Sexual progressives

Reimagining intimacy in Scotland, 1880–1914

Author: Tanya Cheadle

This book provides the first group portrait of the late Victorian and Edwardian feminists and socialists who campaigned against the moral conservatism of Victorian Scotland. They include Bella and Charles Bream Pearce, prominent Glasgow socialists and disciples of an American-based mystic who taught that religion needed to be ‘re-sexed’; Jane Hume Clapperton, a feminist freethinker with advanced views on birth control and women’s right to sexual pleasure; and Patrick Geddes, founder of an avant-garde Edinburgh subculture and co-author of an influential scientific book on sex. The consideration of their lives and work undertaken here forces a reappraisal of our understanding of sexual progressivism in Britain in a number of important ways. It affirms that a precondition of ‘speaking out’ about sex was the rejection of orthodox Christianity, with alternative forms of belief providing spaces in which a new morality could be fashioned. It disrupts the long-standing perception of the fin de siècle as an era of generational challenge, highlighting the importance of considering older radicalisms, such as freethought. Finally, it emphasises the regulatory role played by socialist and feminist organisations, reluctant to reinscribe past associations between political radicalism and immorality. This meant that despite their reforming zeal, Scotland’s sexual progressives often adhered to respectable norms, deferring their reimagined intimate relationships to an idealised future.

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