Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Unmentionable: The Victorian Lady’s Guide to Sex, Marriage, and Manners by Therese Oneill

Delightful and Sometimes Disgusting Reality Check (Non-Fiction)

Let Therese Oneill be your tour guide back to what you might have once thought romantic times of the Victorian age.  In this book, Oneill exposes the smoke and mirrors of the beautiful women with their upswept hairdos, gliding around the room in their voluminous dresses with tiny waists, pumped up bosoms, and perfect complexions.  With a seriously funny narrative, we learn that there were probably lice lurking in a woman’s elegant chignon, the corset was not the only apparatus hiding under that stinky dress which never got washed, and the face enameling which gave her that glowing skin was most likely eating away at her face. Ahhh, that’s the price of beauty in the 1800s.

But wait, there’s more! Oneill also leads you through the “unmentionable” mystique of feminine hygiene, childbirth, dangers of self-gratification, and general etiquette offering sage advice like:

“Using the wrong fork can cause weeks of gossip. Calling a person you’ve known your whole life by their Christian name is coarse and improper.”[i]

“Just because you had to butcher a whole hog earlier this afternoon doesn’t give you an excuse to look like one, dearie.”[ii]

“As a host, offer second helpings of every course. As a guest, never, ever accept this invitation. The preparation, presentation, and consumption of this meal are as carefully timed as a space-shuttle launch; your deciding you simply must have another go at those asparagus spears can derail the whole process.”[iii]

I found this book to be entertaining and oh-so informative. I think I’ll have a hard time reading my wonderful classics without thinking about the stench and other “behind-the-scenes” facts of life in the nineteenth century.

My husband surprised me with this book for Christmas—and he did good!  Thumbs-up for a delightful and sometimes disgusting reality check!

Happy Reading,


Questions or comments?  Email

[i] Therese Oneill, Unmentionable: The Victorian Lady’s Guide to Sex, Marriage, and Manners (New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2016), 132.
[ii] Ibid., 199.
[iii] Ibid., 231.