Saturday, January 28, 2023

Eleanor Janega's "The Once and Future Sex"

Eleanor Janega teaches medieval and early modern history at the London School of Economics. The creator of the popular blog Going Medieval and author of The Middle Ages: A Graphic History, she lives in London.

Janega applied the "Page 99 Test" to her new book, The Once and Future Sex: Going Medieval on Women's Roles in Society, and reported the following:
Page 99 contains a discussion of the sexual practices that were deemed acceptable by the medieval Church. As a general rule, sex had to take place between a married man and woman strictly for the purposes of procreation, but there were a lot of rules on top of that. In general, “what concerned theologians was an excess of pleasure which Aquinas categorized as ‘bestial’.” As a result, this page discusses restraints on sexual positions, as well as times when sex could take place, and restrictions to visual stimuli.

In this case the test absolutely works. Browsers who look at page 99 would understand how the book approaches breaking down various expectations in the medieval period. It draws on works from various theologians to explicate how theological consensus was created. While the book isn’t only concerned with religion, and looks at social patterns more broadly, a reader would get a good idea of how it does that. It’s also a fairly amusing page, which underlines the tone of the book more generally. Yes, it tackles complex concepts – but it does so while also having fun. This is, after all, really interesting and humorous subject matter.

While page 99 looks particularly at sexual expectations, that is just one of the main themes of the book more broadly. It first explains how we use sources like those that appear here to understand medieval society, as well as looking at how that impacts beauty standards, then sexual ideals, before looking at expectations about life and work for women. It finishes up with an explanation of why that matters, our society’s gender expectations now, and argues that the more we understand about how social
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--Marshal Zeringue