From Publishers Weekly
In 1839, a young physician named Charles Knowlton challenged the prevailing argument that birth control was somehow "against nature." "It is also against nature to cut our nails, our hair, or to shave the beard," he wrote. "What is civilized life but one continual warfare against nature?" While many agreed with Knowlton's views, others found his support for contraceptives dangerous or even obscene, since it would certainly encourage the young men and women who yearned for sexual intimacy without any consequences. Conflicts between those committed to sexual knowledge and those determined to suppress it form the foundation of this well-researched study. Horowitz (The Power and Passion of M. Carey Thomas) argues that 19th-century Americans did not have a single, dominant sexual culture; rather, competing groups of Americans fought for their own definitions of sex in courtrooms, in the press, in churches and in politics. Americans were "engaged in a complex four-way conversation about sex": there was the "American vernacular sexual culture" (with its "earthy acceptance" of desire), evangelical Christianity (which was more prudish), "reform physiology" (whose adherents focused on healthy bodily functions) and a "new sensibility" (which viewed sex as life's central act). Horowitz offers a sharp and insightful scholarly examination of these conflicting frameworks, steeped in 19th-century history, cultural politics, religion, legal battles, science and medical practices. Her work addresses conflicting attitudes toward sexual knowledge, erotica, birth control, masturbation, abortion and obscenity laws, previewing the passionate cultural battles that continue to grab headlines today. 86 illus.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.
From Library Journal
This detailed examination of the representation as distinct from practice of American sexuality in the 19th century is the most thorough treatment of the subject yet to appear. Horowitz (American studies, Smith Coll.) is one of the great historians of American feminism, and her 1997 Power and Passion of M. Carey Thomas, a biography of the visionary advocate/designer of women's higher education, is the most acclaimed among a half-dozen books that have made their mark in academe. Horowitz's singular contribution here is her reconstruction/rediscovery of Victorian-era erotic literature or what has survived of it; her "rereading" establishes that the current contest over what is pornographic and where the lines meet among the expressive, informative, and prurient continues a long contest. Many of the players in these debates, however, are well-known subjects of important biographies and smaller-scale histories, including Sylvester Graham, Victoria Woodhull, and Anthony Comstock. And while New York as publishing and entertainment center was undeniably the locus for struggles over sex, Horowitz might have shown greater interest in what was happening with these questions outside the five boroughs. Of course, that leaves an opening for her colleagues. Essential for academic libraries.Scott H. Silverman, Bryn Mawr Coll. Lib., PA
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.