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Preface

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  01 June 2011

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Summary

When I began research on this project in 1970, sexuality and prostitution were only just emerging as legitimate subjects for historical inquiry. Two influential works, Steven Marcus's The Other Victorians (1966), and a 1963 essay by Peter Cominos, had already begun to explore the relationship between sexual ideology and social structures and to identify prostitution as a fundamental aspect of social life in Victorian Britain.

Since that time, the study of Victorian sexuality has been refined in a number of ways. Critics have challenged the assumption of a unitary, Victorian culture and single, repressive standard of sexuality. Others have questioned how precisely sexual prescription translated into behavior. Historians of women, in particular, have taken exception to the exclusively negative image of women – as subordinated, silent victims of male sexual abuse – that emerged from the study of prescriptive and pornographic literature. Instead Mary Ryan, Carroll Smith-Rosenberg, and Linda Gordon have focused on the efforts of female moral reformers in America to dictate sexual standards and to carve out a moral territory for themselves in the public world. Although the argument for women's power and autonomy can be carried too far – female moral reformers sometimes reinforced rather than challenged modes of class and gender domination – the story of women's resistance to the dominant forces of society needs to be told.

The Contagious Diseases Acts present a particularly good opportunity to study class and gender relations in mid-Victorian Britain.

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Prostitution and Victorian Society
Women, Class, and the State
, pp. vii - x
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 1980

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  • Preface
  • Judith R. Walkowitz
  • Book: Prostitution and Victorian Society
  • Online publication: 01 June 2011
  • Chapter DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9780511583605.001
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  • Preface
  • Judith R. Walkowitz
  • Book: Prostitution and Victorian Society
  • Online publication: 01 June 2011
  • Chapter DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9780511583605.001
Available formats
×

Send book to Google Drive

To send content items to your account, please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account. Find out more about sending content to Google Drive.

  • Preface
  • Judith R. Walkowitz
  • Book: Prostitution and Victorian Society
  • Online publication: 01 June 2011
  • Chapter DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9780511583605.001
Available formats
×