Book Review: Unmentionable

UnmentionableUnmentionable: The Victorian Lady’s Guide to Sex, Marriage, and Manners
by Therese Oneill
Nonfiction / Comedy / History
305 pages
Published 2016

This is a hysterically funny guide to what to expect in the Victorian era, assuming you are a 21st century woman who has been time-traveled there by some unidentified means. The author disabuses us of any romantic, Austen-like notions of what that era was like, instead talking about the real issues, like the lack of tampons or pads (or privacy!) or the infrequency with which you’d be allowed to bathe. She explains why; water was hardly clean at the time, sanitation was not exactly a well understood science back then!

Oneill manages to convey the differences between that time and ours in a unique voice that made me laugh out loud at points, even if it was slightly horrified laughter. Why does one wear uncomfortable boots instead of house slippers when one walks outside? Because you WILL step in crap, darling, and it might not always be animal in origin, either! She covers a wide range of topics, from your dress (don’t expect your outerdress to EVER be laundered!) to diet (don’t be too thin or too fat, and diet pills often have cocaine in them) to manners (don’t be caught alone, or with only a man, or with only an unmarried lady unless you are married yourself, no, best to just stay home, really) to how to relieve yourself (there’s a reason your bloomers are crotchless). Every chapter comes complete with quotes pulled from writers of the time, and period-appropriate illustrations, whether they are ads from newspapers or woodprints, photos, and other sketches.

Oneill does assume you’ve been brought back to a well-off family; she briefly mentions that things would be much worse if you were of a number of lower classes, but even a high-class life is a lot to get used to coming from the 21st century.

If you’ve ever thought you were born in the wrong era, read this book and remember just how good our modern conveniences and cultural attitudes are. (And giggle your ass off doing it!) I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and definitely learned a lot of trivia that I did not know before.

From the cover of Unmentionable:

Finally, a scandalous, illustrated guide to The Secrets of Life as a Victorian Lady, 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

 

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