Rereading Sex: Battles Over Sexual Knowledge and Suppression in Nineteenth-century America

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Vintage Books, 2003 - History - 514 pages
From bawdy talk to evangelical sermons, and from celebrations of free love to prosecutions for obscenity, nineteenth-century America encompassed a far broader range of sexual attitudes and ideas than the Victorian stereotype would have us believe. In Rereading Sex, Helen Lefkowitz Horowitz lets us listen to the national conversation about sex in the nineteenth century and hear voices that resonate in our own time.

Probing court records, pamphlets, and “sporting men’s” magazines, Horowitz shows us a many-voiced America in which an earthy acceptance of desire and sexual expression collided with prohibitions broadcast from the pulpit. We encounter fascinating reformers like Victoria Woodhull, who advocated free love and became the first woman to run for president; faddists like Sylvester Graham, who obsessed about the dangers of masturbation; and moral crusaders like Anthony Comstock, who succeeded in banning sexual subject matter from the mails. We also see how newspapers like the Sunday Flash treated prostitutes like celebrities and how the National Police Gazette found a legal way to write about explicity about sex through crime reports that read like gossip columns. Employing an encyclopedic knowledge artfully rendered, Horowitz brings to the fore a wide spectrum of attitudes and a debate echoed in the culture wars of today.

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About the author (2003)

Helen Lefkowitz Horowitz, Sylvia Dlugasch Bauman Professor in American Studies at Smith College, is the author of The Power and Passion of M. Carey Thomas (1994), Campus Life (1987), Alma Mater (1984), and Culture and the City (1976). She is the recipient of grants and fellowships from, among others, the Radcliffe Institute and the American Antiquarian Society. Rereading Sex was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, the finalist for the Francis Parkman Prize, and the winner of the Merle Curti Prize from the Organization of American Historians. She has taught at Scripps College and the University of Southern California. She and her husband, Daniel, live in Northampton and Cambridge, Massachusetts.

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