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How people used popular culture between the world wars to articulate sexual identities and practices

Making Modern Love

Sexual Narratives and Identities in Interwar Britain

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Lisa Z. Sigel

"Making Modern Love provides an exciting account of the ways in which hundreds of ordinary people structured narratives that explained and helped construct their sexual identities. Sigel has advanced the stimulating idea that by analyzing the writings of countless ‘ordinary’ people, we can gain some sense of their notion of having a specific sexual identity and, therefore, their membership in a community of sorts. She has the enviable ability to provide a dispassionate account of what many would consider sensational acts and ideas, and she skillfully exploits it to provide a fresh account of the interwar fetishist."
Angus McLaren, Professor Emeritus of History at the University of Victoria and author of Impotence: A Cultural History

After the Great War, British men and women grappled with their ignorance about sexuality and desire. Seeking advice and information from doctors, magazines, and each other, they wrote tens of thousands of letters about themselves as sexual subjects. In these letters, they disclosed their uncertainties, their behaviors, and the role of sexuality in their lives. Their fascinating narratives tell how people sought to unleash their imaginations and fashion new identities.

Making Modern Love shows how readers embraced popular media—self-help books, fetish magazines, and advice columns—as a source of information about sexuality and a means for telling their own stories. From longings for transcendent marital union to fantasies of fetish-wear, cross-dressing, and whipping, men and women revealed a surprising range of desires and behaviors (queer and otherwise) that have been largely disregarded until now.

Lisa Sigel mines these provocative narratives to understand how they contributed to new subjectivities and the development of modern sexualities.

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Excerpt

Read the Introduction (pdf).

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Reviews

"Sigel makes a novel and important argument about the shaping of modern sexuality. She has exhumed amazing sources from the popular culture of twentieth-century Britain. Making Modern Love is a fascinating book that should find a wide readership among the general public and among students of the history of sexuality. Written in a clear and accessible style that proves that popular ephemera were much more influential than sexology in shaping people’s understandings of their sexual selves, it is a tour de force based on amazing archival research."
Anna Clark, Professor of History at the University of Minnesota and author of Desire: A History of European Sexuality

"Through an impressive and stimulating array of sources ranging from letters to Marie Stopes, readers' correspondence in the glamour and 'queer magazine' London Life, and court cases, historian Sigel charts the making of sexual identities in interwar Britain. Emphasizing the agency of individuals, Sigel convincingly makes the argument that sexology was less important than popular ephemera in the evolution and construction of personal sexual narratives and identities. In placing agency at the core of her argument, Sigel helpfully explores the processes of reading as individuals interpreted and folded popular sources into their own sexual stories.... Clear, accessible, and dispassionate, this book makes important interventions in queer scholarship and the study of sexual identities. Summing Up: Highly recommended."
CHOICE

"Making Modern Love is a fascinating contribution.... Sigel successfully achieves one of the principal aims of her book: to show how ordinary people (as opposed to sexologists, sex reformers, and writers) wielded agency in the articulation of sexual stories and in framing their own 'sexual selves.'... There are many specific things to praise in Making Modern Love. Sigel's empathetic and nuanced reading of a variety of sources is one.... Sigel's book remains an important intervention in our understanding of sexual lives in twentieth-century Britain."
American Historical Review

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Contents

Acknowledgments
Introduction: Narratives and Identity
1. Reading Matters
2. Reading Married Love
3. Fashioning Fetishism from the Pages of London Life
4. Mr. Hyde and the Cross-Dressing Kink
5. Whipping Stories in the Pages of the PRO
Conclusion: Narratives and History
Notes
Bibliography
Index

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About the Author(s)

Lisa Z. Sigel is an Associate Professor in the Department of History at DePaul University. She is author of Governing Pleasures: Pornography and Social Change in England, 1815-1914 and the editor of International Exposure: Perspectives on Modern European Pornography, 1800-2000.

Subject Categories

Sexuality Studies/Sexual Identity
History
Gender Studies


In the series

Sexuality Studies, edited by Janice Irvine and Regina Kunzel.

Sexuality Studies Series, edited by Janice M. Irvine and Regina G. Kunzel, features work in the field of sexuality studies in its social, cultural, and political dimensions, and in both historical and contemporary formations. The editors seek proposals that bridge theoretical and empirical methodologies, and that are located within both disciplinary and interdisciplinary frames.

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