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

When readers want to be swept back to the Victorian era, they often turn to authors like the Brontë sisters, George Eliot, Charles Dickens or Thomas Hardy, who offer a perfect escape to a time that, despite obvious hardships, is easy to idealize. In Unmentionable: The Victorian Lady's Guide to Sex, Marriage, and Manners, Therese Oneill takes readers on a quick, hilarious romp through the gritty unmentionable details that literature fails to discuss--those of the most intimate nature. Oneill begins at daybreak, waking to abject cold, scratchy bedsheets and, beneath the bed, a bowl that serves as a toilet. She focuses on the life of a well-to-do lady because, as Oneill states, one would not want to be poor given that poverty at that time was especially grim.

Oneill's delight in her subject is endearing. She delivers even the most disturbing facts, like how drinking wells and sewage were placed close to each other, in entertaining ways. Yet Oneill's stories are not without depth. Throughout Unmentionable, she notes how far feminism and related movements have come from the constrictions of Victorian ideologies. She introduces figures like Margaret Sanger, an American nurse and advocate for women's birth control, and Clara Barton, founder of the Red Cross. She stresses how long women have fought to be considered people in their own right and how their contributions changed the world. In the end, Oneill offers readers a little parting comfort: that history is seldom as good, nor as bad, as it seems. --Justus Joseph, bookseller at Elliott Bay Book Company

Powered by: Xtenit