Modern women on trialSexual transgression in the age of the flapper
Series: Gender in History
BIC Category: Social & cultural history
Published: September 2013
216 x 138 mm
Publisher: Manchester University Press
Modern women on trial looks at several sensational trials involving drugs, murder, adultery, miscegenation and sexual perversion in the period 1918–24. The trials, all with young female defendants, were presented in the media as morality tales, warning of the dangers of sensation-seeking and sexual transgression. The book scrutinises the trials and their coverage in the press to identify concerns about modern femininity. The flapper later became closely associated with the 'roaring' 1920s, but in the period immediately after the Great War she represented not only newness and hedonism, but also a frightening, uncertain future. This figure of the modern woman was a personification of the upheavals of the time, representing anxieties about modernity, and instabilities of gender, class, race and national identity. This accessible, extensively researched book will be of interest to all those interested in social, cultural or gender history.
1. The case of the ‘Cult of the clitoris’: Treachery, patriotism and English womanhood
2. Butterfly women, ‘Chinamen’, dope fiends and metropolitan allure
3. The tribulations of Edith Thompson: Sexual incitement as a capital crime
4. Mme Fahmy’s vindication: Orientalism, miscegenation fears and female fantasy
5. ‘Hunnish scenes’ and a ‘Virgin birth’: The contested marriage and motherhood of a curious modern woman
So many bookshelves need this book. It is a treat. And it is a shining gem. Original, insightful and intriguing, Modern women on trial shows how public preoccupations and prejudices bear down on individual lives. Lucy Bland draws on a wide range of historical sources in interpreting the extraordinary evidence thrown up by a series of trials. Theoretically informed and beautifully narrated, this book breaks new ground in gender and in social history.
Sheila Rowbotham, author of 'Dreamers of a New Day: Women Who Invented the Twentieth Century' (2010)
Lucy Bland is a brilliant historian of sexuality and culture. Here she applies her forensic skill, lucid intelligence and wit to modern pathologies of female desire unleashed from husband and home, as they seemed to unsettle both English manhood and national integrity itself.
Sally Alexander, Emeritus Professor of History, Goldsmiths, University of London
Lucy Bland’s eagerly anticipated account of women’s experiences in the criminal courts of inter-war Britain has been well worth the wait. Unearthing a series of fascinating legal cases, she has produced a veritable page-turner. Bland brilliantly demonstrates how journalists and the judiciary attempted to shore up the boundaries – boundaries that World War One had weakened – separating the sexes, the classes and the races.
Angus McLaren, Professor Emeritus of History at the University of Victoria and author of Reproduction by Design: Sex, Robots, Trees, and Test-Tube Babies in Interwar Britain (2012)
'Lucy Bland has crafted a stunningly illuminating page-turner. Befitting 1920s protagonists so entranced by modernity and dance, she shrewdly choreographs five notorious British Jazz Age episodes of sexual transgression deeply into erotic and cultural contexts, which she reveals as at once angrily alienated and adaptively experimental. Riveting and indispensable.'
Judith A. Allen, Professor of History, Indiana University
'We think we know all about the flapper of the 1920s with her shingled hair and sexual freedom. Lucy Bland’s new book wonderfully complicates that story by analyzing sensational trials of murder and misconduct, revealing racial, sexual and class tensions surrounding the New Woman. A sparkling read.'
Anna Clark, author of Desire: A History of Sexuality in Europe
It is rare to find a scholarly book that is so entertaining. ...is an incisive and highly accomplished study of constructions of femininity and sexuality in war and post-war contexts.
In the conclusion, Bland links issues arising out of early-twentieth-century trials and newspapers to gendered, sexual, national and racial discourses and identities, noting that the flapper ‘represented not only newness, hedonism and “anything goes”, but also disruption, change and a frightening, uncertain future’ (p218). This is an apt end to a meticulously constructed and highly stimulating work that will undoubtedly open new potential and areas for study across the arts and humanities. Bland’s masterfully written book surely will generate more debate about the messy, and sometimes violent, realities that too often accompany women’s pursuit of pleasure in any age.
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