Saturday, 22 February 2014

Victorian Bumticklers

So you think the Victorians were prudes? Not a bit of it, as expert on Victorian sexuality Fern Riddell outlined in her absorbing talk at the Camden and Islington LGBT History Month event Defining Desire: labels and sex in ancient and modern worlds - a "pop-up" evening at the Institute of Archaeology hosted by John J. Johnston of the fabulous Petrie Museum, that we went to last Thursday.

For the eminent Victorian era was indeed a time when such surprising texts as these were published...

Doctor Teller’s pocket companion, or marriage guide : being a popular treatise on the anatomy and physiology of the genital organs, in both sexes, with their uses and abuses (1855)
"Every part of the human economy has its particular use. The productive organs have theirs, but it is not only for the propagation of the species: They assist in resolving animal passions,; they are the secret incentive to sexual love, and the bond of union between the sexes; they give appetite which, like hunger, must be appeased or nature revolts, and the harmony of society falls before the unrestrained fury of maniacal solitude."
As Miss Riddell said: "Basically what we’ve learned so far is that the Victorians thought we all needed to have sex well, and often, or the world would end."

Charles Knowlton's Fruits of Philosophy; or, the Private Companion of Young Married People (1832).
...the first popular manual on birth control and the first book on the subject by a physician. While earlier books had advocated birth control and even hinted at various methods, Knowlton was the first to describe in detail all the known methods and to discuss their pros and cons in practical and medical terms. He advocated douching with cold water or with various solutions of alum or vinegar, which was “sure, cheap, convenient, and harmless,” ...For putting these ideas into print, Knowlton was prosecuted for obscenity three times between 1832 and 1834, once drawing a three-month jail term in Cambridge, Massachusetts... As remarkable as this book is for its content and for its impact on society, its material form is even more remarkable. It is tiny, 3 by 2½ inches, a format up to that time used mainly for miniature abridgements of the Bible.
[From the Library Company blog.]

Studies in the Psychology of Sex, Volume 2: Sexual Inversion (1897) by Havelock Ellis.
"I had not at first proposed to devote a whole volume to sexual inversion. It may even be that I was inclined to slur it over as an unpleasant subject, and one that it was not wise to enlarge on. But I found in time that several persons for whom I felt respect and admiration were the congenital subjects of this abnormality. At the same time I realized that in England, more than in any other country, the law and public opinion combine to place a heavy penal burden and a severe social stigma on the manifestations of an instinct which to those persons who possess it frequently appears natural and normal. It was clear, therefore, that the matter was in special need of elucidation and discussion... We are concerned with individuals who live in freedom, some of them suffering intensely from their abnormal organization, but otherwise ordinary members of society." Topics discussed include: "Homosexuality Among Animals, Among the Lower Human Races, The Albanians, The Greeks, The Eskimos, The Tribes of the Northwest United States, Homosexuality Among Soldiers in Europe, Indifference Frequently Manifested by European Lower Classes, Sexual Inversion at Rome, Homosexuality in Prisons, Among Men of Exceptional Intellect and Moral Leaders, Muret, Michelangelo, Winkelmann, Homosexuality in English History. Walt Whitman, Verlaine, Burton's Climatic Theory of Homosexuality, The Racial Factor and The Prevalence of Homosexuality Today."

Lady Bumtickler's Revels from The Library Illustrative of Social Progress (1872) by John Camden Hotten.
Probably one of the closest C19th ideas to 50 Shades of Grey, this book was published falsely claiming to be from the C18th. It had actually been taken from the collection of one of the Victorian’s greatest pornographers, Henry Spencer Ashbee, and covers the themes of Flagellation with the immortally titled Lady BumTickler’s Revels.
All utterly fascinating stuff, you will agree. Now unlace those corsets, and get at it! (Reading, that is...)

Read more on the wonderful sex lives of the Victorians on Miss Riddell's Vice and Virtue blog.

Camden and Islington LGBT History Month 2014

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