Unmentionable: The Victorian Lady's Guide to Sex, Marriage, and Manners (Paperback)

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I brought Unmentionable home as a joke, knowing I needed to spend more time with it, knowing it's been a while since I've forced my husband to listen to me read sections of a book he is not familiar with out loud. This did not disappoint. Sitting on the couch in my dirty yoga pants, a worn old Star Wars tee, my hair up in a greasy bun, I set into a chapter titled "Being a Good Wife: How to Avoid His Eventual Resentment for as Long as Possible" and learned that the first most common path to marital ruin is Being Messy (at least in the Victorian Era). Here we learn about "The Slovenly Wife" from an 1838 edition of The Ladies Garland. This slobby Victorian woman led her marriage and husband to ruin all for her "slovenly" dress and housekeeping. I stop and scoop spilled ice cream off my shirt and continue.
"She makes a halfhearted attempt to clean up her act, but it never sticks. Her husband, too mortified to bring friends home, begins meeting with them at a nearby tavern. 'From that day his flourishing business and his handsome wife become more and more neglected.' Soon the husband becomes a drunkard, though never even having touched a drop before his wife's grotesque appearance drove him to the tavern. Their shop closes and they become destitute. The husband is too miserable to ever feel love for his hideous wife again. Their story closes in shame, wretchedness, and ruin."
I stare up blankly at my own husband, also in sweatpants and an old tee scooping ice cream out of the tub and remind him to tell me if I ever get too slovenly, he laughs and agrees. From here we learn the other things I am doing to drive our marriage to ruin, such as: "Getting Old; Asking for Stuff; Having Opinions, Passions, and Strengths; Being a Bad Cook (sometimes terrible); and of course Getting Mad When He Cheats (Hypothetically).
Now I don't know if it is because I am a sucker for fun history, or if it's that I revel in not measuring up to Victorian standards of womanhood, or maybe it's just because I am human but this book is hilarious. Full of reminders that women have come a long way and there are good reasons to keep moving forward. If you want to laugh or know someone who wants to laugh, and if you are not too sheepish about reading the full breadth of what is expected or natural for a Victorian woman to encounter, do yourself a favor and pick it up. You, like me, will not be disappointed.

— From Chelsea


Have you ever wished you could live in an earlier, more romantic era? Ladies, welcome to the 19th century, where there's arsenic in your face cream, a pot of cold pee sits under your bed, and all of your underwear is crotchless. (Why? Shush, dear. A lady doesn't question.)

Unmentionable is your hilarious, illustrated, scandalously honest (yet never crass) guide to the secrets of Victorian womanhood, 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!

Irresistibly charming, laugh-out-loud funny, and featuring nearly 200 images from Victorian publications, Unmentionable will inspire a whole new level of respect for Elizabeth Bennett, Scarlet O'Hara, Jane Eyre, and all of our great, great grandmothers. (And it just might leave you feeling ecstatically grateful to live in an age of pants, super absorbency tampons, epidurals, anti-depressants, and not dying of the syphilis your husband brought home.)

About the Author

Therese Oneill is the New York Times bestselling author of Unmentionable: The Victorian Lady's Guide to Sex, Marriage and Manners. She can be found online at www.writerthereseoneill.com.

Praise For…

"Hysterically funny and unsettlingly fascinating. This book is full of awesome."—Jenny Lawson, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Let's Pretend This Never Happened and Furiousl

"Oneill uncovers the filthy, untidy, licentious conditions of nineteenth-century women's lives that novelists of the period often glossed over...brilliantly conveyed with fascinating illustrations."—Elle

"Oh, did Constant Reader's heart lift after turning page the first. It's hard to imagine a woman - or a teenage girl - who won't love this book."—The Washington Post

"Oneill has created a book so excellently informative about the Victorian period, it should be shelved right next to Dickens for reference. Your stomach will hurt so much from laughing, you'll be thankful you're not wearing a corset."—Bustle

"Unmentionable transports us back to the world of middle-class 19th-century women, with special emphasis on the messy details that costume dramas airbrush out...With a 4-year-old's scatological glee, Oneill details the logistics of old-time peeing, pooping, gestating, menstruating and mating...For Oneill, Victorian time travel is a tour of horrors that makes us thankful to come home to tampons and toilets."—New York Times

"If Unmentionable does not secure the Pulitzer Prize for Most Fascinating Book Ever, the whole gig is rigged. Hilarious, horrifying, shocking and revelatory, this book is for every girl who pictured herself running through a field of wildflowers in a silk dress and Little House on the Prairie boots, only to discover she has nits in her hair, her clothes have never been washed and she sleeps with her poop under her bed in a bowl. A miracle of a book and one of my favorite reads ever, Unmentionable will be my go-to gift this year. All hail Therese Oneill for uncovering all of that dirty, dirty laundry."—Laurie Notaro, #1 New York Times bestselling author of It Looked Different on the Model and Housebro

"If you've ever felt like you should have been born in another time, Unmentionable will disabuse you of that sensibility, and it will do so charmingly."—Vice/Broadly

"Flat-out hysterical (and occasionally alarming)...Read it and be very, very glad you're a woman of modern times."—Good Housekeeping

"Oneill writes from the perspective of an all-knowing, slightly cheeky Victorian woman giving guidance to the contemporary woman. The result is a thoroughly researched but hilarious look into daily life of the Victorian woman."

The Millions

"A fascinating look into the shocking pseudoscience of the 1800s, in which Oneill sheds new light on the origins of today's misogyny, double standards, and just plain mystery surrounding women that, maddeningly enough, persist."—Booklist

Product Details
ISBN: 9780316357906
ISBN-10: 0316357901
Publisher: Back Bay Books
Publication Date: May 8th, 2018
Pages: 320
Language: English
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