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VICTORIANS UNDONE: Tales of the Flesh in the Age of Decorum
Bibliophile price: £6.00
Five corporeal conundrums locating five body parts at the moment they create crises in individual lives - Lady Flora's Belly, Charles Darwin's Beard, George Eliot's Hand, Fanny Cornforth's Mouth and Sweet Fanny Adams. In Victorian times privacy in the form of screens, locks, water closets, first class carriages and single beds were only available to a privileged few. For everyone else it was a question of raising thresholds of embarrassment and shame to protect against sensory overload from smells, sneezes and farts. Through the eyes of the award-winning historian and biographer Kathryn Hughes we encounter Lady Flora Hastings's swelling belly which sparks a scandal that almost brings down Queen Victoria's reign. We run our fingers through Charles Darwin's beard and wonder how men could eat with decorum despite the encroachments of a particularly bushy beard. The novelist George Eliot was proud that her right hand was bigger than her left, so why did her family desperately try to suppress this information? We learn how the pre-Raphaelite painter Dante Gabriel Rosetti takes his art in a revolutionary new direction thanks to the bee-stung lips of his secret mistress, Fanny Cornforth. Finally we meet Fanny Adams, an eight year old from Hampshire whose tragic physical dissolution has come down to us in the phrase "Sweet Fanny Adams." Based on a treasure trove of new archival material we will never think of biography or the Victorians in quite the same way again. Masterly, scholarly and wise. 414pp, 22 illus, some colour. Plus many other illus and woodcuts.

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