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



Oh, my.

"You are a devoted fan of simpler times, I suspect? You can’t resist any film where the heroine wears petticoats, lets her long, beautiful locks fly away from their tight bun in dramatic moments, and calls her father “Pa-PA!” when defying his choice of husband for her..."

"Most of the things you love about the nineteenth century aren’t real, child. They’re the curations of gracious hosts who tidy up the era whenever you visit through art, books, or film. You see only the world they want you to see."


Speak to me, Therese Oneill, I am your avid listener.

As someone who routinely reads the heavily romanced side of the Victorian (and Regency) era, I'm the perfect audience for this such book. I may not need reminded that I'm in love with an era as seen through very rosy glasses, but I'm surprised at how delightful I found the shattering of my very fantasies...and how horribly I'd fit into such a society...

According to what I learned here, I'd struggle enormously in society based on my very nature:

1.) I'm a friendly, fun loving gal.

“Undue familiarity cheapens a girl even in her lover’s eyes and lays the foundation of future jealousy and possible murder. There is plenty of time for familiarity after marriage.” Our author does not diagram the transition from flirting to homicide. But does he really need to? I mean, who doesn’t look at a teenager fluttering her eyelashes at some boy and think, “That’s going to end with three corpses in a filthy, blood-soaked basement”?

2.) I'm basically a happy individual. One could say that I've always been a 'whistle while you work' type.

Men don’t find an outward display of joy appealing! “Joy” doesn’t get the roast on the table by 6 p.m. sharp!

3.) I might have a wee bit of a temper.

After all, “too much fluency and animation in discourse are incompatible with true feminine modesty.”

And lastly...

4.) I do enjoy thinking. Sometimes, excessively so.

...it is scarcely possible to be less than hideous.” And how did she get that way? Either physical labor, excessive thinking, or vice.

To recap, in the 1800's I would have likely been a murderess (if my center is my uterus, mine is a crazy, crazy one. I probably have hysteria. The recommendation would be a hysterectomy. Did you know the root of that procedure was to cure madness? Me neither. Back to it though), very unappealing and my very lack of an attractive face would be proof of thinking too much. Geez, at least in this century I can blame that last one my parents ignorance of eugenics.

Beyond attitude and disposition, there are many, many intolerable things about the time that made me cringe in horror. For the sake of anyone reading this, I'll leave out all references and quotes pertaining to women's hygiene, and for the more delicate minded, that of disease, the wedding night, and the necessary. Let's just say that there's very good reason that the 19th Century is commonly referred to as the filthiest. These, of course, are the chapters where I could not look away - disgustingly riveting stuff.

I did my fair share of laughing through this book - I'd call this history lite perhaps. The writing is heavily laced with quippy humor with quite of few illustrations and photographs, many of which were more style than substance. Though Oneill admits to this at the beginning, the way in which she hops all around history anecdotally proves a bit of a problem for sorting out how one stupid thought led to another's insane medical practice or societal expectation. If you're looking for a scholarly book of the period, I wouldn't say this is it - but it is a fun flavored adventure into the century with enough references that you could seek out other material if you'd wish. I did have a really good time with it, and am very thankful that I landed in the here and now with things like pants and showers and refrigeration (and, okay, okay...mascara).