Too Much: How Victorian Constraints Still Bind Women Today

Rachel Vorona Cote. Grand Central, $19.99 trade paper (320p) ISBN 978-1-5387-2970-0
Cote, a former PhD candidate in Victorian literature at the University of Maryland, traces the “unspoken rules” that govern the expression of women’s emotional and physical desires to 19th-century medicine and culture in this vigorous, wide-ranging debut. Noting that “hysteria” was a widespread medical diagnosis given to Victorian women exhibiting all kinds of “inappropriate” behavior, from sighing and sudden laughter to self-mutilation, Cote analyzes how writers including Elizabeth Gaskell, Christina Rossetti, and the Brontë sisters “contemplate[d] the circumstances of women in an age when emotion was so viciously policed and pathologized.” In chapters devoted to mental health, infidelity, body image, ageism, and sexual desire, Cote confesses to her own “alluvion of feeling” and relates personal experiences, including a suicide attempt and the end of her first marriage, to characters and plots in Victorian literature and figures from modern popular culture, including Britney Spears, Lana Del Rey, and “Stifler’s Mom” in the movie American Pie. She conclusively shows that women have been “emotionally trussed for centuries,” and empowers her readers to embrace their “too muchness” as an “agent of emotional integrity.” Though Cote’s blend of memoir, criticism, and history sometimes feels unfocused and idiosyncratic, her overarching arguments are apt. Readers whose tastes run from George Eliot to Lorde will embrace the book’s feminist message. (Feb.)
Reviewed on : 11/22/2019
Release date: 02/25/2020
Genre: Nonfiction
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