I wouldn’t have known about Unmentionable: The Victorian Lady’s Guide to Sex, Marriage and Manners if it hadn’t been for the reviews on this site, so a BIG thank you to all of the Cannonballers whose reviews placed it firmly on my radar, leading to much cackling and interruptions of my footie-watching boyfriend with a ‘Listen to this…’.
Tackling all of the daily realities of Victorian ladies – an era that we’re visiting as relatively wealthy, European women so as to ensure things stay on the funny side of gross – Therese Oneill reintroduces us to an era of ridiculously heavy, elaborate (and dirty) clothes, unwashed hair and bodies, deadly make-up, dodgy medicine, shit-filled streets and shock-filled wedding nights. An era when above all, women should be meek and pure, and any illness –physical or otherwise – was probably caused by her dreadful insistence on menstruating.
Gleefully sarcastic and filled with illustrations whose captions made me snort, this was a real treat for someone with a penchant for both the historical and the disgusting. Whether it be the organ rearranging corsets, the many causes of hysteria or the tape worms and cocaine as diet aids, every fact dredged up was interesting and entertaining.
And while the current world is shit in many ways, Therese Oneill has also ensured that I’ve never felt more grateful to have been born at a time where I have considerable access to comfortable clothes, forgiving underwear, prescription drugs, soap, and a choice over whether I procreate or not.