Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Hands-on innocence and experience

For me, the most fascinating thing about the Regency-Georgian period is the huge amount of contrasts. Here's a fascinating one--along with the vast amount of pornography on sale Dr. Bowdler was busy at work cleaning up Shakespeare and concerned parents were strapping their lads into harnesses at night to prevent any involuntary--or god forbid, voluntary--sexual activity. The Victorians perfected the guilt and shame and all the rest of it that their parents and grandparents got things off to a flying start.

This lovely contraption was in use in the first decade of the nineteeth century in France. France, no less, home of the ooh-la-la and all the rest of it.

One of the biggest bestsellers in England of the eighteenth century was a tract published anonymously but enjoying multiple best-selling reprints:

or the Heinous Sin of Self-Pollution and all its Frightful Consequences in both Sexes
With Spiritual and Physical Advice to Those Who Have
Already injured themselves by this Abominable Practice
To which are added
Divers remarkable letters from such Offenders, to the Author,
Lamenting their Impotencies and Diseases thereby...

Thrilling stuff, and as you read more of the title page, you begin to realize that the book became its own one-handed reading material (something readers were aware of at the time and which surely added to its popularity). This book, that surely must have caused as much agony and guilt as wicked pleasure, predated the Victorians by over a century. Read more here.

And the contrast with this rampant, hysterical prudery? Obviously, all the porn and naughtiness. But also something far more profound, I think--the Romantic movement itself, with its emphasis on solitude and allowing emotions and imagination to run free, the contemplation of the mysteries of nature and love.

Thoughts, anyone?


Celia May Hart said...

So that harness is like a chastity belt? So *that's* how they coped with all those flat-fronted breeches and not bulge out everywhere..... *grin*

Jane Lockwood said...

A chastity belt for untoward erections during sleep, which were thought to sap the strength and grow hair on the palms of the hand etc. It's interesting considering the clothing styles emphasized the uh masculine bulge (look here!) and was inspired by classical Greek nudity. As far as I know men wore cotton underdrawers, or the shirt doubled as underwear, but only in the sense of keeping the outerwear clean, not to prevent unsightly bulges.