The Sexual History of London: From Roman Londinium to the Swinging City—Lust, Vice, and Desire Across the Ages

Catharine Arnold, Author
Catharine Arnold. St. Martin’s, $25.99 (384p) ISBN 978-0-312-60034-1
Reviewed on: 10/10/2011
Release date: 12/06/2011
Paperback - 384 pages - 978-1-250-01530-3
Ebook - 384 pages - 978-1-4299-9006-6
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A London social historian (Necropolis) certainly knows her city and displays her knowledge with verve and savvy in this substantial and engaging work. Arnold reaches over an enormous swath of time, essentially from the founding of the Roman city in A.D. 43, bringing the surge of soldiers who needed servicing in the lupanaria, or brothels, to the unsuccessful 2009 police attempt to clear out prostitution houses in the Shepherd Market area. The Christian clergy had made their peace with prostitution, in the form of nunneries, and Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, for example, nicely illustrate the prevailing “ecclesiastical mischief.” The Bankside brothels (a map of London might have been helpful for American readers) became known as “the stews,” and in 1161 King Henry II actually managed to regulate them, while soldiers returning from the Crusades brought back all sorts of novel Eastern notions, such as the Turkish bath. Thanks to the whimsical tastes of centuries of monarchs, Arnold furnishes a cornucopia of prurient material, though readers will be surprised to hear that randy Henry VIII himself passed the Buggery Act—a “blanket term for sex crimes”—and later ordered the closure of London’s brothels to stem the epidemic of syphilis. Famous concubines jostle next to equally notorious madams, rakes, “mollies” (effeminate men), “sodomites,” and lesbians, from Haymarket to the slums of the East End. Arnold offers a titillating, soundly researched omnibus for the anglophile. (Dec.)
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