Book Review: “Unmentionable: The Victorian Lady’s Guide to Sex, Marriage, and Manners” by Therese O’ Neal

Unmentionable: The Victorian Lady’s Guide to Sex, Marriage, and Manners by Therese O’ Neal (2016)

Genre: Non-fiction, History, Humor

Page Length: 307 pages (hardcover edition)


Have you ever wished you could live in an earlier, more romantic era?

Ladies, welcome to the 19th century, where there’s arsenic in your face cream, a pot of cold pee sits under your bed, and all of your underwear is crotchless. (Why? Shush, dear. A lady doesn’t question.)

UNMENTIONABLE is your hilarious, illustrated, scandalously honest (yet never crass) guide to the secrets of Victorian womanhood, giving you detailed advice on:

~ What to wear
~ Where to relieve yourself
~ How to conceal your loathsome addiction to menstruating
~ What to expect on your wedding night
~ How to be the perfect Victorian wife
~ Why masturbating will kill you
~ And more

Irresistibly charming, laugh-out-loud funny, and featuring nearly 200 images from Victorian publications, UNMENTIONABLE will inspire a whole new level of respect for Elizabeth Bennett, Scarlet O’Hara, Jane Eyre, and all of our great, great grandmothers.

(And it just might leave you feeling ecstatically grateful to live in an age of pants, super absorbency tampons, epidurals, anti-depressants, and not-dying-of-the-syphilis-your-husband-brought-home.) (Description from Goodreads)


Unmentionable is a history book that about women in the Victorian era that covers a variety of topics such as hygiene, clothing, menstruation, marriage, and much more. Each chapter is broken down into a specific topic, and is written in a very conversational, chatty tone. This tone throughout the book which was really weird for me since I’m not used to reading non-fiction historical books that don’t talk at you, but rather talks to you. An added bonus is the humor aspect, which will definitely make its readers laugh out loud.

The Victorian era that you see in the media (movies, TV shows) tends to gloss over the era, because it only shows you the nice parts and pleasures of high-society rather than the nitty-gritty. I used to think the Victorian era was super romantic until I grew up and actually to the time to study its history in-depth. This book strips its readers of any romantic notions and tells you all the ups and down of living in this time.

Overall, this book is fun, knowledgeable, and straight forward. It refreshed the history that I initially learned in school, but I ended up learning a lot of new things about the Victorian era especially some pretty disturbing facts. It was astonishing to read about all of the hypocrisy (especially from doctors) about the do’s and don’t of society and health practices that sometimes resulted in illness or death. The usage of photos, ads, and diagrams along with the text gave the explanations really clear context and made it easier for the material to digest. I also liked that the chapters are broken up into sub categories so that things don’t get jumbled together

Some of my favorite chapters within the book include the segments on the rigorous process getting dressed, beauty routines, bathing, periods, and courtship. The only complaint about the book is that I did want to see more intersectionality within the book, because I only saw there were only a few segments about women of color, etc.

If you like learning about history in general or specifically the Victorian era, I highly recommend this book!

Final Verdict:

*Disclosure: This post contains Amazon affiliate links!

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