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‘Victorian’ Ladies and Passionlessness: Myth or Reality?


1. Explain the concept of ‘passionlessness’. Was it repressive or liberating for women? Explain the ‘cult of true womanhood’. How were such ideas spread and propagated? To what extent did any women conform to these ideals? How might we tell?

2. How did 19th-century ideas about women’s sexual desires intersect in the American south with class and race-based hierarchies?


Question 1

Cott, Nancy, ‘Passionlessness: An Interpretation of Victorian Sexual Ideology, 1790-1850’, Signs, vol. 4 (1978), pp. 219-236 (Also in Kathy Peiss, ed., Major Problems in the History of American Sexuality, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, 2002).)

Blumberg, Joan Jacob, ‘The Appetite as Voice’, Food and Culture: A Reader, ed. Carole Counihan and Penny Van Esterik, Routledge (New York, 1997).

D’Emilio, John and Estelle Freedman, Intimate Matters: A History of Sexuality in America (New York, 1997), chapter 4: ‘Within the Family’.

Freedman, Estelle, ‘Sexuality in Nineteenth-Century America: Behaviour, Ideology, and Politics’, Reviews in American History, vol. 10 (1982).

Lystra, Karen, ‘Sexuality in Victorian Courtship and Marriage’, in Major Problems in the History of American Sexuality, ed. Kathy Peiss, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, 2002).

Rosenberg, Carroll Smith, Disorderly Conduct: Visions of Gender in Victorian America (New York, 1985).

Walters, Roland, ed., Primers for Prudery: Sexual Advice to Victorian America, Johns Hopkins Press (Baltimore, 2000).

Welter, Barbara, ‘The Cult of True Womanhood’, in The American Family in Social-Historical Perspective, ed. Michael Gordon, St. Martin’s Press (New York, 1978). (Also in American Quarterly, vol. 18 (1966).

Question 2

Bynum, Victoria, Unruly Women: the Politics of Social and Sexual Control in the Old South, University of North Carolina Press (1992), chapter 2: ‘White Women, Black Women. Ideals and Realities in a Piedmont Slaveholding Society’.

Clinton, Catherine, The Plantation Mistress: Woman’s World in the Old South, Pantheon Books (New York, 1982).

Fox-Genovese, Elizabeth, Within the Plantation Household: Black and White Women of the Old South, University of North Carolina (1988), chapter 4: ‘Gender Conventions’.

McMillen, Sally, Southern Women: Black and White in the Old South (1992).

Pease, J. and W., Ladies, Women and Wenches. Choices and Constraint in Antebellum Charleston and Boston, University of North Carolina (1990), chapter 7: ‘Propriety, Sexuality and Self-Control’.

Perdue, Theda, ‘Southern Indians and the Cult of True Womanhood’, in The Web of Southern Relations: Women, Family and Education, eds. eds. W. Fraser, R.F. Saunders and J. Wakelyn, University of Georgia Press (Athens, 1987).

Rosenberg, Charles, ‘Sexuality, Class and Role in 19th-Century America’, American Quarterly, vol. 25:2 (1973).

Scott, Anne Firor, The Southern Lady: From Pedestal to Politics, 1830-1930, University of Chicago (1970), Part 1: The Antebellum Lady.