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About this book

Sexual attitudes and behaviour have changed radically in Britain between the Victorian era and the twenty-first century. However, Lesley A. Hall reveals how slow and halting the processes of change have been, and how many continuities have persisted under a façade of modernity.

Thoroughly revised, updated and expanded, the second edition of this established text:
• explores a wide range of relevant topics including marriage, homosexuality, commercial sex, media representations, censorship, sexually transmitted diseases and sex education
• features an entirely new last chapter which brings the narrative right up to the present day
• provides fresh insights by bringing together further original research and recent scholarship in the area.

Lively and authoritative, this is an essential volume for anyone studying the history of sexual culture in Britain during a period of rapid social change.

Table of Contents

Introduction

Abstract
Historians of the nineteenth century have perceived a definite change in sexual attitudes, and in ways of talking about and dealing with sexual issues, around 1880, the beginnings of certain ‘modern’ ways of thinking about sex. Michael Mason has suggested that much early twentieth-century reaction against Victorianism was aimed specifically at those decades, during which leading anti-Victorians had grown up, while Simon Szreter has made a persuasive case for the persistence of a ‘long Victorian era’ in Britain, which only dissolved in the 1960s, rather than at the death of the Queen in 1901.1
Lesley A. Hall

1. The Victorian Background

Abstract
‘The Victorians’ and their sex lives remain endlessly fascinating in the popular mind. Several memorable but erroneous ideas are constantly recirculated by journalists and the media.1 In spite of numerous scholarly works deconstructing any idea of a monolithic Victorian morality, there is a continuing stereo typical picture of the Victorians as sexually repressed hypocrites; while every few years for the past forty or so somebody publishes a popular book promising to overturn all these received ideas about the Victorians (usually by focusing on particular individuals, groups, or subcultures behaving in ways counter to the stereotype).2
Lesley A. Hall

2. Social Purity and Evolving Sex in the 1880s

Abstract
The 1880s saw a new development: an increasingly conscious interest in, and attention to, the phenomena of sexuality. The social purity movement, stimulated by the injustices of the Contagious Diseases (CD) Acts, had developed an articulate attack on what it saw as the evils of the existing sexual system, embodied in the double moral standard which permitted sexual peccadilloes to men, while punishing the slightest deviation from chastity in women. Sex was becoming a topic of discussion: contested and censored, but moving from the realm of silent assumptions into the forum of debate. It was also, though rather more slowly in Britain than on the continent, becoming a subject for scientific analysis.
Lesley A. Hall

3. Scientific Sex, Unspeakable Oscar, and Insurgent Women in the ‘Naughty Nineties’

Abstract
The 1890s opened with a cause célèbre focusing on an ‘unmentionable crime’ that became a recurrent theme of the decade: homosexuality. The ‘Cleveland Street Scandal’ initially broke during 1889. In the course of an enquiry into thefts at the General Post Office, Charles Swinscow, a messenger boy, revealed that the suspicious amount of money in his possession had been given to him ‘for going to bed with gentlemen’ at a house in Cleveland Street in central London, owned by a Mr Charles Hammond. Henry Newlove, a third-class clerk, was indulging in ‘indecent’ behaviour with the messengers in an underground lavatory in the Post Office building, then procuring them for male prostitution (the telegraph-boy had become a fetishized erotic object for upper- and upper-middle-class Victorian homosexuals).
Lesley A. Hall

4. Degenerating Nation? Anxieties and Protests in a New Century

Abstract
The first decade of the twentieth century in Britain has been characterized in contradictory ways. Samuel Hynes, in his influential study The Edwardian Turn of Mind (1968), contrasted the nostalgic image of Edwardian England as a ‘golden afternoon’, a ‘long garden-party’, with the contemporaneous ‘Labour Party World’ (the Labour Party actually became a Parliamentary political force during this decade) and characteristically modern developments technological (aircraft, radiotelegraphy, cinema) and cultural (psychoanalysis, literary modernism, ‘modern art’).1 Yet 1900 was neither the dawn of a hopeful new era, casting off the outworn shackles of Victorianism (symbolized in the death of the old Queen herself in 1901), or the continuation of Victorian Imperial glories. Simple dualisms hardly begin to define this time of ferment.
Lesley A. Hall

5. Divorce, Disease, and War

Abstract
In 1920 a Committee considering the question of the state and sexual morality remarked:
In the years immediately preceding the outbreak of war in August 1914, British people had been increasingly concerned about the question of sexual morality, its effects upon the status of women, on the birth-rate and general health, as well as the existence (and some thought the increase) of commercialized vice.1
Concern for these issues thus pre-dated what is often considered a precipitating event for anxieties and action.
Lesley A. Hall

6. Roars of Rebellion, Roars of Reaction: The Ambivalences of the Twenties

Abstract
Writer Douglas Goldring looked back nostalgically at ‘the little girls in the 1917 Club who used to run about talking about libidos and orgasms’,1 but while claiming that the twenties saw ‘a new freedom of discussion among the advanced of both sexes’, also considered that for the majority of women, ‘marriage, motherhood, professional activity or hard physical labour continued to absorb creative energy’ and kept them on the paths of ‘virtue’. Temporarily during the twenties, he claimed, fashion-setting society and the intelligentsia touched and even overlapped. This Bohemian ferment’s ‘stream of new and iconoclastic ideas’ was widely disseminated through the writings of members of the group (and probably also through media versions, not necessarily approving). The effect of all this ‘on the sex behaviour of the average young person’ was conjectural.2
Lesley A. Hall

7. Population Fears and Progressive Agendas During the Thirties

Abstract
The 1929 Local Government Act might seem to have little to do with sex, but its tidying up of various anomalies, abolishing the guardians of the poor and transferring their responsibilities, and reorganizing the system of grants in aid had significant implications in at least two areas. Also, the effect of the abolition of the stigmatizing poor law system is hard to calculate (especially as the Depression soon brought the hated Means Test for benefits), but was part of continuing moves towards seeing health and welfare benefits as something to which all members of society were entitled, rather than minimal provision grudgingly doled out to those in extreme need.
Lesley A. Hall

8. War and the Welfare State

Abstract
The Second World War disrupted existing sexual lives and provided, in some cases, new sexual opportunities: men went into the forces, mothers and children were evacuated, women directed according to labour needs. Traditional indicators revealed the effects of social disruption and, doubtless, stress and uncertainty. Illegitimate births among all fertile age groups increased (some, to married women who registered the children as their husbands’, presumably occluded from the record),1 and the number of criminal abortions known to the police quadrupled (probably an underestimate).2 This did not necessarily signify unrestrained sexual indulgence, many conceptions taking place in circumstances which, in less chaotic times, would have led to marriage. The change was in social context rather than actual activity,3 and it is perhaps something of an exaggeration to claim that ‘sexual restraint had been suspended for the duration, as the traditional licence of the battlefield invaded the home front’.4
Lesley A. Hall

9. Domestic Ideology and Undercurrents of Change in the Fifties

Abstract
Austerity persisted as the 1950s began, with many commodities still rationed, and a housing shortage that meant that many married couples commenced wedlock in their parents’ houses.1 There was ‘much that remained from the Thirties: ageing celebrities, ancient rituals’,2 and the decade often seen as one of ‘right-wing traditionalism and cultural stagnation’.3 Frank Mort, however, argues that invocation of tradition by elitist ‘upper-class revivalism’ was heavily inflected by the experiences of the War and involvement with new consumer cultures.4 On the surface, there seemed to be little that was revolutionary, or even reforming, going on in the area of sexual mores. Rather the converse. However, Geoffrey Gorer’s discovery, in Exploring English Character (1955), that ‘Most English people’s views on sexual morality are more rigid than their personal practice’ should perhaps be borne in mind.5
Lesley A. Hall

10. Swinging? For Whom? The Sixties and Seventies

Abstract
The First of January 1960 did not see the sudden dawning of a new age of sexual freedom in Britain. It would be several years before ‘the long Victorian’ era could be considered over. None the less, premonitory trends already under way in the preceding decade continued and intensified.
Lesley A. Hall

11. Approaching the Millennium

Abstract
The Tory regime under Margaret Thatcher which came to power in 1979 combined extreme economic libertarianism, aiming at changing a ‘culture of dependency’ into an energetic ‘enterprise culture’ (concepts bearing rather gendered overtones), with strong commitment to moral regeneration of a nation perceived as vitiated through the insidious inroads of ‘permissiveness’ (strongly associated with the Labour Party), by a return to what were specifically designated as ‘Victorian values’. While the state was getting ‘out of the boardroom’ to let business thrive in free-market competitive terms, rather than getting out of the bedroom, it was increasingly regulating areas of ‘private’ life.1
Lesley A. Hall

12. Into a New Millennium: Changes and Continuities

Abstract
As we draw closer to the present, it becomes increasingly difficult to write a coherent account of sex, gender, and social change, and more like standing too close to an Impressionist painting. Very little historical work has been done and archival resources may not yet be available. It is hard to assess what will prove most important in the long run: major developments may be occluded by what seems significant in the short term or because of media furore.
Lesley A. Hall

Coda: Sex, Gender and Social Change in Britain: What Next for the Historian?

Abstract
The study of the history of sexuality is becoming increasingly legitimized, and between the publication of the first edition of Sex, Gender and Social Change in 2000 and the preparation of a second edition in 2011/12 there was an explosion of relevant historiography. However, significant gaps remain in our knowledge and there are areas still to be fully explored.
Lesley A. Hall
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