Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Desperate Romantics

I rather enjoyed that. It was at least a marvelous change to see Victorians presented as young and energetic and sexy. For far too long we have been in thrall to the Bloomsbury view of them.

As one of my alter egos, Professor Strange, once wrote:

The Victorians do not get a good press these days. A random trawl of the Internet finds the American AIDS Czarina complaining of a ‘Victorian society that misrepresents information, denies sexuality early, denies homosexuality particularly in teens, and leaves people abandoned with no place to go.’ A sermon tells us that ‘Thanks to the 1960s, we have given up Victorian hypocrisy when it comes to ourselves.’ And a journalist announces that ‘Victorianism today is generally interpreted to mean little more than an atmosphere of sexual repression and hypocrisy’.

Well, I knew Victorians; I worked with Victorians; Victorians were friends of mine. (Indeed, I cannot wholly rule out the possibility that I was a Victorian myself.) And I do not believe that they were any more repressed or hypocritical than we are today.

Yet this libel persists. So much so, that many otherwise intelligent people are convinced that the Victorians were so afraid of the power of sexuality that they felt obliged to cover up the legs of their pianos. Perhaps you believe it too?

If you want to form a more balanced view of 19th century Britain I recommend Matthew Sweet's Inventing the Victorians.

Incidentally, during the programme several people landed on the blog after searching for John Ruskin pubic hair.

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