Image from http://www.angelpig.net/victorian/engagement.html
People of the nineteenth century are not well-known for their public – and even private – discussions about sex. Of course, some discussion of the subject did slip into some of their writings. And there were, of course, manuals geared to educating women who were about to be wed. But generally speaking, these manuals were not what they are today. Instead, they often sought to reinforce beliefs about women’s submissiveness, including the notion that sex was not something that women were supposed to enjoy. And orgasm? Don’t even go there. Please note, I am speaking in generalities here. There were people who actually defied convention and wrote or spoke on sex and sexuality.
During my research into the nineteenth century, I found scant references to sex and sexuality in primary resources such as journals. However, I do believe that women talked about the subject among themselves. And so I wrote these moments into Saint Maggie and have continued to do so in the other books throughout the series.
With that in mind, I thought I would offer up some moments from Saint Maggie in which my characters discuss sex. In this first excerpt, Maggie is preparing to marry Eli, and she is predictably nervous about the wedding night. She and Eli have refrained from having premarital sex, mainly because having done so might have resulted in a pregnancy outside of marriage. After all, this is an era in which contraception was close to non-existent. The day before the wedding, Maggie wonders what intimacy with Eli will be like. It is clear that she enjoyed her sexual relationship with her late husband, John Blaine. But would she experience the same or similar with Eli?
Notice that Maggie, having been raised in a white, well-to-do family, is not blunt about her problem. She has to dance around the issue and the question. Emily, on the other hand, comes from a less prosperous background and from a family of color, so she tends to be much more forthright. Toward the end of the conversation, we learn that Maggie does greatly desire Eli. And her dear friend Emily gives her some solid, commonsense advice.
When I first visited with reading groups after the publication of Saint Maggie, several people commented that they found Maggie’s little joke in the excerpt below to be rather shocking. After all, Maggie is a rather reserved person. My point here is that, given the right circumstances, even Maggie can rip off a bawdy joke.
It all starts rather innocently, with Maggie typically fretting about the fact that the men have gone out to the shed to share a celebratory drink.
Let’s transition into Maggie telling her daughters about “the facts of life.” First up is Lydia, who has already been given the basic information. But, since she is about to marry her beau Edgar Lape, Maggie feels it is necessary to educate her a bit more. As one of my friends, a pastor, used to insist, “God created sex. And since everything God created is good, then sex is good!” Maggie has a similar take and attempts to break through restrictive Victorian attitudes in the hope that her daughter will have a happy marriage and a happy sex life.
Finally, we come to how Maggie educates Frankie about “the birds and the bees.” Since Frankie is fourteen years old, it now is time to tell her about sexual relations. Maggie ends up doing it on Christmas Eve, as she and the family walk home from providing Christmas cheer for the local orphanage. The scene begins with Maggie and Eli talking about adopting a child, since Maggie has miscarried and not become pregnant again. When they are interrupted by Frankie, who has overheard part of their conversation, Maggie knows she needs to have “the talk.” Notice how quickly Eli skedaddles out of there so he won’t be involved in any sex chat.
So do I think nineteenth century people discussed sex? Why, yes. Yes, I do. I mean, they obviously had sex, or else we wouldn’t all be here. So they most likely talked about sex with each other. However, what they said and how they phrased it is anyone’s guess. This is mine. It was fun for me to look back on these little chats in Saint Maggie. Similar discussions show up in other books in the series.
I love Saint Maggie because it started it all. The characters are both quirky and likeable, perhaps even loveable. And, may I be so bold to say, you probably will find that one of them becomes your favorite. They are nineteenth century people, but relatable.
The story is part murder mystery, part romance, part women’s fiction (with its emphasis upon women’s life at that point in history).
If you haven’t read Saint Maggie, then I invite you to grab a copy – paperback or ebook – and read it. It’s not long and it moves fast.
And then do me a huge favor – leave a review on Amazon.
Have you ever heard of Mean Mary James? Her music is starting to form a soundtrack for me as I work on the series. More on that on Friday.
Janet Stafford, Squeaking Pips Founder