Synopses & Reviews
At the height of the Victorian era, a daring group of artists and thinkers defied the reigning obsession with propriety, testing the boundaries of sexual decorum in their lives and in their work. Dante Gabriel Rossetti exhumed his dead wife to pry his only copy of a manuscript of his poems from her coffin. Legendary explorer Richard Burton wrote how-to manuals on sex positions and livened up the drawing room with stories of eroticism in the Middle East. Algernon Charles Swinburne visited flagellation brothels and wrote pornography amid his poetry. By embracing and exploring the taboo, these iconoclasts produced some of the most captivating art, literature, and ideas of their day. As thought-provoking as it is electric, unearths the desires of the men and women who challenged buttoned-up Victorian mores to promote erotic freedom. These bohemians formed two loosely overlapping societies--the Cannibal Club and the Aesthetes--to explore their fascinations with sexual taboo, from homosexuality to the eroticization of death. Known as much for their flamboyant personal lives as for their controversial masterpieces, they created a scandal-provoking counterculture that paved the way for such later figures as Gustav Klimt, Virginia Woolf, and Jean Genet. In this stunning exposé of the Victorian London we thought we knew, Deborah Lutz takes us beyond the eyebrow-raising practices of these sex rebels, revealing how they uncovered troubles that ran beneath the surface of the larger social fabric: the struggle for women's emancipation, the dissolution of formal religions, and the pressing need for new forms of sexual expression.
"Lutz (The Dangerous Lover), a professor of Victorian literature and culture at Long Island University, explores that era as one of sexual and erotic experimentation, when an artist like Dante Gabriel Rossetti used a prostitute as a model in a painting of Mary Magdalene, and even 'respectable gentlemen' sought 'young grenadiers' for anonymous sex in public toilets. Artists and writers produced sexually themed writing and painting that unsettled Victorians by evincing radical ideas about sexual freedom, women's rights, and religious doubt. Rossetti brought sensuality to his paintings of sickness and death. His devout yet daring sister Christina's work reforming prostitutes inspired her own lush sensual verse. Richard Burton, the secret agent and explorer, wrote how-to manuals on sexual positions; and Algernon Charles Swinburne published verse on hermaphrodites, bisexuals, sexual sadists, incest, and the femme fatale, and loved being flogged by prostitutes dressed as schoolmasters and mistresses. Lutz's long-winded meanderings often erode the sexiness of her subject matter, but this is a perceptive, thorough assessment of Victorian erotica and those defiant ones who crafted it. 8 pages of color and 5 b&w illus. (Feb.)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright PWyxz LLC)
"When 'Walter,' the anonymous author of the encyclopedic and pornographic Victorian memoir My Secret Life, propositioned a passing woman with the offer of a shilling, he tells us that within "half a minute," he had his 'hand between her thighs.' Would she go further, he wondered? ''Too glad,' said she....We went still further off, and found a vacant seat near an out of the way walk....I sat down, and turning her back towards me, she pulled up her petticoats....' Foggy nights encouraged such dalliances, according to Walter: 'Harlots tell me that they usually do good business during that state of atmosphere.'" Chloe Schama, The New Republic
(Read the entire New Republic review
In 1860s London, two loosely overlapping groups of bohemians—the Cannibal Club and the Aesthetes—challenged the buttoned-up Victorian propriety to promote erotic freedom and expression. Sensually attuned and politically radical, they were among the most influential thinkers and artists of the day, from Richard Burton to Dante Gabriel Rossetti and William Morris. These iconoclasts not only navigated the fringes of sexual deviance with their bodies but also carried the pleasures of the body into their work, creating a taboo-loving counterculture whose reverberations can be felt today. In this stunning and nuanced exposé of the Victorian London we thought we knew, Deborah Lutz takes us beyond the eyebrow-raising practices of these sex rebels, showing us how their work uncovered troubles that ran beneath the surface of the larger social fabric: the struggle for women's emancipation, the dissolution of traditional religions, and the pressing need to expand accepted forms of sexual expression.
A smart, provocative account of the erotic current running just beneath the surface of a stuffy and stifling Victorian London.
About the Author
Deborah Lutz's books include Pleasure Bound: Victorian Sex Rebels and the New Eroticism and Relics of Death in Victorian Literature and Culture. The Thruston B. Morton Professor of English at the University of Louisville, she lives in Louisville, Kentucky, and Brooklyn, New York.