Ungovernable: The Victorian Parent’s Guide to Raising Flawless Children

Therese Oneill. Little, Brown, $25 (288p) ISBN 978-0-316-48190-8
Oneill (Unmentionable: The Victorian Lady’s Guide to Sex, Marriage and Manners) keeps her tongue firmly in cheek for this dark-humored, enlightening look at Victorian-era prescriptions for upper-class childbirth and child rearing. Using a Socratic dialogue between the brisk yet cheerful narrator and an intelligent modern woman, Oneill lays out common expert opinions from the 19th century, a time with a startling 20%-or-higher child mortality rate. Dubious—and often conflicting—advice culled from numerous medical books and articles includes preventing children from drinking when thirsty to stave off adult-onset alcoholism and requiring new mothers to remain quietly, boringly bedbound for several weeks. The narrator’s obvious enjoyment in sharing vintage expert opinions increases as particularly horrifying facts regarding baby farms, beatings, and heroin for expectant mothers pile up, rendering the imaginary listener nearly speechless. Oneill probes each topic with a Lemony Snicket–like tone and candor, revealing how some of these beliefs eventually evolved into improved girls’ education and a kinder approach to discipline. One part sauciness, one part frankness, and one part sweet relief that readers live in the present, Oneill’s book provides readers with a liberal dose of medical and women’s history that’s well worth taking. (Apr.)
Reviewed on : 02/14/2019
Release date: 04/16/2019
Genre: Nonfiction
Compact Disc - 978-1-5491-7958-7
Compact Disc - 978-1-5491-7956-3
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