Unmentionable: The Victorian Lady’s Guide to Sex, Marriage, and Manners by Therese Oneill


Hardcover, 307 pages
Published October 25th 2016 by Little, Brown and Company
Source: Publisher

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.)

Unmentionable brings to light all the things you may have wanted to know about the Victorian age but didn’t know who to ask or where to find your information from. I mean, Google is helpful but only to a certain extent.

As the back copy so explicitly points out, Unmentionable is a fount of information about things like keeping clean in a time when cleanliness is not really prized. A time when everyone stinks so you may as well too. I mean, I ‘m saying.

Frankly, it’s all horrifying and I am supremely happy I was born in the this time especially because imagine the discrimination I’d face in Victorian England….maybe a little more than I’d face now? Heh. Anyway, the book as wit and charm. The author obviously did her work and researched the heck out of the period as the works cited page will reveal.

One thing I do have to mention though is the use of the word “squaw” on page 132 of the ARC version of the book. I should think that all the research done for this novel would reveal that the term is derogatory and should not be used. I don’t know if the finished copy contains the word–I hope not.

As reference material, this book should be helpful–especially to those who are writing Victorian settings focusing on women.

Evolution as a Writer

I wish I could go back to my 22 year old self and be a little nicer to her. Give her a hug and tell her to save the unkind words for the people in her life who will constantly try to run her down with their hate.

I wish I could tell her that some day somewhere someone will believe in her. That her writing is beautiful and that she should continue doing it.

I cannot do that sadly. But I can show you what she wrote in her diaries.

Short Sips of a Long Drink

The night is drenched with
unfinished dreams.
There is a fat orange moon
holding dominion in the phantasmic sky.
And the stars shine in soft supplication to him.

A night flower blooms –

there is a chasm in the darkness
a deepening of the languor that
arrests my submissive soul –

I have to write you a story
of the third house on the left side of my street.
It’s protected fiercely by
azaleas and marigolds
and the grass boasts immaculate
chaos in the sunshine.
Sad, ragged curtains peek out timidly from
the unwashed windows on the first floor
the faded rose pattern on it speak pensively –

But I will save that for a molten afternoon and an acquiescent ear.

Forever demands a wrathful reckoning
and I have no truths to tell.
You are so glorious in your surety of the universe
So convinced that all doors have keys
what if I showed you one path that led past
destiny and settled somewhere behind a
door built for the entire purpose of remaining closed.

My streets are long stretches
of cobbled grandeur.
I stumble in the footsteps
of calamitous pirates
who stole the songs from the cowrie shells.

I sit cross legged on my downy sheets
enraptured by the night
Eolian kisses grace my inky fingers
I pour myself into you
through these words,
I gift you with slivers of my soul
they carol in the midst of the jangled syllables.

I am always saying goodbye
a farewell to you, beloved
That is my complaint to the universe.
I am composed entirely of goodbyes.

And so,
the emptiness spreads.

I spent the better part of my Sunday morning
in a teacup,
pondering the crevices in my battered heart
Weary and worn
an old leather shoe, with brown crease marks on the sides
and a scuffed tongue

My thoughts are a dusty china blue.

I am an afternoon under a mango tree
I am this and that too.

I wonder if butterflies ever wish to
return into their cocoons.

November Wrap Up

So November went by rapidly. I read as much as I wanted to but most of my attention, I confess, was on other things. Like writing. And um, the Orangopocalypse. Yep. That’s what I am calling it. The horror of that aside, here are the books I read last month:

  1. Tell the Truth, Shame the Devil – Melina Marchetta
    5 stars.
  2. Hour of the Bees – Lindsay Eager
  3. Malice in Ovenland – Micheline Hess
  4. Spells of Blood and Ink – Claire Humphrey
  5. The Sleeping Partner – Madeleine E. Robins
  6. Gemina – Amie Kaufman
  7. Ms Marvel vol 3, 4, and 5 – G. Willow Wilson
  8. Unmentionable – Therese Oneill
  9. The Queen of Blood – Sarah Beth Durst
  10. Sorcerer to the Crown – Zen Cho
  11. When the Sea Turned to Silver – Grace Lin
  12. The Palace Job – Patrick Weekes
  13. Gertie’s Leap to Greatness – Kate Beasley
  14. The Dark Days Pack – Alison Goodman
  15. Yesternight – Cat Winters
  16. If I Had A Gryphon – Vikki Vansickle
  17. A Child of Books – Oliver Jeffers
  18. We Found a Hat – Jon Klassen
  19. A Most Novel Revenge – Ashley Weaver

I received 13 books this month. 1 was a present from my mother. The others were all for review.

Activist Poetry By Women: Titles

I have been very into activist poetry by women poets this past year, especially after I read Migritude by Shailja Patel. I would love to read similar titles so I asked my Twitter followers for suggestions. Here are some titles, some of which I have already read and others which I have yet to check out. As always, suggestions are always welcome. Bolded titles are ones I have already read.

  1. milk and honey by Rupi Kaur
  2. And Still I Rise – Maya Angelou
  3. Teaching My Mother How to Give Birth – Warsan Shire
  4. A Bestiary – Lily Hoang
  5. Bestiary: Poems – Donika Kelly
  6. The Venus Hottentott – Elizabeth Alexander
  7. my name on his tongue – Laila Halaby
  8. Muse and Druge – Harryette Mullen
  9. Bicycles – Nikki Giovanni
  10. Citizen: An American Lyric – Claudia Rankine
  11. salt. – Nayyirah Waheed
  12. Migritude – Shailja Patel
  13. bone – Yrsa Daley-Ward
  14. Consensual Genocide by Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha
  15. Preparing My Daughter For Rain:: notes on how to heal and survive.
    by Key Ballah
  16. Songs from Under the River: A Collection of Poetry by Anis Mojgani
  17. Zimbabwe by Tapiwa Mugabe
  18. Questions for Ada by Ijeoma Umebinyuo
  19. B by Sarah Kay
  20. The Iraqi Nights by Dunya Mikhail, Kareem James Abu-Zeid (Translation)
  21. Born Palestinian, Born Black by Suheir Hammad
  22. Weweni by Margaret Noodin
  23. Red Juice: Poems 1998-2008 by Hoa Nguyen, Anselm Berrigan (Introduction)
  24. June Jordon’s Poetry for the People – June Jordan

This list will be updated as I come upon/am suggested more titles.

On Writing #2: We’re Still Talking About Info-Dumping

So I sort of finished the first chapter of The Fire Within, my current W.I.P. and…


I am not even joking. The chapter felt like the most difficult thing I have written in ever and you guys, I am old so that is a long while.

You see, with The Fire Within I have to establish the world (have I already said this? Let me go check) (no I haven’t, let’s continue) in which the story is set before I can tell the story. It’s the best way (I know) to give the story as much weight and drama it deserves.

But let me tell you the things I discovered:

  • Not info-dumping while giving information is possible.
  • Not info-dumping while giving is possible and extremely ‘will make you throw up blood’ difficult.

I am not certain I have it down, to be completely honest.

I shall give you an example.

First Draft: The City of Noor never sleeps. Located on the border between the forest and the desert, being the nation’s capital, and being a profitable stop on the Silk Road makes the City of Noor the busiest place in the nation.

(Look, I know this is terrible. But it’s the dirty draft so I am allowed!)

Second Draft: The City of Noor never sleeps. Being one of the more profitable stops on the Silk Road means a steady stream of caravans enters or leaves the city at all times of the day or night. With the merchants come goods to be traded and people who either want to visit the City of the Djinn or who want to live here. Dark-skinned Bayars dressed in stately robes jostle for space on the same sidewalk that the lighter-skinned Hanguk people do.

(This needs more work but it will do for the moment.)

I was so frustrated by my lack of progress on this chapter that I finally grabbed a notebook and wrote each sentence on one line and attempted to unwrap whatever felt like info-dumping in ways that would make the world seem more alive than it would otherwise.

You might be tempted to cry tears of blood but please refrain as it is difficult to see the screen through blood….which is also difficult to clean up later.

Happy writing.

On Writing #1: Worldbuilding and Info-Dumping

I am going to pretend we all are friends and you have a fairly good idea of how my mind works so let’s get down straight to it.

Writing is hard work. I know many people think it’s all sitting in coffee shops dressed hipsterishly, sipping on overpriced coffee while writing a word every five minutes or so until somehow, magically, you have a book.

That cannot be further from the truth.

For one thing, you usually don’t have money for overpriced coffee. For another, asking a writer to put on clothes other than pajamas is usually asking for too much. (This is, of course, a generalization and not all authors spend all their lives in pajamas. Just the majority of it.)

When I wrote The Road of the Lost I first came to appreciate how difficult storytelling can be. I came to know how much the story is influenced by the character telling the story. Croi, the protagonist ofย The Road of the Lost is a very eccentric, a very loud, character and writing her is in some ways easy. She always says everything that comes to her mind. She’s irreverent and optimistic with loads of energy. The Road of the Lost is written in first person present and I realized how limited I am by the perspective when it comes to worldbuilding. In first person, the world can be built to the extent the protagonist knows it and as she finds out more about the world, so do the readers. You can’t talk about politics or economy or anything if the protagonist has no idea about these things.

In my newest writing project, The Fire Within, I have chosen to use 3rd person omni because I may as well pull out all of the stops to build this world that is just so intriguing in my mind. Of course I am not entirely sure I am even capable of transcribing the vision in my mind to words on the page but since this world belongs to me, I will do my best.

And gosh, my best is currently kicking my ass.

As a reader, I know that swathes of info-dumping, though sometimes necessary, can often lose the reader. So I am trying to maintain a fair distribution of action and movement while establishing the fictional world and it’s tough.

So tough that I have had to resort to longhand because the whiteness of the computer screen mocks me in ways I don’t want to think about.

I write a “dirty draft” where sentences and words are flung haphazardly at the page not even pretending to try to make sense. Tonight I will attempt a first draft where I will do a better job of trying to make sure my sentences sound like sentences and not a green monkey’s laugh.

Show don’t tell is always the mantra with writers and for good reason because as a reader, I know that being told how a character feels is very different from being shown the same thing. But as a writer, I don’t often know how to show the thing my character feels.

But I guess that’s the challenge of any thing you do. Strive at it and hope you learn it before you pull all your hair out.


A Life Update and a Re-examination of Purpose

You guys, I don’t much like talking about myself anywhere and always feel like the deer caught in the headlights when I asked to do so. However, I cannot deny that I have on occasion used this space as a soapbox to rant about my feelings.

So anyway, things happened, I took part in #DVpit on Twitter and I found an agent who is really more awesome than I think I deserve.

I am surprised that anyone other than my friends like my writing. Even my mother hasn’t read my book.

So The Road of the Lost is currently on submission. Let’s hope that an editor likes it enough to want to work with me on it.

Other than that, I am working on another project. A totally different project that has already led me to sleepless nights and turgid dreams.

So I feel like I can use this space to talk about my writing, woes and glows, as I persistently bang my head against the wall that is my book-to-be. Currently the book is a lot of notes and pictures scribbled on notebook paper and post-its. I only use 0.38 pen because the thicker nibs drive me nuts. I hate them.

I feel like the writing posts should be a separate post so hang on a minute.