A smart, provocative account of the erotic current running just beneath the surface of a stuffy and stifling Victorian London.
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.
If only to find out more about the world of the Pre-Raphaelites this book is well worth reading. The author always takes into account the mentality of the era and refrains from projecting the present mores into her interpretation of the epoch. This is essential in trying to grasp how these people understood their world and how they were also curious about other cultures in distant lands and how they tried to make links about their own world from the anthropological observations they made. Although a lot of the book does concentrate on attitudes of the time to sexuality it also reveals many other preoccupations of the time too. I particularly enjoyed the opening chapter which discusses the Victorian obsession with death and illness and how it inspired artistic creation. It also enabled me to discover more about Swinbourne and Richard Burton the anthropologist and other figures of the time. I would highly reccommend this book. The narrator does have some strange pronunciation lapses at times but this is only a minor quibble and does not take away from the main narration.
2 of 3 people found this review helpful