THE WORM IN THE BUD by Ronald Pearsall


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More thoughtful readers will already have explored the submerged world of sexual fantasy which Steven Marcus dubbed ""pornotopia"" in his more rigorous study The Other Victorians (Basic-1966). This is a lively, unblinkered social history from the haut to the demi monde on down to the ""lower orders,"" much more apt to tempt the general reader and far less (psycho) analytical. These were days when ""it was better to be preoccupied by than occupied with sex"" and the court of Victoria and Albert (here the primly Germanic Consort exerted more influence than elsewhere) set the staid tenor which led to so much repression and confusion as well as the dichotomy of double entendre and doublethink, euphemistic ""unmentionables"" in the parlor and pornography in the library. Mr. Pearsall has codified all of the prevailing attitudes toward courtship (chaste), marriage (passionless) and romance (usually foredoomed); toward divorce (a man's weapon) and adultery (the privilege of men and the lower classes); toward childbirth and feminine hygiene and birth control; prostitution (more often through necessity than choice); and the language and humor of Victorian sex. There are interesting insets on Henry Prince and his Abode of Love, William Stead and his enlightened (?) expose of the traffic in young virgins, on Wilde and Pater, Carroll and his little Liddell girls, and in particular Ruskin skidding from his ""vexatious"" dream world into dark madness. Fashions too--and under a Gestation Compression Belt, Mr. Pearsall has embodied a vast corpus of entertaining evidence, social, literary and historical; he's also a writer of considerable tone and wit.

Pub Date: Aug. 25th, 1969
Publisher: Macmillan