The heavy damask- like rectitude of Victorian England was like a screen masking an infinity of horror, misery, and depravity. In what might be considered a companion volume to his masterful study of Victorian sexuality (The Worm in the Bud), published several years ago, Ronald Pearsall catalogues with searing insight, and often in the words of those who suffered and those who inflicted the suffering, the full inventory of those horrors.
He peers beneath the glossy surface of Victorian domestic life to show just how women - both the mistress of the house and her servants - were treated. If they were lucky, they were treated with the diligent care one takes care of one's possessions. But far too often the story was one of naked sexual exploitation, even to the point of enslavement. The tensions of Victorian society, the high price of hope, glory, and imperial progress created a chain cruelty that systematically ran through every institution. The poor in the workhouses and the deranged in the madhouses; the sheep who came to the Church in search of a shepherd and instead found wolves and other metaphorical monsters; the silently suffering little boys in the best public schools, and their masters who taught more of pain than ideas; the workers in the 'dark satanic mills' and the victims of a savage system of retributive justice; the dumb beasts of the fields and those unlucky enough to fall into the hands of doctors who were worse than any disease - all of these are brought into the light.
This is an unforgettable book, a picture of a society torn and tormented by an undeclared and unadmitted emotional civil war. It is a powerfully instructive lesson for our age: that what is dark, festering, and ignored in society is the breeding ground of its self-destruction.
There are signs of shelf wear to the spine and edges of the dust jacket There are some other small tears to the dust jacket. However, it is now protected with a plastic cover. Other than the binding is tight and the pages are clean.