- Series: Published by the Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture and the University of North Carolina Press
- Paperback: 432 pages
- Publisher: Omohundro Institute and University of North Carolina Press; 1 edition (February 27, 2006)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0807856754
- ISBN-13: 978-0807856758
- Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.1 x 9.2 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 6 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #591,269 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Sex among the Rabble: An Intimate History of Gender and Power in the Age of Revolution, Philadelphia, 1730-1830 (Published by the Omohundro Institute ... and the University of North Carolina Press) 1st Edition
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Important and comprehensive . . . likely to become the major point of reference for anyone studying sexual practices and gender politics during the founding of the American republic.--Eighteenth-Century Life
No summary of Lyons' argument can communicate the richness of her data or the subtlety with which she wields it.--Journal of American History
This fascinating and well-written book describes the making of a 'vibrant pleasure culture' in Philadelphia. . . . Lyons tells a rich story, one full of surprises. . . . An intriguing book that merits a wide audience.--American Historical Review
An impressive scholarly accomplishment. . . . So engaging and intriguing that, after four hundred pages, the reader wants more.--Historian
Lyons skillfully crafts a book exploring the evolution of power in colonial and early American Philadelphia. . . . [Sex Among the Rabble] includes both a convincing thesis and compelling stories.--Teaching History
Social history of the highest quality.--Early American Literature
Masterful.--Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography
[A] bold, wide-ranging, and deeply researched book. . . . Refreshingly, it places at the center of analysis the issues of desire and pleasure. . . . The heroes of this book are lusty women shaping their own destinies, satisfying their desires, and pursuing sexual pleasure. . . . Placing provocative interpretations on the table, [it] succeeds admirably.--Journal of Interdisciplinary History
Masters the unstable terrain of sexualities and power relations, and gives readers a new, compelling, and politically significant way to understand the transformations underway in the age of revolutions.--Journal of the Early Republic
Summarizing this book does not do justice to its rich detail, attention to race and class, effort to link culture and practice, and fine writing. The amount and quality of information is staggering. . . . With abounding detail it unearths valuable material.--William and Mary Quarterly
Lyons has given us a book that has awaited its author for many decades--about sex and the city. The book . . . brims over with a brilliant fusion of social, cultural, and intellectual history, and builds a major thesis--the creation of 'the modern American sexual system'--on an indefatigable exploration of almanacs, poor relief records, court cases, and a host of other sources. . . . More than ever, readers will see how governing sexual relations is one of the most potent weapons of those who would control the city.--Gary B. Nash, University of California at Los Angeles
Historians have long believed that as the eighteenth century gave way to the nineteenth, the western world's ideas about sex changed dramatically. As to sexual behavior, however, we have remained largely in the dark. Using the records of the early republic's biggest city, Lyons charts the demise of a vibrant 'culture of pleasure'--in practice as well as in theory. . . . Required reading for anyone who wants to understand the foundations of modern sexuality.--Suzanne D. Lebsock, Rutgers University
Lyons's provocative study illuminates a surprising post-Revolutionary world of sexual license in which the old rules have broken down and new individualist behaviors have arisen in their place. But the heyday of the lusty woman . . . was to be short-lived, subdued by the reassertion of sexual order through a redefinition of normative female sexuality.--Kathleen M. Brown, University of Pennsylvania
Top customer reviews
I came to this book interested in a very specific point in Philadelphia's history...but also as someone who has worked for victims' rights (primarily survivors of sexual assault). I can't emphasize enough how looking at this particular century of change in Philadelphians' attitudes about sexuality and gender can tell us how mutable attitudes about sex and gender are.
Between 1730 and 1830, prevailing attitudes about extra-marital sex--from prostitution to adultery to seduction to bastardy to child support--went from permissive understanding about women as individuals and as victims of male predation (but who still had power to shape their lives and to recover from poor treatment) to the more typical fallen-woman-brought-it-on-herself attitude that sadly still exists. (See also: "What did you think would happen if you dressed like that?" and "Why didn't you scream?" and "How much did you have to drink?")
But Philadelphia in the decades before the Revolution was liberal and rather practical in how it treated sex. For example, prostitution was rarely prosecuted, divorce was relatively easy to obtain (extra-judicially, but a divorce law did emerge later), and there was an established bureaucracy for ensuring illegitimate children would be provided for. "Fallen" women could go on with their lives and rejoin society.
In the early nineteenth century, though, all of this was changing as gender/sex roles calcified. "Fallen" women narratives in literature generally ended in disease and death. Women had fewer resources available to them to obtain support for their illegitimate children. This understanding is the story we're already familiar with.
Although it is disheartening thinking about the once progressive city's inevitable march to Antebellum/Victorian attitudes, I came away from the book with renewed hope that a reverse trend--toward compassion and understanding and assistance--is possible, too. In the last thirty years, so much has changed in the US and around the world. At the end of a century, just imagine how far we could go.
Lyons argues that late colonial Philadelphia supported an exuberant populist sexual culture that tolerated bastardy, casual prostitution, serial monogamy, and "self-divorce." Both men and women were believed to be naturally "lusty," and the popular press celebrated sexual desire in bawdy verse and anecdotes. After the Revolution, however, Americans' sense that the survival of the republic depended on individual virtue and self-restraint led to a re-imagining of sexuality. As men were believed to possess imperfect control over their sexual impulses, women-- now characterized as possessing only moderate, rather flaccid sexual desire-- were expected to help men control their lust. These ideas reshaped popular attitudes towards all sorts of nonmarital sexual activity, and the city fathers introduced much more punitive policies towards women who bore bastards or engaged in prostitution.
The book's strengths include its lively source material, notably the sex diary kept by an unknown Philadelphia man in the early 1790s; its meticulous analysis; and Lyons's effort to preserve a balance between analyzing ideas about sexuality and analyzing sexual behavior. On the whole, I found her treatment of the eighteenth century stronger than her treatment of the early nineteenth century. The chapters that treat the re-imagining of sexuality in the post-Revolutionary era seem to have an elite bias; I wish Lyons had made as full use of the popular press in these chapters as she did in the first section of the book. That said, this book is unquestionably essential reading for anyone who is interested in gender in Revolutionary and early national America.