Hello! Over the next 2 weeks, I’m making 8 guest posts as part of the T2T blog tour. As an ex-professor and writer of historical fiction, my theme is Things You (Probably) Didn’t Know About the Victorians. Today’s topic is Sexy Victorians!
So, the Victorians and Sex. They were all terribly repressed and it was unladylike for a woman to enjoy (or even move during!) sex with her husband, right? Um, not quite. Let’s take a quick look at a couple of myths:
Myth 1: “Lie back and think of England”. There is absolutely no evidence that Queen Victoria (or any other woman of the 1800s) ever advised anyone to “lie back and think of England” during sex. In fact, Queen Victoria thought her husband, Prince Albert, was gorgeous and confided to a friend that “Greek statues are nothing compared to Albert in his bath”. That’s sexy! Truth is, although QV is often remembered as a stout widow with a long face, during her married life she was the lively type, the sort of person who enjoyed parties and balls. It was only when Albert died (unexpectedly, at a young age) that she become the tragic widow.
Myth 2: The Victorians were so repressed they couldn’t look at the legs on their furniture - they covered their piano legs in frilly pantalettes! This is a funny one, because the only recorded instance of this happening is in a book written by an Englishman (Captain Frederick Marryat, if you’re curious). And you know where he describes the prissy piano-legs? Why, in America! It’s his idea of a joke about Stateside uptightness. Isn’t irony sweet?
I’m not, however, claiming that the Victorians were totally free and easy in their outlook. For example, there was still a lot of hypocrisy (as there is today). When the novelist George Eliot (real name: Mary Ann Evans) fell in love with George Henry Lewes, they couldn’t get married because Lewes was separated from his wife and unable to get a divorce. So Eliot and Lewes chose to live together, and Eliot paid the price: she was excluded from polite society. It’s an interesting double standard: Lewes was not criticized for living with a woman who was not his wife, while Eliot was ostracized for living with a man who was her husband in all but the legal sense. And that’s just one example.
What I am saying, overall, is that a lot of casual stereotypes about the Victorians are not true, and that the facts are a lot more subtle and complicated than stereotypes allow. Let me now turn this around: what stereotypes have you heard about the Victorians? I’ll try to answer any questions you have (to the best of my knowledge!).
Be sure to follow the tour to Steph Su's blog tomorrow. You can pre-order A Spy in the House. And check out Y.S. Lee's blog for a great giveaway!