Thursday 28 February 2008

Those Erotic Victorians


I am fascinated to have just stumbled across one Ida Craddock on the web; a Victorian 'sexual mystic' who believed in straightforward advice on sexual matters. A sample of her wisdom:

Well, I think that the very first thing for you to bear in mind is that, inasmuch as Nature has so arranged sex that the man is always ready (as a rule) for intercourse, whereas the woman is not, it is most unwise for the man to precipitate matters by exhibiting desire for genital contact when the woman is not yet aroused. You should remember that that organ of which you are, justly, so proud, is not possessed by a woman, and that she is utterly ignorant of its functions, practically, until she has experienced sexual contact; and that it is, to her who is not desirous of such contact, something of a monstrosity. Even when a woman has already had pleasurable experience of genital contact, she requires each time to be aroused amorously, before that organ, in its state of activity, can become attractive. For a man to exhibit, to even an experienced wife, his organ ready for action when she herself is not amorously aroused, is, as a rule, not sexually attractive to her; on the contrary, it is often sexually repulsive, and at times out and out disgusting to her. Every woman of experience knows that, when she is ready, she can cause the man to become sexually active fast enough.

It is remarkable that, for all its quaint language, this still seems a case of plain-speaking, some hundred years on. I'm not sure any UK writers were quite so frank; but I'm no expert ... if anyone would like to correct me, please write in!


  1. I suppose it depends what kind of publication. There was plenty of plain-speaking in pornography, which was often even more florid in its language, and which might describe a similar situation to the one the lady describes - priapic male scaring the daylights out of a lady until he makes her 'ready', and then she complying like the veritable clappers. But that was, I suppose, part of the fantasy. What kind of publication was this? It would be very wrong, however, to take William Acton's famous pronouncements on female lack of desire as a representative orthodoxy on the subject, as many anti-Victorians have. Do you know Matthew Sweet's book Inventing the Victorians? (Faber in the UK, not sure elsewhere). He has some very useful and illuminating examples on this.
    Like the blog.

  2. Yes, the Sweet book is very good, and glad you enjoy the blog! I've only skipped over a couple of web pages on Ms. Craddock, who appears to have been both an active proponent of sex-education and, more dubiously, late Victorian mysticism/occultism of the Theosophical variety. The quote in question is from a sex-education pamphlet Ms. Craddock wrote, entitled "The Wedding Night" ... my query, I suppose, was whether anyone in the UK wrote anything - intended for couples to read for education - quite as graphic. Apparently, the pamphlet was repeatedly banned and confiscated. Porn is, of course, another matter - speaking as someone who owns a reprint copy of My Secret Life, I am aware of how - ahem - vivid Victorian porn could be! See my website under Crime - Pornography, for some interesting snippets.

  3. Interesting how blunt Craddock is, but also interesting is the expectation that the woman have a right to sexual pleasure. Except for accounts of the Prince Regent's wife, which is, er, Regency Era [he couldn't stand her, asked for brandy when he met her, etc--didn't mean she was going to forgo sex in her life and she famously pursued it elsewhere] not Victorian, I don't remember women being described as liking sex.

    There is a book--can't think of the title--Parallel Lives? About five famous Victorian couples, in which at least one of the wives keeps a tally of orgasms, but that's about the only one I can think of (haven't gotten as far in "inventing the Victorians, yet"!).