Thumbs up for The Curious History of Contraception by Shirley Green. History.
And in the “Writers Read Weird Shit” category…we have a winner! I was expecting something rather more scholarly in tone, so I was a bit thrown at first by the author’s conversational prose. But she clearly knows her topic, and honestly, there’s so much ridiculous stuff in here it might as well be presented with a touch of humor. (Shall I “wear cat liver in a tube on the left foot” for anti-conception, or drink “the water from the fire-bucket of a smith” for sterility?) Not for those prudish or squeamish, obviously, but if you were, then you wouldn’t pick it up to start with. I did appreciate the “don’t read this if you’re squeamish” warning she attached to one paragraph; having been warned, I laughed disbelievingly of becoming queasy. So good call on that one. Very informative, easy to read, and (to warp an old phrase) “for those who need to know that sort of thing, it’s exactly what they need to know.” Here’s a PG-13 sample for you (it was hard to find one):
While [John Humphrey Noyes] rhapsodied about ‘the refining effects of sexual love’, the outside world was getting restive. He saw his community as somewhere where ‘amative discourse’ would have place among the fine arts, taking rank above ‘music, painting, sculpture etc.’, and leaving ‘as much room for cultivation of taste and skill in this department as any.’ But a local Professor denounced it as a ‘Utopia of obscenity’ and an ‘outgrowth of lust’. It did have its dirty old men, but they were dealt with drastically, like the unfortunate William Mills. In his sixties and with an old and ugly wife, he tried bribing all the young girls with candy and alcohol – but was cast into a snowdrift for his pains. Unfortunately, Noyes himself didn’t behave much better in his later years. He fathered eight children after the age of 58, making himself an easy target for opponents. And as outside pressure built up, the community began to crumble. First to go was ‘complex marriage’; next the simple form of communism that had been practised. Monogamy and private property came back hand in hand, until by 1881, the community hd turned into a joint-stock company manufacturing moustraps and silverware. Though it may not be the gift to posterity Noyes had intended, you can still buy Oneida cutlery today.
If you enjoyed this post, please share it!