Reviews and Recommended Reading of Victorian interest

by Lesley A. Hall

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J Miriam Benn, Predicaments of Love

Lucy Bland, Banishing the Beast (with Margaret Jackson The Real Facts of Life)

Ruth Brandon, The New Women and the Old Men: Love, Sex, and the Woman Question

Janet Farrell Brodie, Contraception and Abortion in Nineteenth Century America

Censorship and moral reform: joint review of Nicholas de Jongh, Politics, Prudery and Perversions: the censoring of the English stage 1901-1968, Alan Hunt, Governing Morals: A social history of moral regulation, and Alan Travis, Bound and Gagged: A secret history of obscenity in Britain

Hera Cook, The Long Sexual Revolution: English Women, Sex, and Contraception 1800-1975

James Covert, A Victorian Marriage: Mandell and Louise Creighton

Peter Cryle and Christopher E Forth (eds), Sexuality at the fin de siècle: the making of a “central problem” (external link)

Nadja Durbach, Bodily Matters: The Anti-Vaccination Movement in England, 1853-1907

Louise Foxcroft, Hot Flushes Cold Science: A History of the Modern Menopause

Kay Heath, Aging by the Book: The Emergence of Midlife in Victorian Britain (external link)

Harry Hendrick, Images of Youth: Age, Class, and the Male Youth Problem, 1880-1920

Helen Lefkowitz Horowitz, Rereading Sex: Battles over Sexual Knowledge and Suppression in Nineteenth Century America

Ronald Hyam, Empire and Sexuality: The British Experience

Maria Luddy, Prostitution and Irish Society, 1800-1940

Roberta McGrath, Seeing Her Sex: Medical Archives and the Female Body (The Critical Image)

Diane Mason, The secret vice: Masturbation in Victorian fiction and medical culture

Michael Mason, The Making of Victorian Sexuality

Claudia Nelson and Ann Sumner Holmes, Maternal Instincts: Visions of Motherhood and Sexuality in Britain, 1875-1925

Chris Nottingham, The Pursuit of Serenity: Havelock Ellis and the New Politics: my on-line review can be found at Reviews in History.

Harry Oosterhuis, Stepchildren of Nature: Krafft-Ebing, Psychiatry, and the Making of Sexual Identity

Carmel Quinlan, Genteel Revolutionaries: Anna and Thomas Haslam, Pioneers of Irish Feminism

Leslie J Reagan, When Abortion was a Crime: Women, medicine, and law in the United States, 1867-1973

Barry Reay, Watching Hannah: Sexuality, Horror and Bodily De-formation in Victorian England

Angelique Richardson, Love and Eugenics in the Late Nineteenth Century: Rational Reproduction and the New Woman

George Robb and Nancy Erber (eds) Disorder in the Court: Trials and Sexual Conflict at the Turn of the Century

Vernon A. Rosario (ed.), Science and Homosexualities

Judith Rowbotham and Kim Stevenson (eds), Behaving Badly: Social Panic and Moral Outrage – Victorian and Modern Parallels

Katharina Rowold, The Educated Woman: Minds, Bodies, and Women's Higher Education in Britain, Germany, and Spain, 1865–1914 [external link]

Wally Seccombe, Weathering the Storm: Working-Class Families from the Industrial Revolution to the Fertility Decline

xW T Stead, The Maiden Tribute of Modern Babylon: The Report of the Secret Commission. edited by Antony E Simpson

Charles Upchurch, Before Wilde: Sex Between Men in Britain's Age of Reform

Judith R. Walkowitz, City of Dreadful Delight: Narratives of Sexual Danger in Late-Victorian London

Helena Wojtczak, Women of Victorian Sussex: their status, occupations, and dealings with the law, 1830-1870

Recommended reading

Paula Bartley, Prostitution: Prevention and Reform in Britain, 1860-1914 , Routledge, 1999. Gets away from the usual concentration on the Contagious Diseases Acts to consider the broader strategies taken against the 'Great Social Evil'.

Something of a chagrining admission: I have only just read Gail Bederman's Manliness and Civilisation (1995) (on my to-read list for a long time) which I recommend very highly: a wonderful, illuminating, thought-provoking study. However, it was worth waiting until I had my own copy so I could note for future reference particularly good points and passages.

Lucy Bland, Banishing the Beast: Feminism, Sex and Morality. This classic work is now back in print from Tauris Parke, London, 2002. Review (of original 1995 Penguin edition, with slightly different title, but nothing else changed).

Rodney Bolt, As Good as God, as Clever as the Devil, the impossible life of Mary Benson (2011). A reasonably competent family biography of the Bensons, centring on Mary - picked out to be trained up as a wife by ambitious clergyman Edward White Benson when she was 13, much more responsive (and apparently consciously physically attracted) to women - really could not fail to be compulsive reading.

Sean Brady, Masculinity and Male Homosexuality in Britain, 1861-1913 (2005), Excellent. Possibly could engage more with John Tosh's work on late C19th masculinity, but very usefully deconstructs some prevalent beliefs about medico/legal/governmental attitudes towards homosexuality during the period - I'd concur, far more about ignoring and not-mentioning than about constructing deviant identities.

Matt Cook, London and the Culture of Homosexuality, 1885-1914 (2008). Not perhaps quite such radically new territory, but expanding our understanding of male same-sex relationships in the later C19th.

Heather Creaton, Victorian Diaries, Mitchell Beazley, 2001. 'A collection of ordinary diary entries from a cross section of classes and lifestyles showing the essentials of the Victorians' daily reality: their family concerns, medical conditions and education. Included in the book are entries from an actor, a schoolboy, a Countess and an engraver.'

Owen Davies, Witchcraft, Magic and Culture 1736-1951, Manchester University Press (1999). A fascinating study from the Witchcraft Statute of 1736 (which removed the penalties for being a witch and penalised 'pretenses to such arts and powers', to its repeal in 1951 (and concurrent modification of the Vagrancy Law as applied to fortune-tellers). A useful complement to Hutton's Triumph of the Moon.

Shani D'Cruze, Crimes of Outrage: Sex, violence and Victorian working women, UCL Press, 1998. A richly researched and excitingly theorised study.

Joy Dixon, Divine Feminine: Theosophy and Feminism in England (2001). A wonderful, dense, and enlightening book, not only for its helpful account of the internal politics of the Theosophical Society and its offshoots, but by demonstrating how important this alternative spiritual system was in late C19th and early C20th Britain. She makes a strong case that far from being (as it is often perceived) a haunt of right-wingers and even fascist sympathisers, at least in the earlier (Besant) years it had a strong appeal to socialists, feminists and 'progressives' and that there were in fact various forms of social action emerging from it. Also suggests that the ideas associated with theosophy had a broad appeal well beyond those formally affiliated.

I don't normally include fiction here, but make an exception for Michel Faber's The Crimson Petal and the White (2002): impressive and compelling (and for me, the controversial ending worked). Vividly conveys to the point of sensory overload the tactile and olfactory qualities of Victorian life, and also the sense of a society (and individuals) in the process of change (rather than stuck in a static 'past').

Judith Flanders, A Circle of Sisters: Alice Kipling, Georgiana Burne-Jones, Agnes Poynter and Louisa Baldwin (2001) A group biography which is both fascinating social history and almost a post-Victorian Victorian novel

Sheila Fletcher, Victorian Girls: Lord Lyttelton's Daughters (2001): this is a lovely group biography of the family of a Victorian aristocrat who was politically active (mainly in educational reform) but not, for his class, very well off. It's almost a real-life Charlotte Yonge novel - though in a rather higher social stratum than she normally depicted. Perhaps I might have liked a bit more more about the life they lived beyond the family, but they were a closely-knit bunch, and as several of them were prolific diarists and letter-writers, there's clearly a huge amount of material to be rendered into readable coherence.

Eleanor Gordon and Gwyneth Nair, Public Lives: Women, Family and Society in Victorian Britain (2003) [blog post]

Peter Gordon and David Doughan, Dictionary of British Women's Organisations, 1825-1960, Frank Cass Woburn Publishing, 2001. Covers a vast range of the diverse ways in which women have come together for a variety of purposes, philanthropic, social, sporting, political... and more. One of those reference books it's hard to stop browsing in.

June Hannam and Karen Hunt, Socialist Women: Britain, 1880s-1920s, Routledge, 2002. An excellent and important study which gets beyond the previous marginalisation of these women in both histories of labour and socialism and histories of feminism and the suffrage movement. Subtle and nuanced, it avoids the simplistic telling of the already well-known stories of a relatively few women within this group, while using the stories and experiences of individual women involved in socialism to illuminate the problems experienced. Makes it clear that putting women into the history of socialism is not a question of adding a chapter on 'women' or dropping a few names, but of thinking more closely about the gendering of politics and the sex-role assumptions even of political groups which consciously set out to recruit both men and women and to promote an egalitarian agenda.

Pamela Hirsch, Barbara Leigh Smith Bodichon: feminist, artist and rebel (1998). Bodichon is a fascinating if rather neglected figure. I found the biography a bit confusing in places - dodging about chronologically, which it would, I suppose, be difficult not to do when discussing Bodichon's various activities. But otherwise, a very good read.

Kathryn Hughes, The Short Life and Long Times of Mrs Beeton (2005). There's a feeling with this book of being in safe hands, with someone who knows not just about all there is to know about her central subjects but is also thoroughly trustworthy about all the contemporary historical factors that were key elements in their lives. I have a strong prejudice in favour of biography-as-a-window-into-social-history anyway, and this is a prime example. Social mobility in the early Victorian era! Suburban development! The evolution of the woman's magazine! The history of cookery books! Etc! All of which are worked into the ongoing narrative so that you can see their relevance, rather than being info-dumped into the text in indigestible lumps. And so admirably readable.

Kali Israel, Names and Stories: Emilia Dilke and Victorian Culture (1999). A wonderful study of a fascinating woman, a theoretically sophisticated analysis based in deep archival research and understanding of the wider social dynamics of the period. An unusual way to 'do biography' but one which pays off in this case, partly perhaps because Emilia Pattison/Dilke and the other players in her story/ies have been so much written about already, ever since their lifetimes. Marriage, sex, scandal, Victorian feminism: this book has so much I'm surprised it hasn't had wider notice.

Louise A. Jackson, Child Sexual Abuse in Victorian England , Routledge, 2000. A sensitive and historically nuanced account of a complex and difficult subject.

Anne Jordan, Love Well The Hour: The Life of Lady Colin Campbell (1857-1911) (2010). Excellent study of a Victorian upper class woman best remembered for her role in one of the most scandalous divorce cases of her day. Jordan reveals that there was much more to her than that: besides rather standard Victorian lady philanthropy stuff, she wrote in and edited periodicals, and was thus a pioneering woman in journalism, including in the field of art criticism. Also was passionate about various forms of physical activity not perhaps associated with the Victorian lady, e.g. fencing.

Ellen Jordan, The Women's Movement and Women's Employment in Nineteenth Century Britain, Routledge (Routledge Research in Gender and History), 2000. A great study of the entry of middle class women into forms of employment other than teaching (usually as a governess) or needlework during the Victorian era. Jordan demonstrates that it was not (as often argued) a case of the demands of the economy inevitably sucking women out of the domestic sphere and into clerical posts, the Post Office, newly professionalised teaching and nursing, medicine, librarianship, and a range of other 'professions for women'. In fact it was the result of pressure and campaigning by the Society for Promoting the Employment of Women which brought about an ideological change and encouraged employers in a variety of sectors to take a chance on employing 'ladies'. Jordan's terrific articles on women pharmacists and the lady-clerks at the Prudential Insurance Co were a foretaste of this extensively researched and theoretically sophisticated monograph.

Jane Jordan, Josephine Butler, John Murray, 2001. At last a modern biography of this hugely important nineteenth century woman. As with any biography, sometimes there are things and aspects one would like more of, but this is a remarkable picture of a complex woman and her family.

Morris B Kaplan, Sodom on the Thames: Sex, Love and Scandal in Wilde Times (2005) [blog post]

Just a one wonders whether perhaps there is little new to be said about the Victorians, Seth Koven's Slumming: Sexual and Social Politics in Victorian London gives us a wonderful piece of social/cultural history, looking at the complex agendas of various Victorian journalists, philanthropists, and social reformers to experience the slums, and explores the fuzzy boundary that was often at stake between concern, voyeurism and sensationalism. Reviewed at rather greater length in the Times Higher Educational Supplement, 18 Feb 2005.

Philippa Levine, Prostitution, Race, and Politics: Policing Venereal Disease in the British Empire. I stand in awe. Brilliant, and very dense, combining a solid basis of serious archival research with a sophisticated awareness of the kinds of theoretical approach productive for analysing the material discovered.

Maria Luddy, Prostitution and Irish Society, 1800-1939 (2008). Read for review. Really excellent on what we can and can't know about this, and the uses made of prostitution as a debating tool in the Irish context.

Angus McLaren, Sexual Blackmail: A Modern History (2002). The latest from the author of Prescription for Murder: The Victorian Serial Killings of Dr Neil Cream (1993), The Trials of Masculinity: Policing Sexual Boundaries, 1870-1930 (1997), and numerous others. Enough said.

Sharon Marcus, Between Women: Friendship, Desire, and Marriage in Victorian England (2007). An excellent study, in spite of the somewhat problematic use of the famous disciplining daughters correspondence from The Englishwoman's Domestic Journal, and rather uncritical deployment of the unfortunately Famous Factoid about Victorian Doctors and Hysteria. But points for noticing that female friendship is widely prevalent and mostly positive in the Victorian novel, and that friendship preoccupied women in their letters and diaries. Also for some intriguing suggestions about the pleasures of fashion plates, and girls and their dollies. Full review appeared in the THES

Sue Morgan, A Passion for Purity, University of Bristol, Department of Theology & Religious Studies, 1999. A wonderfully subtle study of late Victorian social purity reformer Ellice Hopkins.

Alex Owen, A Place of Enchantment: British Occultism and the Culture of the Modern.It's very good: very much about subjectivity, interiority, the making of modern identity, the relationship between the irrational and the discourse of science. Possibly I would have liked a little more on social context.

Dianne Purkiss, Troublesome Things: A History of Fairies and Fairy Stories, Penguin 2001. An extraordinary and compelling read. Must look out for more of her work.

Grahame Robb, Strangers: Homosexual Love in the Nineteenth Century. This was better than I feared it might be: it's a highly readable synthesis of a lot of work that has been done, and its coverage is geographically broad. Perhaps a tad too sanguine about the downside of the situation (blackmail, etc, quite apart from the law itself), especially for the less socially privileged.

M J D Roberts, Making English Morals: Voluntary Association and Moral Reform in England, 1787-1886 (2004): very good, very solid, very well-argued, full of interesting stuff, if rather dense and thus slow going.

Jonathan Rose, The Intellectual Life of the British Working Classes (2001). Covers an enormous amount of ground and raises a lot of fascinating questions. Strongly agree with Rose's point that what one reader gets out of a particular book at a specific moment in history and at a particular phase of their own life is not necessarily what the academic critic reads into it. He recuperates a huge area of 'hidden history' in the working class struggle for learning and engagement with 'high' cultural forms. Perhaps his obvious fondness for his subjects makes him somewhat hostile to other groups, but this study can be highly recommended.

Ellen Bayuk Rosenman, Unauthorized Pleasures: accounts of Victorian erotic experience [blog post]

Sheila Rowbotham, Edward Carpenter: A Life of Liberty and Love (2008). A thick and very readable account of the late Victorian/Edwardian reformer - socialist, pacifist, early environmentalist, and above all, homophile and advocate of reformed intimate relationships.A good solid biography which does a lot of setting in context. Strongly recommended

Chandak Sengoopta, Imprint of the Raj: how fingerprinting was born in colonial India (2003). This is a good readable short book about the far from straightforward development of fingerprinting as a criminological technique. Apart from all the stories of the individuals involved, the important role of the Indigo Riots, and so forth, what made me smile about this book was that fingerprinting per se was useless without a sophisticated system of information retrieval (also developed in India), which reminded me of the complexity of the India Office Records registration systems when I worked there.

Julie-Marie Strange, Death, Grief and Poverty in Britain, 1870-1914 (2005). I had been wanting to get round to this for some time, and it was worth the wait. It's very good indeed, with a massive amount of research in a very broad range of material , from working class autobiographies to records of burial boards and cemetaries and poor law unions, very well woven together. The analysis is nuanced and subtle on how people dealt with grief and emotion under harsh conditions and material want, with a lot about the significance of ritual and commemoration. Among other things, it's about the expression of emotions non-verbally and via commemorative and mourning practices.

Charles Upchurch, Before Wilde: Sex between Men in Britain's Age of Reform (2009). Review to be published, one-word verdict: excellent.

Martha Vicinus, Intimate Friends: Women Who Loved Women, 1778-1928 (2004). A beautifully historically sensitive study of 'erotic friendships between women'. It gets away from the whole 'did they/didn't they' question to look at wider issues of passion, devotion and desire. While Vicinus does essay some categorisation by types of relationship dynamic (husband-wife, mother-daughter, female rake, etc) these aren't closed categories, and in several cases she demonstrates different relationship patterns in the life of a single individual at particular stages. She includes some married women who had important relationships with other women, and doesn't shy away from mentioning significant connections some of her subjects had with men, as friends or partners. Her subjects were all pretty much of the Anglo-American elite (and I think, given the interaction between some of the circles she discusses, mutual influences, etc, it's legitimate to include the two national backgrounds): but documentation is after all an issue for this kind of complex study. I wish, however, it hadn't stopped dead at Radclyffe Hall (this happens far too often). But on the whole it was a joy to read and very thought-stimulating.

Katherine Watson, Poisoned Lives: English Poisoners and Their Victims (2004). This is a really excellent study of poisoning in English society throughout the nineteenth century, and shows that the famous cases were nearly all completely atypical of the standard poisoning case. Lots of admirable stuff about the constellation of factors leading to poisonings, the impact of changes in the law, the rise of scientific toxicology, the influence of economic crisis years on statistics of poisoning cases, etc.

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Last modified 18 April 2012