- Sexual Science: the Victorian Construction of Womanhood by Cynthia Eagle Russett, and: Sexual Visions: Images of Gender in Science and Medicine between the Eighteenth and Twentieth Centuries by Ludmilla Jordanova (review)
- Victorian Review
- Johns Hopkins University Press
- Volume 16, Number 1, Summer 1990
- pp. 87-91
- View Citation
- Additional Information
Reviews87 Vegetarian Society in the penultimate chapter are especially successful encapsulations of specific topics. Again, however, as in the chapter on cookery writers, the story of the vegetarian movement ends abruptly in the 1860s, without comment on such developments towards the end of the century as the emergence of groups supporting different forms of vegetarian diet and the increasing popular currency ofvegetarian ideals as evidenced by mainstream cookery writers, such as Mrs. Beaty-Pownall, assembling collections of vegetarian recipes. Although the addition of an introduction setting out the author's intention to focus on mid-century or a concluding chapter evaluating food and eating habits as they had evolved by the end of the century would have been helpful and avoided raising unfulfilled expectations, within Freeman's implicit chronological limits, she embraces all the major facets of her subject. Moreover, her lively text exhibits a depth of research and is illuminated by a wealth of fascinating detail. References, a select bibliography and index follow the text, which is interspersed with forty illustrations and a selection of nineteenth-century recipes, each accompanied by its modern equivalent. Mutton and Oysters is recommended reading for anyone interested in Victorian food, whether as an introduction for newcomers to the field or as a source of fresh insights for food historians. Elizabeth Driver Toronto Cynthia Eagle Russett. Sexual Science: the Victorian Construction of Womanhood. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1989. viii + 245. $28.95 CDN (cloth). Ludmilla Jordanova. Sexual Visions: Images of Gender in Science and Medicine between the Eighteenth and Twentieth Centuries. Madison, Wisconsin: U of Wisconsin P, 1989. xiii + 207. $22.50 US (cloth). Tortuous reasoning and appalling conclusions are the primary characteristics of the scientific treatises examined by Cynthia Eagle Russett in Sexual Science, a thorough exploration of the late nineteenthcentury scientific construction of "woman." Russett explores the shift away 88Victorian Review from a phrenological view of human nature which, though establishing the "biological basis of human capacity" (24), nonetheless posited the possibility of shaping human nature. In place of the belief in the ameliorating effects of a malleable environment on the human mind, physical anthropologists argued for the natural inequality of humankind. James Hunt, founder of the Anthropological Society of London, aimed "to show that human equality is one of the most unwarrantable assumptions ever invented by man" (27). And show it, these scientists do. Such scientific reconceptualizations of difference as recapitulation, atavism and nerve force not only attested to the inferiority of woman to man, and of non-European races to the European, but also ensured the discrediting of environmental intervention as viable reform policy. The attack on Lamarckian inheritance in the 1880s and 1890s, for example, necessitated a radical rethinking of the Victorian notion of progress, and so a reconsideration of the value of education. Darwin's study of artificial selection had led him to postulate a "breeder's model" of human evolution in which small differences in populations could be moulded and encouraged in specific, beneficial directions. Such "domestication" or controlled reproduction worked in conjunction with a Lamarckian conception of inheritance to "justify," for example, the improved education of women on the basis that educated mothers would transmit their improved mental abilities to their daughters. Darwin's conception of the transmission of culture as a physical process, and his breeder's model of controlled reproduction, led to an elitist, individualist conception of social progress in which selective breeding of a small number of educated women led to the improvement of women's lot. The attackers, in contrast, vehemently protested the very notion of improvement, however eugenically implemented. Patrick Geddes and J. Arthur Thomson's The Evolution of Sex (1889) argued for a static and essentialist view of sexual difference that would never allow for "improvement" through a controlled reproduction which was itself a product of a dynamic and functionalist construction of sexual difference. Drawing upon the physiological "discovery" of metabolism, Geddes and Thomson construct sexual difference through a static opposition of the anabolic to the katabolic. In this opposition, anabolism (largeness, placidity, sluggishness and conservatism) characterized the ovum, and so by extension "woman"; katabolism (or smallness and activity) characterized the sperm, and by extension "man." Such a metabolic construction...