine wearing one of those crinoline skirts perhaps on hoops and having to pull your knickers down to have a pee? Much easier to pass a pot under the skirt and squat, your undie legs naturally separating.

Basically, the book says if a woman wants to do it and it impinges on a man's view of how a woman should behave then she shouldn't and what men like best is a pretty doll, not too bright, not too talkative, who just sits in a room quietly waiting for His Presence to activate them. Fuck that.

On reading the book: Two things I have learned so far: firstly that knickers (panties to Americans) are called drawers because they were drawn up and down the legs, well still are. Secondly, that when the doctor asks for a 'stool sample' he is referring to the polite form of chamber pots - the ones enclosed in a little stool with a lid! So now you know.

What I didn't learn because I knew already was why castle walls beneath the sleeping chambers of the elevated occupants (not the serving class!) were often of a different texture. I had a very brief friendship with a man who wanted to be my bf but had a personality defect that caused him to take me on our second date on a tour of a castle.

If you are Welsh you are bored rigid with castles, every single school trip involves yet another castle. This guy was doing a PhD in sanitation in castles and wanted to show me the shit chutes which were exactly what they are called. The walls were stained a bit, even etched and I fancied that the grass below was greener and more fertile from the centuries of poo and weewee . Afterwards we went to the castle tearoom and he got drunk on a couple of glasses of locally-produced wine and I wished I was 17 and could have driven myself home.

For a history book based on serious research, the voice of the author is a little unusual, maybe even jarring: the reader is addressed as 'dear' and the author says of herself as tour guide to the 19thC, "I am capricious and omnipotent". However, the content is interesting and the irreverent presentation is amusing and I'm enjoying reading it.
Profile Image for Michelle Araujo.
2 reviews4 followers
January 11, 2017
I studied this stuff for fun and for a degree. I was pumped when I found it and immediately dove into it when it arrived on my doorstep. A day later, I'm finished. And disappointed . It's an easy read but the snark was ceaseless, the focus too narrow and the reliance on advertisements and popular media of the day misleading. It's as if the author took every stereotype about the Victorian era and looked for information to back it up. I'm going to be a little dramatic and say she's done the period, and the casual reader, a disservice.

I understand that the point of the book is to combat the romanticizing of a difficult, often-times dirty time in history and to do that, the easiest route is to show the filth, but it seemed cheap in execution and poorly researched. There were a few moments when I laughed - at how wrong something was. I'm sure other people who have studied this period and done their research shared in my reaction.
Also, the fact that Oneill drew from American and Canadian sources irked me. Call me a purist but I think if you're using "Victorian" it's solely England (or Great Britain, rather) we're talking about since it refers to that country's queen. It's just the 19th century in the Americas. The social experience was dissimilar enough that you shouldn't be lumping them together and talking about them interchangeably. Also irksome was Oneill's presentation of images. Many of the images were ones that I have come across before and the real stories behind them, the true captions, are so much more interesting than the author's attempt at sass and wit.

Please, do yourself a favor. If you are really interested in the every day experience of your typical Victorian, read Ruth Goodman's "How to Be a Victorian." Not only is it thorough, well-researched and easy to read, Goodman has actually done research beyond books. She has done chores like Victorians, made and eaten food like Victorians, made clothes and worn them (all of the layers!) like Victorians, tried (safe) popular cosmetic and medicinal recipes like Victorians. She shows a respect for the era that was utterly lacking in Oneill's book.

I wish I didn't know so much about the Victorian period. If I didn't, I probably would have liked this so much more. My only hope is that people that like this book continue to read about the era and find books that show them it was so much more than Oneill leads us to believe.
Profile Image for Heidi The Reader.
1,377 reviews1,437 followers
November 5, 2016
Unmentionable made me truly appreciate how good I have it compared to my female ancestors. This clever little book examines the gross, disturbing, and, at times, hilarious "unmentionable" facets of a Victorian woman's life and also, their powerlessness in society when compared to their male counterparts. The women's rights portion sounds grim, but Oneill's writing keeps it light. I learned so much and was entertained too.

For example, I don't consider modern cities to be very clean, but Oneill explains in her book, that they are shining examples of cleanliness compared to what came before: Some would argue that the nineteenth century was one of the filthiest times in all of Western history, particularly in any urban, developed area. ... Ankle deep in filth, I said, but forgive me, I was inaccurate. You will wish the filth terminated at your ankles. Foulness is everywhere. Grime and rot cling to the very air, the buildings, the people; even the soap is made out of lard and poison." pg 20, ebook. All that dirt, but bathing was considered bad for your health and even, depending upon your religious upbringing, immoral! I've never read a historical fiction that describes the foul stench of the streets or the crowd upon it... now, I know better. Thanks Unmentionable!

Make up and other personal care products used to be either oily goop or filled with poisonous substances that could kill you or permanently wreck your face. With this in mind, Oneill gives us a new take on the story of Jezebel: "She painted her face, and tired her head [fixed her hair], and looked out at a window." "Some think this means Jezebel planned to seduce her way out of this problem; others think she was facing death with composure and dignity. At any rate, her eunuchs saw that they were on the wrong team and shoved her out the aforementioned window, and dogs ate her face. Which reinforces the assumption that her face was coated in sinfully delicious animal fat." pgs 67-68, ebook.

Because women really had no other choice, being the ideal wife and mother was no laughing matter: "Your only job now that you are a nineteenth-century wife is to do everything within your power during every waking moment to make his life so sweet and full that he will literally dread the glory of Christ's return, if only because it will mean parting from your secret strudel recipe and the unmatched craftsmanship of your trouser hemstitch." pg 130, ebook. So, unreasonable expectations of perfection abounded at home.

Women, especially single, unmarried ones, weren't supposed to go anywhere alone: "Etiquette for Ladies reminds us that no woman has any business being alone in a museum, a library, or any other such den of unwholesomeness. Wherever you are going, your behavior once you arrive should remain every bit as self-aware-but-pretending-not-to-be as when you were in transit." pg 165, ebook. The library is a "den of unwholesomeness"... ha!

But the worst of the era, in my opinion, was the medical community's attitude towards women. At that time, we hadn't figured out how the female body worked and didn't connect the idea that people need intellectual stimulation and purpose for a life well lived. That lead to the lumping of every female complaint under the title, "Hysteria": "First I would like to tell you what hysteria actually was. Which is incredibly difficult. Because the only honest definition I can give you is "a misdiagnosis." Epilepsy, diabetic shock, neural disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder, postpartum depression, and bipolar disorders do not necessarily cause similar symptoms, but they were all commonly diagnosed as hysteria." pg 173, ebook. So, pretty much, everything then.

Oneill reminds the reader that many of the rights, and indoor plumbing, and personal care products that we enjoy today are because of the demands for a better life by women who lived during the Victorian era. I am so very grateful and humbled for their contributions to society and the sufferings that they endured so that their children's children's children would have it better. Some further (non-humorous) reading: Spinster: Making a Life of One's Own or Artemis: The Indomitable Spirit in Everywoman.

Thank you to Netgalley and Little, Brown and Company for a digital copy of this book!
July 31, 2018
This is fun. This is so much fun, I'm going hysterical right now!
I really like the author's humoristic approach to all this ... uh... history. I'm going into fan mode for an indefinite period of time! Bye-bye!

Here goes the summary (in case one wants to uhh... live historically, for a bit):

Good stuff for women:
- Cocaine
- Tape-worms
- Marriage
- Arsenic
- Lead
- Strychnine

Bad stuff for women:
- Panties
- Washing
- Bathing
- Museums
- Libraries (extremely unwholesome, these ones!)
- Thinking
- Speaking

Of course, I knew it all but, uh... this compendium is extremely funny! LMAO!

Do not suck your umbrella. I know I've already told you this, but it seems important enough to warrant repeating. (с)

More review to follow, after I'm done hysterically laughing!
Profile Image for Julie .
4,029 reviews58.9k followers
March 12, 2017
Unmentionable: The Victorian Lady's Guide to Sex, Marriage, and Manners by Therese Oneill is a 2016 Little Brown US publication.

Based on a review written by one of my Goodreads friends, I knew I had to check this book out. I’ve waited for months for a copy to become available at the library, but it was worth the wait.

The author transported me back to the Victorian days to experience firsthand what it would have been like to live during this era.

The author exhibits a riotous sense of humor as she describes the lifestyle you would expect to live if you were transported back in time.

The habits of the Victorian age are curious, dangerous, and disgusting, and of course oppressive, especially for women.

It’s fascinating and horrifying all at once, but the author’s wit offsets some of the more cringe worthy topics like hygiene, for example, and because the era was so restrictive, the book could have become a little nauseating, or depressing if not for the author’s well timed jokes.

There are authentic illustrations and photos of clothing articles, and of real ads found in newspapers and magazines, which advertised weight loss products, as well as some rather scandalous items that hinted at pregnancy prevention, which had to be carefully worded since it was illegal to pass out information about birth control.

I variety of subjects are covered, which range from dangerous cosmetics, to undergarments, to the lack of indoor plumbing, the very strange ideas about women and sex, mostly written by men, of course, and the mannerisms and expectations a woman should know when having a social gathering.

While the Victorian era is one of my favorite fictional time periods, by the book’s end, I was relieved to find that I had been safely returned to 2017.

Once you’ve finished reading this book, you will appreciate the things we take for granted and will be even more thankful for the great strides taken to release women from the restricted lifestyles they once endured.

October 21, 2016

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I love historical romance, specifically historical romance that takes place in Regency and Victorian times. I enjoy the language, the costume porn, the odd customs, the strange romance of it. But I would never, ever want to live there. We have a tendency to romanticize the past, and focus on the feel-goodsy aspects of it that make for good films and A+ school dioramas when the truth is, it's the past for a reason.

In UNMENTIONABLE, Oneill discusses all manner of R-rated factoids about the Victorian era that you most likely didn't learn in school. For example, did you know that those beautiful corsets crushed women's rib cages and moved their organs around (and also stank to high heaven)? Did you know that foundation was a heavy "enamel" made of lead? That soap contained arsenic? That strychnine and tapeworms were handy diet tools? That doctors had electric masturbation machines to treat women with hysteria? That underwear was crotchless?

I knew some of these facts because I read a lot of historical fiction, but others were new to me. And the tone they're delivered in is also very enjoyable. Oneill's writing style kind of reminds me of Gail Carriger's - affected, airy, light, and fun. It comes and goes at times, though, which can make the narrative seem off-balance. One moment, you're listening to the Mrs. Bennett from hell telling you gleefully why the heavy frippery of Victorian accoutrements made crotchless underwear a necessity for 19th century bathroom breaks, the next you're faced with a rather dry examination of food handling and hysteria. I can understand why the author might want to treat more serious subjects with more gravity, but it does leave the overall "mood" of the book feeling slightly off balance.

UNMENTIONABLE is a great book if you're interested at all in feminism, history, or Victoriana. I'm interested in all three, so it was a delight to receive this book from Netgalley for review. I enjoyed every chapter and learned a lot of interesting and disturbing facts that will make me look at my favorite romances differently (or perhaps not so differently in the case of my bodice rippers). I sincerely look forward to this author's future projects! Maybe 18th century France?

4 to 4.5 stars!
Profile Image for Diane S ☔.
4,738 reviews14.1k followers
December 8, 2016
3.5 Our witty and rather sarcastic narrator (aka the author) takes us back in time to the world of woman in the Victorian age. The Victorian Age has held an attraction for many with its romantic nature, its clear cut rules and prim and proper manners. We love to read the books from this time period, love to watch the dramas on television and movies. This book was in many ways a shocking eye opener.

I knew the wore a great number of clothing items, that their medical treatment was sub par or non existent, but never really knew a their daily lies were lived, nor realized how dirty everything was, nor that they wore a great deal of strong perfume to disguise the smells from their unwashed clothing and bodies. With my asthma I would have been dead in a week. So much more, just to memorize all the rules of searing guests, who and with whom one can walk in public and other things that seem ridiculous to is now. If you were in the lower class you basically worked yourselves to death, upper class women with very little outlet for any type of intelligence, were bored to death, that is if the dirt, water, bad food or medicine didn't kill you first.

At books end I was glad to return to my life, winch may not be perfect, but is at least in the 21st century.
Profile Image for Emily.
699 reviews2,025 followers
February 9, 2017
This book is laugh-out-loud funny and is a must-read for anyone who enjoys reading about the Victorian era. I am particularly grateful for my modern life on a day when I've eaten an avocado, managed my own bank account, and spent less than 10% of my time doing housework, and this book throws those very simple facts into sharp relief. I mean, I like the 1996 adaptation of Emma as much as anyone, but I also like that I routinely launder my clothes and participate in the political process. Tomato / tomahto, Mr. Knightley / I'm a full-fledged human being with equal rights, ya know?

Unmentionable takes the reader on a journey through the very basic facts of Victorian womanhood (how does one use the necessary when one's skirts barely fit through a door?), writing with the assumption that you, a modern twenty-first-century woman, have been dropped into this life. The style is perfect for the material, because some of the information about makeup or menstruation is so absurd that you can't help but boggle at it from your twenty-first-century armchair. Therese Oneill writes straight to the reader - "I know, it's harsh. But honestly, darling, everyone is already thinking it" - and it works. I laughed my way through this book. Some favorites:

* Makeup was mostly made from lead until the 1950s, and women who enameled their faces to appear younger were basically spreading arsenic all over themselves and never washing it off. This makes me fully appreciate the range of products available to me in Sephora, FDA-approved or not.

* Many (male, silly!) doctors have Learned Opinions on menstruation, that include the idea that if your menses aren't up to their quality or quantity bar it's probably giving you loads of illnesses and is also probably your own fault for suppressing the ill humors.

* Several etiquette books spend time telling Young Ladies not to suck their parasols, as this does not increase your allure but instead makes you appear desperate. (What?)

It's all horrifying. The way to feel great about yourself: watch a BBC period piece, read this book, and then have a nice time rolling around drinking wine in your yoga pants.
April 18, 2021
As I ventured into reading this book, I was quite unsure of what to expect from it. I was thinking it might be a bit more informative than it was and there would be less humour. Humour in this instance, just didn't work. The narrator came across to me as highly irritating, and I felt like I was being spoken to like I was completely stupid.
That aside, the book was readable, and I did find out some interesting snippets of information. A lot of it I was pretty familiar with, but other things, not so much.
I found the masturbation section interesting and pretty shocking at the same time. Shocking in the sense of what was believed in those times, and societies general view on female masturbation. Apparently, it was believed that chronic masturbation could cause atrophied breasts which is when they can begin to droop. Or, it could cause insanity and ulceration about the roots of the nails and finger warts, due to the fingers constant contact with the secretions of the vagina! Absolutely fascinating stuff!

This book has made me appreciate how much better I have things in comparison to my female ancestors. It also shows how completely powerless women were when compared to men. The author does do a grand job of reminding us that because of the demands made by Victorian women, we have lots of personal care products, improved plumbing and a massive improvement on women's rights, in comparison to that era. Overall, this was a fun read!
Profile Image for Lyuda.
538 reviews133 followers
December 16, 2017
I was hoping to love this book. And at the beginning it was very enjoyable. The chapters about personal hygiene, dressing were both fascinating and horrifying no matter how familiar you are with them from reading about the time period. The omnipresent writer’s voice via snarky comments was funny at the beginning as well but got irritating and patronizing pretty quickly.
The book contains a fabulous collection of illustrations mostly from the Victorian era. I wish the author provided a source of where the illustrations came from, what they actually represent instead of putting some jokes that add no information to the picture.

As I was moving through chapters, my pesky critical thinking chimed in and wouldn’t leave me. It started to recognize the book’s pattern. It seems the main purpose of the author was not to provide an objective well-rounded research but, instead, to ridicule the era and to show how stupid and ignorant people were. You know, the era that saw unprecedented advances in medicine, science, art? Yes, that era.
I get it, the Victorians had many things wrong. But to paint everything, and I mean everything, with a thick black brush is to do a disservice to a reader who is looking to educate themselves about the era.

The author admits in the last chapter, her book is largely sensationalized from the actual Victorian experience. A good number of the historical sources she quotes were probably considered quacks even during their own time.

Perish the thought if the 23rd century’s "researchers” would use ONLY Fifty Shades of Grey or Keeping Up with the Kardashians or [insert your favorite cringe-inducing random citation from a politician or an advertiser or a magazine or a celebrity here] to enlighten their readers about the life in the 21st century. Perish the thought is all I can say.
Profile Image for Erin .
1,233 reviews1,144 followers
May 12, 2017
Unmentionable is a hilarious and unsettling look at what life was really like in the 19th and early 20th Century for women. I must say life was a literal cesspool. Bathing was not common, nobody washed their clothes( you simply dyed them when they got dirty), you had to poop in a bowel that was kept under your bed, and most importantly as a women you were to be seen and not heard also everything is your fault. But at least you could go to your local drug store and get some cocaine to make you feel better( they seriously used cocaine for everything). I think knowing about the widespread cocaine use explains a lot of Scarlet O'Hara's behavior.

Overall Unmentionable is a fascinating and entertaining read. I recommend it to lovers of Historical Fiction, all my Jane Austen lovers, and people who just like super cool history books.

Popsugar Reading Challenge: Book with a Subtitle.
Profile Image for Book Riot Community.
953 reviews127k followers
January 6, 2017
Have you ever thought about the fact that Jane Eyre and Rochester probably had a stinky chamber pot under their bed the first time they made sweet love? I’m guessing not. Never fear! This book will banish your silly romantic notions of life in the nineteenth century and make you laugh out loud while doing it. In Unmentionable, Therese Oneill serves as tour guide on a hilarious and educational journey back in time to the Victorian era. She probes into the private aspects of life as a Victorian woman, covering everything from menstruation and masturbation to bathing and birth control. And let’s not forget the early history of that magnificent invention, the toilet. (It’s very exciting stuff, let me tell you.) Between wisecracks and clever one-liners, Oneill reveals the misogynistic underbelly of the Victorian era and how harmful and antiquated theories about female biology, sexuality, and emotions persist to this day. I can’t recommend this book highly enough.

–Kate Scott

from The Best Books We Read In November 2016: http://bookriot.com/2016/12/01/the-be...
Profile Image for Laurie Notaro.
Author 19 books2,068 followers
May 6, 2016
Horrifying, hilarious, shocking and revelatory, Unmentionable crashes into our romantic notions of what it would be like to live in a past century, wearing gossamer silk and sleeping with your shit pot under your bed. Dashing about in elaborate dresses that can't be cleaned. AND EVERYONE HAS B.O.. I loved this book so much it's going to be my go-to gift this year. Beautifully done, meticulously researched, this is the book I wanted to write but couldnt figure out how. Very well done.
Profile Image for Jessica J..
1,020 reviews1,962 followers
December 10, 2016
Funny and horrifying at the same time. I don't think I've ever been so grateful to have been born at the end of the twentieth century as I was when I read about how Victorian ladies pooped.
Profile Image for MaryannC. Fiendish Book freak.
487 reviews108 followers
November 22, 2016
I must admit I have always had a romantic fascination for the Victorian-era, I have often wished that I could have gone through this time period in all it's dainty splendor of lace handkerchiefs and sumptuous gowns being driven through town in a lovely carriage. Still love the era, but this humorous book was definitely an eye opener. I loved the way Therese Oneill with her sometimes snarky narrator takes the reader on a fun journey of the way women had to deal with issues such as crotchless undergarments to corsets and of course being subservient to men's ideals and needs. Recommended for those who have a fascination with the Victorian age and for those who want to enjoy a rip roaring read!
Profile Image for Jody McGrath.
352 reviews52 followers
February 5, 2017
This book takes you back in time to the real Victorian Age. Where getting dressed was a 4 hour affair and bathing was horrendous. While I enjoyed the information, I did not like the writing style. Instead of being a normal humorous nonfiction book, that lays outs facts and ideas, this book acts as though you have been transported to the time period. The author talks directly to you, as you supposedly experience these things. But not always. A lot of the time she just quotes quack doctors of the time. While I thought the subject entertaining and it was a fast read, the style just wasn't for me.
Profile Image for Charlotte Kersten.
Author 3 books433 followers
February 7, 2022
Fun and really entertaining for the most part, though the humor felt totally inappropriate when applied to the darker topics mentioned like spousal abuse, racism and slavery. I learned a bit but I don't know a ton more than I knew before reading this book.
Profile Image for Allie.
138 reviews128 followers
December 18, 2019
3.5 stars. After countless hours spent watching Downton Abbey and historical dramas, it is tempting to romanticize the lives of women (upper class, of course) in the 19th century. The dresses! The courtly behavior of dashing gentleman! The lack of ability to vote or own property! Er, wait...

In this tongue-in-cheek primer, the author firmly bursts this romantic bubble with advice for the modern woman on how to live, marry, and run a household in the Victorian era. While much of the information was already familiar to me, the book contained some gems, such as:

1. Ladies, do not suck on the handle of your parasol.
2. However, if you want to express your dislike of someone in a ladylike way, feel free to turn your gloves inside out.
3. A young woman must be chaperoned outside her home by a man, servant, or married woman. Another unmarried girl is insufficient protection and several unmarried girls walking together are basically a travelling brothel. In a pinch, you can borrow a crone from a neighbor.
4. Eat your cheese with a fork. No, not that one.
5. You will be extremely dirty most of the time, but you can wash your feet in a foot bath and your other bits in a hip bath. Cold water is best, as warm water could make young ladies too excitable.
6. Do not ask a guest to sit next to you on the sofa. Offer your guest the most desirable seat nearest to the fire. This chair always goes to a man (or the most senior lady if no men are present.)
7. There is a correct way to do everything. If you're relaxed, you're doing it wrong.

Overall, this was a mildly amusing read. Recommended for Victorian era junkies who like to read in the bath while twirling their parasols.
Profile Image for Robin.
1,434 reviews36 followers
August 23, 2016
When I was about 10 years old, I watched the movie Gone With the Wind and was instantly captivated with the voluminous skirts. I wanted so badly to sashay around in one that it became an obsession. That lasted until I discovered exactly what was under that beautiful silk and realized a simple trip to the bathroom could be quite a major event.

And what does this have to do with UNMENTIONABLE? I’m sure we’ve all wished we could return to a simpler time period, one without all of the stress of technology, fashion choices, and traffic, and perhaps get the chance to wear those coveted ballooning skirts. Well, welcome to Therese ONeill’s amazing, hilarious, and meticulously researched book that tears down all of our misconceptions about what life was like for a woman’s intimate and public life during the Victorian age. Addressing us women personally in a caring, intimate, and sometimes cheeky tone, Oneill covers all manners of a woman’s life, including how undergarments were worn (many were crotch-less, but not for *that* reason), how to stay bathed and clean, having a period (no tampons--or even Kotex for you!), running a household, and my favorite, how a “hysterical” woman was “cured.” Plentiful illustrations and photos from the time period with the author’s captions are sprinkled throughout the book and enhance the informative facts.

This is a fabulous book for all women and is perfect to give as a gift (preorder now for the holidays!). It’s also a great companion read for anyone who enjoyed PBS’s “1900 House” and “Frontier House.” For similar reading experiences, the tone and hilarity reminded me of Mary Roach’s humorously and well-researched science books and of Shannon McKenna Schmidt/Joni Rendon’s Writers Between the Covers: The Scandalous Romantic Lives of Legendary Literary Casanovas, Coquettes, and Cads.

Review from reading an advance reading copy from Little, Brown.
Profile Image for April (Aprilius Maximus).
1,093 reviews6,576 followers
April 9, 2017
This was really fascinating and hilarious, but I admit I skimmed over some parts that I just wasn't as interested in, but overall, I highly recommend this one!
Profile Image for thefourthvine.
524 reviews199 followers
April 14, 2018
I went into this book hoping for something similar to what Ruth Goodman writes, with a focus on North America rather than the UK. After the first two pages, I switched to hoping for something readable and lightly humorous. I was disappointed on both fronts.

Let’s start with what made me switch hopes: the tone. This is written in an arch, patronizing tone. And when I say arch — all of Ancient Rome was not this arch. If you enjoy being called diminutives by the authors of the books you’re reading, if you enjoy the assumption that you are not very bright and not at all educated, and if you enjoy reading things so affected they could easily have been written by preteens talking to their parents, well, this is the book for you. The only way I managed to survive it was by pretending it was a lengthy lecture by a person who preps historians in Connie Willis’s Oxford time travel series, and that this person just really HATES the Victorian era and is bitter that she has to teach it. Even then, it was a struggle.

If you’re looking for detailed, accurate information on Victorian life, on the other hand, this is not the book for you. Most of it draws from works by a handful of (in some cases quite prolific) men who wrote self-help books for women in the Victorian era. Since it’s not supported by anything — not by material artifacts, not by diaries or letters or other writings by actual women, not even by any scholarly studies that attempt to put this in some kind of context — it’s impossible to know if what the author is describing is actually likely to be true. She even admits in the afterword that she slanted this to make the era appear in its least appealing light, which is a) not at all what I want in even a light history book and b) pretty concerning.

Why concerning? Well, there’s the part where she barely mentions poor women or women of color, choosing instead to focus on a very small segment of Victorian society — white, wealthy women. I can see ways that focus could have been made to work. Like, she keeps talking about how It Isn’t Like the Movies. If she’d picked some specific movies and books and talked about what the characters in them might actually have lived like, well, at least it would explain the weird range restriction on her subjects. But she doesn’t. On the other hand, she does give us a nice apologia explaining why we shouldn’t hold Margaret Sanger’s dedication to eugenics against her. And she describes slavery as “messy,” which — I mean, yes, it was, but that’s not the exact word I’d choose to describe it. So the fact that the considers that she presented the worst face of the Victorian era — uh, no. She did not. She worked pretty hard to cover that face up, in fact.

And the afterword just kind of summed up my problem with the whole thing. She talks about how much better things are now, how much progress we’ve made, how we have all this freedom and wonderfulness, how progress is an arrow ever flying away from the Victorian era toward the glorious freedom and equality of our modern era. It might be more accurate to say that a lot of what is wrong with our society has its roots in the Victorian era, and we are forever trying to cut down that tree, and it keeps growing back. And it might also be a good idea to acknowledge that equality and freedom, in our modern world, are for some people and not for others, and that that really hasn’t changed at all.

All in all, this book was — not what I wanted, yes, but also not what it needed to be.
Profile Image for Katya.
234 reviews2 followers
July 26, 2022
Durante "os períodos mensais", exercício violento é nocivo; bebidas geladas ou ácidas são impróprias; e tomar banho no mar, e molhar os pés em água fria, e banhos frios, são perigosos; em alturas como estas, não se deve correr riscos, e não se deve permitir, em momento algum, qualquer tipo de experimentação, caso contrário consequências graves irão, muito provavelmente, suceder.
[Da obra de Pye Henry Chavasse, em 1880, "Conselhos Para Uma Esposa Sobre A Gestão Da Sua Própria Saúde"]

Quando, no mês passado, passei a vista (coisa rara) por um anúncio de TV sobre pensos higiénicos, deparei-me (coisa ainda mais rara!) com uma pseudo mancha de sangue vermelho: chatice, já não temos sangue azul... Talvez algumas pessoas achem piada à reação exagerada que tive, mas fiquei extática com esta novidade. Tanto que a fui procurar pela internet fora indícios desta revolução (sem resultados). Ainda assim, ena pá!, finalmente reconhecemos que o sangue menstrual não é um líquido de um azul aguado e de aspeto alienígena todo festivo. Isso era muito mais decente, claro, do que a realidade ofensiva que os homens levaram longas décadas a tentar obliterar para bem do seu bom gosto e delicadeza de sentidos.
Essa mentalidade e postura de asco misógina, a mesma que fez do sangue menstrual durante décadas uma espécie de bebida gaseificada inofensiva, é a mentalidade que se tem vindo a impor na castração das liberdades femininas e seus respectivos direitos sexuais - e é a mentalidade que se explana neste livro: uma mentalidade retrógrada, patriarcal, chauvinista e amedrontada pelo poder reprodutivo da mulher; uma mentalidade, aqui, ambientada em pleno século XIX, mas nem por isso menos ativa, produtiva e repulsiva hoje em dia. A mulher, eterna Eva, deve ser castigada pela sua ousadia e reprimida para bem da humanidade:

Nada aumentará a vossa influência, e assegurará a vossa utilidade, mais do que estar em SUBJUGAÇÃO aos vossos próprios maridos.
A mulher é relutante a obedecer, enquanto o bomem é frequentemente absurdo nos seus planos e caprichoso no seu temperamento, tirânico nas suas reivindicações e degradante na sua autoridade. Mas, minhas irmãs, embora tenham razão, muita razão em reclamar, lembrem-se, é a consequência do pecado, o pecado do vosso sexo.
[William Jay]

Lendo isto, não fica difícil perceber porque desisti de acabar o livro, quando primeiro o comprei, a cerca de 70 páginas do início. Mas, isto não se fica por aqui:

Muitas das irregularidades da menstruação em mulheres solteiras, como menstruação escassa ou ausente, dolorosa ou profusa... são frequentemente curadas pelo casamento, e são, nesses casos, um sinal da Natureza para a mulher de que ela não está a levar uma vida natural.
[Do Guia e Amigo da Esposa (1900), de Stewart Warren]

E é a independência da mulher, a todos os níveis, o grande problema que afeta a maioridade dos homens vitorianos e uma grande parte dos homens contemporâneos: a possibilidade de uma mulher tomar decisões sobre a sua reprodutividade equivale, estupidamente, ao fim da humanidade. Mas claro, quem sabendo o que tem de sofrer, quer um filho? Retórica absurda, certo, mas o mais assustador é ver replicar argumentos como o que se segue em pleno século XXI (e não há como descolar este livro e a história vitoriana do momento que vivemos). Manter a mulher na ignorância e impotência sobre o seu próprio corpo é a fórmula milionária.
Quem se irritar muito com o cúmulo da hipocrisia é livre de saltar o que segue (e tudo o resto, claro). Mas, veremos o que diz um médico, após publicar no "The Medical World", uma receita patenteada de espermicida:

Mas cabe-me avisar que não devemos em circunstância alguma receitar este remédio. O conhecimento deste remédio não deve fazer parte do dominio público, pois seriam poucas as mulheres dispostas a aguentar as dores do parto se estivessem na posse do conhecimento de um remédio tão simples e no entanto tão eficaz.(...) O médico não só deve estar plenamente convencido de que é extremamente importante de um ponto de vista médico que a sua paciente não fique grávida, mas deve também consultar a sua consciência séria e longamente antes de dar permissão a si mesmo para participar neste tipo de negócios, e quando o fizer, a paciente não deve saber como ou onde obter a preparação excepto através dele.
[Em The Medical World]

Claro, o médico é que deve consultar a sua consciência e dar permissão... E, com sete mil milhões de pessoas a habitar um mundo com recursos esgotados, isto de haver falta de pessoal por aí é mesmo um problema que ainda se impõe. Algo me diz que o discurso continua codificado e quando dizemos humanidade isso ainda significa: ocidentais, brancos e ricos.

Outras pérolas de bom gosto papagueadas pelo sexo masculino acerca das mulheres (não abarcando a generalidade dos homens, mas o grosso do género na época) concerne, claro está, rotinas de beleza - como a fantástica "comida para a mama" que por meio de ventosas e sucção, e aplicada duas ou três vezes por semana, garante o desenvolvimento de "uma mama que se adequa ao gosto dos mais exigentes". Os "mais exigentes" são os "muitos homens honestamente inclinados a manter inviolados os seus votos de casamento [que] foram incitados pelas frias repulsa das suas esposas a gratificar os seus desejos nos braços de prostitutas". Palavras de Charles Hoff, não minhas. Porque uma senhora decente, claro está, não usa cá destas coisas.

E depois, óbvio, dicas sobre a conduta feminina e sua segurança em público também não podiam faltar. E neste capítulo há passagens absurdamente divertidas (mas nem por isso menos assustadoras). Esta então é daquelas infalíveis em qualquer século:

(...)Se um homem a seguir em silêncio, ela deve fingir não o ver, e ao mesmo tempo, acelerar um pouco o passo.
[Etiqueta para damas, autor anónimo]

Sim, porque estabelecer contacto com um homem estranho, mesmo que fosse um polícia que, vá, no mínimo, enxotasse o marmanjo pervertido do encalço de uma mulher, estava absolutamente fora de questão. Aliás, a "familiaridade indevida degrada uma rapariga até mesmo aos olhos do seu amado e estabelece uma base para futuros ciúmes e possivelmente homicídio."
[Da obra de Melville C. Keith, de 1890, "O Conselheiro Particular da Jovem Dama: Cuidados com o Corpo e a Mente: um Livro para Jovens Damas, para as Ajudar a Adquirir uma Vida de Pureza, Cultura Intelectual, Força Corporale Liberdade dos Vários Males e Chatices de Vida que os Costumes Colocaram sobre o Sexo"]

Nem é preciso dizer mais NADA.

Os últimos capítulos sobre saúde sexual e psicológica são simplesmente aterradores e fazem com que fique a cismar se de facto tenho sido justa com a pasmaceira das autoras vitorianas (certamente peço mais de Jane Austen do que aquilo que ela tem a possibilidade de me dar).
Resumindo, já se percebe daqui que é um livro para estômagos fortes.

Enfim, coisas da responsabilidade do século XXI, como a revisão, são também problemáticas neste livro. O trabalho é tão preguiçoso que dói. E depois, claro, acabamos com expressões como "policiais femininas" a dar cor ao português europeu.
O tom coloquial da autora também não me agrada - nisto não mudei de opinião -, a sua postura de narradora
auto-intitulada "omnisciente" e o modo como guia as leitoras (tidas como ignorantes e sensíveis) não só cansam, como requerem uma boa dose de tolerância para suportar as injeções sobre-humanas de humor por vezes demasiado corrosivo. Francamente, algumas passagens não me parecem muito conseguidas, não são humorísticas, são apenas ligeiramente ofensivas e despropositadas: "Sua Majestade pode comer o seu pão com uma espátula de jardim enferrujada se quiser, tornando assim a prática vitoriana. Por isso chupa".
Fica difícil levar um livro de história a sério quando a própria narradora não leva o seu discurso a sério. Mas, suspeito que esse mesmo é o seu objetivo.
Por fim, vir armado de uma boa capacidade de descernimento para separar os factos da ficção que a autora amalgama propositadamente para tornar o percurso mais interessante e interativo também é boa ideia.
Muito mais positiva é a forma não sanitizada e despudorada com que aborda todas as temáticas e mitos da vida feminina e, claro, a relativamente extensa bibliografia final (de época) que se oferece aos leitores como um bom ponto de partida para tirar a limpo as leituras e interpretações da autora.
Sendo norte americana, Therese Oneill foca-se sobretudo no século XIX nos Estados Unidos, mas faz frequentemente, e de forma meio confusa, a ponte entre o continente americano e o europeu. Concretamente, entre América do Norte (os estados abolicionistas, apenas) e Inglaterra, o que está longe de representar um século de costumes no mundo ocidental.

O livro tem problemas? Tem. É sensacionalista e condescendente? É pois. Mas também é uma tentativa de esclarecer a história da repressão feminina no mundo ocidental e vale a pena por isso. Não oferece uma abordagem académica e rigorosa - também não foi lido com esse objetivo -, mas é uma janela aberta para um mundo sempre possível de se vir, em parte, a replicar.
Profile Image for Cora Tea Party Princess.
1,323 reviews802 followers
November 14, 2016
5 Words: History, feminism, humour, Victorian, etiquette.

What started off as a barrel of laughs slowly turned sour and ended in anger and disgust.

And it was amazing.

Full review to come.
Profile Image for Anne ✨ Finds Joy.
276 reviews66 followers
December 13, 2019
Lots of fascinating facts that will make you happy to not be living in those times. Highlight for me was the collection of photos and illustrations from the period. The author's narrative style is humorous tongue-in-cheek that was fun at the beginning, but did grow a bit annoying as the book wore on. I think I would have liked this book a more if it were a bit more condensed, after 50% I admit to skimming a lot of the pages.
Profile Image for Punk.
1,502 reviews243 followers
February 22, 2018
If, a hundred years from now, someone quoted select passages from Cosmo and xoJane and then laughed at how absurd the advice was and how backwards the social mores, you'd have the intellectual sequel to this book.

It's fun to read, in parts, though I don't know how academically rigorous it is. It has a bibliography, but it's not annotated, and quotes within the text aren't given much context. Oneill transports the reader back to Victorian England (with some American examples thrown in randomly) and explains how ladies looked, dressed, pooped, and married back in those days. There are a few women of color in the photographs in the book, but most of the middle or upper class women she talks about were white, which at this point doesn't even include the Irish. The book contains plenty of joking "period appropriate"—as they say on the AO3—racism and misogyny. Which some of us might find less than appropriate.

I liked the early chapters on clothing, toiletries, and actual toilets. Those chapters are fun and informative and light on systemic oppression. The second half is a lot of speculation: What was a married woman's wedding night like? We don't know! Oh, sorry, I didn't mean speculation. I meant a never-ending series of quotes from questionable contemporary sources. Mostly men, of course. Sure their advice and knowledge is absurd. The problem is, were they writing in the Cosmo of their day or the Lancet? The author never tells. There's very little analysis in these later parts. Just an overabundance of supposedly humorous quotes followed by nervous laughter.

I think my main problem with this book is that we're not far enough away from the Victorian era for this to be funny yet. Victorian values still permeate Western society today. In the section on women travelling alone, Oneill cautions us to dress plainly so that we won't bring unwanted attention to ourselves. Sound familiar? Back in those days, the term "street walker" literally meant a woman who was walking on the street. But of course it morphed. Because any women out in public becomes public property. One hundred years later, we still have a problem treating women out on the street with basic respect. So, I liked the factual stuff of the first half of the book, but the rest of it is about things women should do, or shouldn't do, rather than what they actually did, and I've had enough of being told what to do. It's not funny yet.
Profile Image for Anna.
269 reviews92 followers
February 10, 2017
The county library system is now the proud owner of this humorous little tome because of me...After trying to get them to let me borrow it from another library via inter-library loan, they said they couldn’t b/c it was less than sixth months old, so I convinced them to buy it. Anyway, now all local residents and taxpayers can enjoy Therese Oneill’s hysterical take on sexual mores, marriage values and bathroom habits of the 19th century. I literally LOL’d every day that I read this, although I would have liked a little more history and fewer laughs because it is fascinating -- possibly more than it is funny. 3.5 stars
Profile Image for verbava.
978 reviews102 followers
December 20, 2016
звісно ж, після цієї книжки ви зможете читати вікторіанські романи так, як читали їх раніше. занурюючись у сестер бронте, ви не думатимете про гігієну й запахи, про мите раз на місяць волосся та ніколи не прані плаття; на сторінках джордж еліот вас не переслідуватимуть образи ходіння до вбиральні – вуличної, певна річ, – у сукенках із кринолінами; епідемії сифілісу (справжня) й істерії (несправжня) спадатимуть вам на думку хіба в найпохмуріших місцях "дракули", але вони й до цього тексту спадали на думку, тож нічого не змінилося.
коли ми думаємо про жінок у дев'ятнадцятому столітті, то спиняємося зазвичай на моментах інтелектуальних і політичних: різне там право на власність, доступ до освіти, можливість вибрати життя поза шлюбом або принаймні покласти край катастрофічному шлюбові – а точніше, відсутність усіх цих досягнень цивілізації. але тереза онілл підводить читачок ще й до роздумів про те, наскільки незручне – на найбанальнішому побутовому рівні – було життя вікторіанок, навіть якщо йдеться про середньо-вищий клас. зрозуміло, що чоловікам теж доводилося тяжко і голову з іншими частинами тіла вони мили так само нечасто – та принаймні їм не треба було носити довгого волосся (тут мало бути ще кілька зауваг з приводу жіночої фізіології, але краще помовчімо про них, як годиться пристойним леді). усі їли однаково небезпечну їжу, але вимоги до зовнішності чоловіків були трохи поміркованіші, тож їм не доводилося пити оцту, ковтати патентованих ліків на основі миш'яку чи стрихніну або виписувати модних таблеток із ціп'яками, покликаними розділити з господинею всі ті жахливі калорії, які вона споживає. спроби вийти з дому для чоловіків були далеко не такі травматичні, і справа не тільки в тому, що етикет забороняв жінкам ходити поодинці, якщо вони не хвойди, а й у платтях із кринолінами, які серйозно ускладнювали рух, особливо в місті, та совалися по землі, збираючи на себе всі запашні подарунки вікторіанських вулиць. а наскільки менше часу хлопчики потребували на туалет, уявляєте? (згадую, як періодично бурчу про те, що тяжко знайти жіночий одяг із нормальними місткими кишенями, тому доводиться купувати чоловічі штани, – і почуваюся щасливою людиною).
ясно, завжди можна було не погодитися з умовностями – але суспільство, щонайменше в особі чоловіка, якому ти належиш, мало непоганий арсенал виховних заходів: фізичних, економічних, соціальних чи медичних (онілл майже не пише про божевільні, але пишуть інші, і там нічого радісного). та й не так воно просто, повставати, якщо тебе все життя виховували у правильний бік.
побутові замальовки "unmentionable" змушують багато думати про свободу. бо не буває такого, щоб на одному рівні вона була, а на іншому – ні. право голосу і право на працю якось тяжко уявити без права на штани і права не народжувати.
Profile Image for C-shaw.
852 reviews59 followers
February 3, 2017
What a hoot! So funny and informative too.
The author certainly has a way with words. She might consider becoming a stand-up comic in her spare time. Some favorite lines:
"Many women turned to the terrifying world of unregulated patent medicine to embiggen their bosoms."
"I am going to wallop you so hard your great-great-grandchildren will feel it."
"You serve many purposes as a wife, but the most important is incubating and extruding his biological legacy from your body."
". . . ladies go to the 'withdrawing room,' or as we know it, the drawing room, so that they may gossip and twaddle while the men smoke foul tobacco, pour heavy liquors, and tell lascivious stories about Frenchwomen."
"You say the word and we'll be wearing our leisure corsets and lounging petticoats in front of the fire within the hour."

The author makes her case for the horrendous lives women endured during the 1800s, but points out that their sufferings led in small steps to the freedom women have today, to wit: "And that's why you and I can wear pants. And run for president. And divorce men who hurt us. And do whatever work we want or need to do to make our lives as we would have them."

This book was a delight to read, despite the hardships and downright tortures covered. Thanks to my Goodreads friend and fellow Southerner Erin Patton for recommending it.
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