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Sex, Knowledge, and Receptions of the Past$
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Kate Fisher and Rebecca Langlands

Print publication date: 2015

Print ISBN-13: 9780199660513

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: September 2015

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199660513.001.0001

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The Victorians

The Victorians

Our Others, Our Selves?

(p.160) 7 The Victorians
Sex, Knowledge, and Receptions of the Past

Lesley A. Hall

Oxford University Press

The Victorians and their sexuality exert a hypnotic fascination over historians. In spite of historical revisionism, ‘Victorian’ remains a well-understood term for repressive attitudes, floating free from the chronological and geographical limits of Victoria’s actual reign. There have been distinctive shifts in the representation of Victorian sexuality. Initially, Victorianism represented the regime against which reformers were struggling. During the Sexual Revolution studies suggested seething lustful undercurrents beneath the respectable exteriors, and every few years a book appears which purports to reveal that the Victorians were just like ourselves in their enjoyment of sex. Are the Victorians a Rorschach test for changing contemporary ideas about sex and society, or does each generation create the Victorians it needs? The Victorians were numerous, and diverse, enough to provide a kaleidoscope of innumerable possibilities of sexual belief and behaviour and a well of contradictory stories.

Keywords:   Victorian, Victorianism, sexuality, historians, repression, repressive hypothesis, hypocrisy, feminism, sexual revolution

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