If you’ve ever sighed in envy while watching a reenactment of Pride and Prejudice (my favorite is the one with Colin Firth) and wished that you could go back to that simpler time of corsets and long walks across the moor, I have a book for you! No, it is not Sense and Sensibility or Wuthering Heights, or any newer title imitating these classics – it is Unmentionable: The Victorian Lady’s Guide to Sex, Marriage, and Manners by Therese Oneill, a terrifically fascinating look at the life of women in the 19th century.
Oneill does not mince words as she reveals all about the private lives of Victorian women, explaining in graphic detail all of the indelicate processes that the novels and movies leave out: how often they bathed and washed their hair (not often), how a proper courtship was conducted, how they kept house, and even how they answered nature’s call in those gigantic dresses.
Being both a fan of stories set in the 18th century and of behind-the-scenes detail, I relished this book. It is clever and even laugh-out-loud hilarious at times, although the jokes can be crude. Apart from the humor, the author clearly did her research, painting a complete picture of the lifestyles, attitudes, and mindset of the modern Victorian woman. And even though we have come a long way since the strict social mores of the 1800s, as a woman I did identify with the poor ladies who had to put up with so much just to find a husband, all while trying to keep their reputation intact. This wild ride through every aspect of a Victorian lady’s private life will surprise, shock, and enthrall you, and leave you skeptical the next time you sit down to read Jane Eyre.
Review by Shannon Wood
Adult Services Librarian
Nordonia Hills Branch Library