From Publishers Weekly
Lutz (The Dangerous Lover), a professor of Victorian literature and culture at Long Island University, explores that era as one of sexual and erotic experimentation, when an artist like Dante Gabriel Rossetti used a prostitute as a model in a painting of Mary Magdalene, and even "respectable gentlemen" sought "young grenadiers" for anonymous sex in public toilets. Artists and writers produced sexually themed writing and painting that unsettled Victorians by evincing radical ideas about sexual freedom, women's rights, and religious doubt. Rossetti brought sensuality to his paintings of sickness and death. His devout yet daring sister Christina's work reforming prostitutes inspired her own lush sensual verse. Richard Burton, the secret agent and explorer, wrote how-to manuals on sexual positions; and Algernon Charles Swinburne published verse on hermaphrodites, bisexuals, sexual sadists, incest, and the femme fatale, and loved being flogged by prostitutes dressed as schoolmasters and mistresses. Lutz's long-winded meanderings often erode the sexiness of her subject matter, but this is a perceptive, thorough assessment of Victorian erotica and those defiant ones who crafted it. 8 pages of color and 5 b&w illus. (Feb.)
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Think of Victorians: what comes to mind? Chairs swathed with fabric so that their wooden legs or “limbs” did not suggest sex? Uptight men whose wives were “angels in the house”? Certainly, but what about Oscar Wilde, Algernon Swinburne, Richard Burton? Lutz argues that they defined the period as fully as Victoria herself, draped in endless mourning for her Prince Albert. In this compellingly written multiple biography, Lutz explores two groups that formed themselves around strong personalities: the pre-Raphaelite brotherhood gathered around poet-painter Dante Gabriel Rossetti, and the Cannibal Club founded by explorer Burton. These groups, she argues, created an opening for today’s more sexually tolerant society, especially in terms of acceptance of homosexuality. While many of the more flamboyant characters of the period are relatively unknown today—artist Simeon Solomon, for instance, or hedonist Bunny Arbuthnot—those more familiar (William Morris, James McNeill Whistler, Ford Madox Brown) were just as sexually adventurous, with partner exchange, rough trade, and other unconventionalities abounding. Filled with raw and raucous detail, this book is a lasting contribution to understanding a complex and dynamic era. --Patricia Monaghan