Sex, Gender and Social Change in Britain Since 1880

Written by Lesley A. Hall
Review by Claire Cowling

This is a book dealing with wide-ranging and controversial themes within the scope of sex and gender issues in Britain: from sex within marriage to prostitution and sexual violence; from expected monogamy to sexual experimentation and homosexuality; from Victorian venereal disease and abortion to the 1980s AIDS crisis and beyond. The book is particularly clear in pointing out to its readers that despite supposed progress, changes in legislation and perceived liberalism, basic premises have not really changed for women and marginalised communities in all this time.

Lesley Hall’s extensive knowledge of sex and gender issues enables her to produce an accessible, engaging analysis of the relationship between gender and history in Britain since 1880 (although Victorian Britain of the mid-1800s is included as background). Her book, to my mind, reinforces similar ideas which neo-Victorian novelists have tended to display in their work: we are closer to Victorian Britain than we might care (or want) to imagine.

Overall, this whistlestop tour of sex and gender within a historical timeframe is suitable for the interested general reader, and equally useful text for the academic in its roundup of the major events which have shaped social change in Britain since 1880. Recommended.