• Caitlyn Lynch

Non-Fiction Book Review: Sex and Sexuality in Georgian Britain by Mike Rendell


This is a thorough examination of the morals and mindset of Georgian Britons towards sex and sexuality, and it doesn’t shy away from any of the unpalatable truths - like the age of consent for marriage being 12 for much of the era. Or that venereal disease was both rife and pretty much untreatable by any medical intervention.


There’s some genuinely fascinating information here, like some thumbnail character sketches of some of the era’s most famous courtesans - the It Girls of their day - and some summaries of court cases which can only outrage modern sensibilities, covering as they do some fairly ghastly crimes where the accused was acquitted despite apparently incontrovertible evidence of their guilt. Trigger warnings apply for the entire book for the extremely sensitive topics of rape, paedophilia, spousal abuse, involuntary prostitution, sexually transmitted diseases, homophobia and more. It’s an extremely frank and sometimes pithy look at a society which had quite different views on sex to the fairly sanitized view you might get from reading novels set in the era.


Where the author makes a major, and pretty unforgivable, mis-step is in the chapters regarding what he calls ‘cross-dressing’ and ‘transvestites’. The author’s complete failure to respect Doctor James Barry’s right to self-determination of gender - and indeed, failure to note any of his achievements - felt frankly transphobic, and it wasn’t the only place this happened, just the most egregious. Considering the thoughtful examination of homosexuality and lesbianism, this transphobia - and the bi erasure I also noted - was severely disappointing.


I honestly don’t know how to rate this. Some of it is so, so good; it’s well-written, engaging and educational, and exceedingly useful if you’re writing Georgian romance in particular. And yet there’s the transphobia and the bi erasure.


I think in the end, I can only give it three stars; as a reference book, your library should maybe have it in stock, but I don’t think I’d want it in my personal collection.

Sex and Sexuality in Georgian Britain is available now.


Disclaimer: I received a review copy of this title via NetGalley.

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© 2016 by Catherine Bilson

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