Trumbach (History/CUNY Graduate Center) ventures to scrutinize the sexual practices of 18th-century Londoners, drawing...


SEX AND THE GENDER REVOLUTION: Vol. I: Heterosexuality and the Third Gender in Enlightenment London

Trumbach (History/CUNY Graduate Center) ventures to scrutinize the sexual practices of 18th-century Londoners, drawing provocative conclusions from statistical analysis of hundreds of documents, from divorce proceedings to newspaper articles. Trumbach regards the early 1700s as the beginning of a dramatic revolution in sexuality that would affect the distribution of gender roles throughout the modern period. Advancing a controversial but well-substantiated view that heterosexuality and homosexuality are to a large extent social constructs, he traces opposing sexual identities to common origins in the Hellenic world and medieval Europe. Until the 18th century, Trumbach maintains, sodomy was a common part of sexual experience, especially in adolescence, and coming of age meant also a boy's transition to sex primarily with women. At the turn of the 18th century, however, sodomites emerged as a third gender outside the accepted norm. With homosexuals an ostracized minority, additional pressure mounted for men to aggressively assert their heterosexuality, which they did in part through prostitutes, illicit relationships with unmarried girls, and domestic violence. Trumbach pictures women as direct victims of this new male heterosexuality. Among the most outrageous examples of such abuse, he cites cases of men who contracted venereal disease in a whorehouse, infected their wives, and then sought to overcome the disease by raping a prepubescent girl (sex with a virgin was a widespread folk cure for such ailments). Young women who became pregnant out of wedlock found themselves disgraced and relegated to the fringes of society. By the end of the century, however, more and more women began to imitate the male sexual libertinism around them, as demonstrated by an increase in the number of divorces arising after adultery on the part of the wife. A study full of insights that will nevertheless likely remain a reference tool for social and cultural scholars, as it contains more detail about the residents of 18th-century London than the average reader would care to absorb.

Pub Date: Nov. 15, 1998


Page Count: 498

Publisher: Univ. of Chicago

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 1998

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