Rape: A History from 1860 to the Present

 Daniel Snowman approaches two books on aspects of sexuality, including some uncomfortable reading.

Daniel Snowman | Published in History Today
Rape: A History from 1860 to the Present
Joanna Bourke
Virago   565pp   £25  
ISBN 1 84408 154 7

Virgins: A History
Anke Bernau
Granta Books   232pp   £18.99     
ISBN 1 86207 810 9

We all know what is meant by virginity. Mary, mother of Jesus was a virgin (the Virgin, indeed); Elizabeth I’s virginity was celebrated in the establishment of the ‘virgin’ territory named in her honour. Rape, too, is easily understood. In ancient times, the Sabine women were raped, as was Lucretia: they were taken sexually by force and against their will. In recent times, a successful charge of rape dispatched boxer Mike Tyson to jail. But on closer examination, neither is as easily defined as we think, each concept loaded with centuries of anatomical, theological, legal, social, psychological and cultural baggage. It is this complex historical legacy that Bernau and Bourke attempt to unpick.

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