[LMB] Thinking of England (was) Dono

Gwynne Powell gwynnepowell at hotmail.com
Wed Jan 5 01:37:33 GMT 2011

> From: John Lennard john.c.lennard at gmail.com

> Sorry to throw cold historical water about, but this is simply not so.
> There's no evidence for the attitudes one can characterise as 'lying back
> and thinking of England' before the mid-late C19, and very good evidence of
> many kinds that nothing of the kind prevailed in the C16-18. Further, that
> C19 aversion to sex has -nothing- to do with aristocracy or aristocratic
> attitudes, and everything to do with (i) the extreme modesty codes
> associated with the great Nonconformist revival that fuelled the Purity
> Campaign, Tee-Totalism, missionary work in slums and empire &c. -- an
> overwhelmingly bourgeois and petit bourgeois phenomenon reviling pretty much
> everything between navel and knees ; and more sharply to the point, (ii)
> corseting.
> For the squeamish, TMI warning ...
> Aristocracy is no doubt responsible for many wrongs and some evils, but
> teaching women a (by no means irrational) distaste for sex and fear of its
> consequences really isn't one of them.
> John Lennard, MA DPhil. (Oxon.), MA (WU)

I'm not sure that your cause-effect links are correct here. Throughout history
upper-class women's clothing has been designed to not only show rank, but 
to show that the woman is of high enough rank that she doesn't need to work,
and the clothing makes movement more difficult to demonstrate that (spectacularly
shown with the bound feet of women in certain parts of Chinese societies).
As a very general rule, upper class women had longer skirts, tighter clothes, 
ridiculous shoes, very elaborate hair or wigs, and so on. Corsets come into
this also - a lower-class woman could never work in such a tight garment, and
didn't have the maids necessary to get her into it (that's another feature of
high-status clothing, it often took several people to get the woman dressed.)
This restriction of free movement was also a way to maintain control over
the freedom of women. Limiting sexual access to your females is important
in patrilineal societies. And since most marriages are arranged for dynastic, 
political and business reasons, rather than inclination, there have to be ways
of controlling female sexual behaviour. Concepts of duty are very important
in that situation.
You're right that not all eras disdained sex, often the rule was that after the
heir-and-a-spare, the woman was free to pursue her own interests. And
never comment on a family likeness, or lack of it, after the first two sons.
But the socialisation of young high-status women was aimed solely at producing
an appropriate product, including virginity and guaranteed sexual conformity.
Religion was often part of this process, and in the UK and most of Europe, control 
of female sexuality was a huge focus of religious teachings - 'a cathedral 
built over a sewer' was the attitude for centuries. In medieval times in England,
a woman who committed adultery was technically guilty of heresy, (and sometimes
treason) since she'd offended against the proper order of things, though this
was rarely invoked. 
This is a huge topic, ranging over time, distance, and from one society to
another, I'm just looking at it very generally. There are some features that
are common to this type of society.

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