Book Review: Unmentionable by Therese Oneill

Posted December 18, 2016 by Renae // 0 Comments

Book Review: Unmentionable by Therese Oneill

Title: Unmentionable: The Victorian Lady's Guide to Sex, Marriage, and Manners
Author: Therese Oneill
Release Date: October 25, 2016

Summary from Goodreads:

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.

Nostalgia is, I think, not uncommon, and honestly understandable at some levels. We tend to romanticize the past, remember the so-called “good old days.” Many of us would like to make things “great again” somehow (yes, I’m looking at those folks sitting to my right). Missing, however, is the undeniably true knowledge that the past was only ever good for some people, people who had privilege and power. Enter Unmentionable: The Victorian Lady’s Guide to Sex, Marriage, and Manners. To every woman who’s dreamed of living the charmed life of Scarlett O’Hara or a heroine in a romance novel, Therese Oneill says “THINK AGAIN!”

And I’m not saying that people are stupid. I think we all (or most of us, anyway), know that jumping into a time machine and visiting some idealized historical period isn’t going to fix your problems. However, if you watch a lot of period dramas, one might think it would be fun to visit 1870s London just for fun. Well, my friends, this book is here to disabuse you of that notion, 100%.

If you like historical things, if you like to get angry about sexism and misogyny, and if you like to laugh at on-point sarcasm, Unmentionable is the book for you. The book offers a comprehensive overview as to what life for the averagely wealthy 19th century woman. Spoiler alert: it kind of sucked. The author has separated her material into topical chapters such as “Getting Dressed: How to Properly Hide Your Shame” and “Birth Control and Other Affronts to God” which are detailed and comprehensive, with plenty of primary sources, and also snarky as all get out.

Sure, sure, there is some pretty horrifying stuff going on in this book. Like, y’know, removing a woman’s clitoris just for funsies and because “hysteria.” That’s super gross. But I also think it’s important to look back and see how things used to be and recognize what progress has been made. Though obviously we still have quite a ways to go. And just because Therese Oneill is using humor and sarcasm to get her point across doesn’t mean her message is any less potent. I appreciate that I could laugh about the silliness of “fan language” and also understand how absolutely horrific the situation of the poor woman using her fan really was.

So. Unmentionable: The Victorian Lady’s Guide to Sex, Marriage, and Manners is well-researched, entertaining, and informative. It’s an honest look into a bygone era, and it manages to deliver its message without being boring or didactic. I would definitely read this again or gift it to a history-minded friend.

Renae has written book reviews and other miscellany for Respiring Thoughts since 2012. She loves dogs, Mexican food, mountains, Shakespeare, and procrastinating. She's currently working on an undergrad degree in English/Spanish lit in the Midwest. Connect with Renae on Twitter, Goodreads, and Tumblr.

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