So it had been a while since I’d read up on the Victorian Era, and I gotta tell ya, I laughed out loud going over some of the stuff I ran across. We all pretty much accept that the word Victorian brings to mind priggishness, but I noticed a decided penchant for extremism. At least, that’s my take on that time in history, roughly 1830 to 1901. The weirdest/sickest part was the whole sexual repression thing.
Certain words were not to be spoken, such as “leg” which got rendered down to one’s “limb.” Far be it from me to suggest we not be antiseptically clinical about such things, but I have a hard time associating my body parts with trees.
And while we’re on the subject of sex, in Victoria’s time, doing it was meant for procreation, not fun. Try another one, Vickie. You and Prince Bertie had a cartload of kids, so we all know who was busy in the bedroom.
I could blame Vickie for the whole repression of sex thing—the love of her life died young and she wasn’t getting any—but all one has to do is read a little more and it’s pretty obvious that men with issues, radically religious or frustrated with secret, naughty urges, needed to make someone pay. Why not women? They had no rights, no reason to think, no laws protecting them, and more importantly, possessed the means to make afflicted males nuttier than they already were.
It was in this era that the diagnosis of hysteria was liberally flung at every female for just about any reason. Hysteria had been around since the Greeks were wrestling naked in the arena. Back then, only the platonic love of one’s best buddy was worth any mention. Women weren’t important unless they were one of the gods. By the time the 19th century rolled around, any disgruntled female was labeled as hysterical, and the usage of hysteria didn’t get taken off the books, medically speaking, until the 1950’s, for pity’s sake!
So what did those gents in Victorian times do to get intractable wives to calm down and act like the prim, obedient queens of their domains? Wait for it, ladies and germs, they sent them to physicians for a restorative massage. And when physicians got bored using their hands, they invented vibrators. Yes, gentle readers, there were all sorts of contraptions and devices, and one guy in 1880 took out a patent on the best version.
Guys, you gotta love’em for putting off on someone else what they didn’t feel like doing themselves. Thank heavens men have changed. Not all of them, but most of them.
So what’s wrong with this picture? The H-word. That self-righteous time period was so hypocritical on every level. Prostitution was at an all-time high, pornography wasn’t hard to find, children were dying in the factories, and the occult was in style. Séances were party favorites. And as much as they put down sex, they talked about all the time. Confessing it in church, tattling vicious accusations, browbeating their form of morality into nonbelievers, screeching about it on street corners as a direct path to perdition.
It strikes me that the era wasn’t as sexually repressed as showing off their prudery, while expending a lot of effort to keep their immoral quirks suppressed and/or hidden, especially within the middle class. For the gentry and aristocracy, this was the heyday of the country house party, swap-outs actually, where the bedtime opening and closing of doors was the embodiment of a French farce.
Give me the Regency. They let it all hang out, especially people like Lord Byron, who wrote naughty ditties. I loved the one about why he loved the waltz—so he could hold a lady in public and look down her décolletage! Byron was a bad boy and proud of it.
And I didn’t even get to the fun stuff written in the uninformed-minds-needing-to-know-rag sheets, like the woman who died from eating her own hair. Those Victorians sure knew how not to have a good time.
Next time: Chicago Can Kill You