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The Worm in the Bud: The World of Victorian…

The Worm in the Bud: The World of Victorian Sexuality (1969)

by Ronald Pearsall

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Last night I finished reading Ronald Pearsall's The Worm in the Bud, his famous study of Victorian sexuality. Whilst there is lots of interesting information in the book, I had problems with the tone of the book. I think in part this reflects the fact that it was first published in 1969. Although Pearsall appears to sympathise with the general lot of Victorian women, overall he tends to the opinion that men are naturally rapacious, and women just have to lump it. When reporting a particularly shocking and revolting case of sexual abuse upon a very young child, Pearsall's only comment is a rather neutral 'Man can be, indeed, a strange and terrible animal'. Perhaps it's just me, but I catch a whiff of admiration in this sentiment.

Pearsall also has some eyebrow-raising things to say about homosexuality, viz, that anal intercourse among gay men 'is not believed to be very common'. Uh? Says who? He relies rather too heavily on the findings of the Kinsey report, and uses this to compare sexual behaviour 'today' with that experienced in the Victorian age.

When discussing bachelors, he clearly sympathises with men who preferred to pursue other matters than courtship (although he's happy to generalise that 'The solitary life tends to bring in its train nervous disorders'). When it comes to spinsters, though, his view seems to be that if women didn't marry it was because they were either suffering from a 'constitutional weakness' or were too unattractive to receive any offers of marriage. In other words, according to Pearsall, men naturally shy away from the married state (there are always whores...), whilst woman's 'natural inclinations' were towards marriage.

Overall, The Worm in the Bud is a useful resource to dip in to. It's very readable, and there is interesting material presented in bite-sized pieces, but Pearsall's tone will likely grate if, like me, you're a 21st century feminist :-)
[January 2010] ( )
  startingover | Feb 1, 2011 |
I believe the author had a research problem in the writing of this book. In the Victorian Era it seems there was a lot more written by and about men than was written by and about women. He wrote a fair amount about public schools and homosexuality but little about women's schools and lesbianism. Of course, there was a great deal written about public schools and almost nothing written about women's few places of education.

Then there is the author's reliance on Kinsey's reports on human sexuality. Now I realize those reports were the only information available at the time, but the author uses them unquestioningly. And even if those reports were totally correct that is no reason to believe that Victorian statistics would have been just the same. To say that if Kinsey says sexuality now is so-and-so then Victorian sexuality was also so-and-so is very shaky reasoning.

If you read the book keep in mind that most of the source material was written by men and for men. The book made it plain that it was not a good time to be a woman. Women were caught in the constrictions of middle-class morality. For a woman to live her own life meant she was cast out by a society that had brainwashed her into a certain mode of conduct all her life. Even though some did it it was hard to do.

Finally, there is no bibliography in the book. The books he used for research are mentioned in the Notes and References but I think the lack of a separate bibliography is sheer laziness.

The book is worth reading and worth using as a reference but its faults must be kept in mind specially when considering statistics. But read it and decide for yourself. I think it will repay your time.
  xenchu | Mar 3, 2010 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0750933356, Paperback)

This classic book on Victorian hypocrisy reveals the other side of Victoria's Britain, and what really went on behind the lace curtains and aspidistras. Ronald Pearsall exposes, with thorough documentation, the bald facts of sex-life (approved and illicit) among the aristocracy, the middle class and poor in the nineteenth century. His curious record is honest, entertaining, and very humorous. It also reflects the conflicting values of the Victorian double standard - one is the very image of respectability, the other is an underground world in which repressions sought their outlet in depravity and licentiousness. In this book Ronald Pearsall introduces the reader to Ruskin and his unconsummated marriage, Swinburne and his predilection for flagellation, the cult of the corset, the flourishing trade in pornography and obscene photographs and orgies that took place under cover at sedate country houses.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:48:50 -0400)

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