How did I discover this book?
I found Unmentionable: The Victorian Lady's Guide to Sex, Marriage, and Manners (hugh breath!) on a table somewhere in the labrynth of Barnes and Noble (Union Square) New York City. It wasn't on the ground floor, or particularly prominent, but the combination of risque cover (at least for the Victorians), the humour, and the fact I am researching the Victorian period for a book led me to hand over my money. I have no association with the author or publisher.
If you find historical era books a bit inaccessible, this book might be for you. It's fun, witty, and does a good job of using our expectations as modern day women to frame the differences in Victorian times. It's also transatlantic in focus, so you'll have examples from both the American Victorian era, and the British one. If you're a stickler for historical texts, the humourous style might get your hackles up, but it's an excellent introduction point if you want to dig further (a reference list is in the back). And if you're not researching, it's still entertaining. And occasionally sobering. Be glad to be a 21st century woman, I think.
Overall, I read the book very quickly, and I think I took more away from this about the lives of Victorian women than I have in a dozen drier, more traditional history books. A book that is trying to straddle the ground between entertainment and fact isn't an easy feat to pull off (when I get around to posting the review of Gut here, evidence will be presented), but Unmentionable does that for me. That's a win. Also, there is a sequel coming on children of the era - Ungovernable, I think.
5 tight corset stays out of 5
Interested? Here's the blurb from Goodreads
Ladies, welcome to the 19th century, where there's arsenic in your face cream, a pot of cold pee sits under your bed, and all of your underwear is crotchless. (Why? Shush, dear. A lady doesn't question.)
UNMENTIONABLE is your hilarious, illustrated, scandalously honest (yet never crass) guide to the secrets of Victorian womanhood, giving you detailed advice on:
~ What to wear
~ Where to relieve yourself
~ How to conceal your loathsome addiction to menstruating
~ What to expect on your wedding night
~ How to be the perfect Victorian wife
~ Why masturbating will kill you
~ And more
Irresistibly charming, laugh-out-loud funny, and featuring nearly 200 images from Victorian publications, UNMENTIONABLE will inspire a whole new level of respect for Elizabeth Bennett, Scarlet O'Hara, Jane Eyre, and all of our great, great grandmothers.
(And it just might leave you feeling ecstatically grateful to live in an age of pants, super absorbency tampons, epidurals, anti-depressants, and not-dying-of-the-syphilis-your-husband-brought-home.)