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The Private Parts of Victorian Sexuality Exposed

Mercer Museum hosts an adult series that peeks beneath the thin veneer of Victorian virtue.

The name of lingerie giant Victoria’s Secret plays on the hypocrisy of the Victorian age, which espoused moral pretension yet was as rife with bawdiness as any. Only you – and your lover – know you conceal a black lace corset underneath that tweed suit.

The incongruity isn’t lost on the directors of Mercer Museum, which is set to host the second installment of a three-part series, The Private Parts of Victorian Sexuality.

“This is not a typical Mercer subject,” says Melissa Jay, education coordinator at the museum. “We picked Victorian sexuality because it’s something we don’t normally do.”

Historically, the timing is perfect

Queen Victoria reigned during a time of rapid change from an agrarian society to an industrialized one, the same kind of transformation Mercer witnessed.

Additionally, there’s certainly the titillation factor, which gives the series an edge not usually found at the typically decorous museum.  

The first part of the series was held in September and attracted some 58 adults anxious to spend the evening examining Victorian-era entertainment, specifically burlesque and the peep show. Jay says the response was excellent.

She expects about 50 participants this Thursday for Part II: "Art, Literature, and a Bit of Romance."

Attendees will learn the art of Victorian flirtation, including the finer points of fan manipulation and of eye-batting. They’ll try their hand at Victorian love-letter writing, a frivolous diversion for us today, perhaps, but a vital skill for 19th-century women, in particular.

When finding and securing a suitable husband meant a life of social and financial stability, writing an effective love letter was of paramount importance. Flub it up and you were relegated to a life of service, or worse.

Victorians were known for their prudish behavior, yet popular fairy paintings provided an opportunity to paint with abandon. The museum series will allow participants to try their hand at sketching live models arrayed in Victorian undergarments, likely more demure than those purchased today at the aforementioned retailer.

The series is an opportunity to examine an age of priggishness while enjoying the delights hidden in its history. The third installment of the series, "Culture of the Corset," is scheduled for May 5. Get set for even more private parts to be exposed.

“The Mercer family had their secrets, too,” adds Jay.

The Private Parts of Victorian Sexuality, Part II: "Art, Literature and a Bit of Romance" will be held at Mercer Museum Thursday, Feb. 17, 7 to 9 p.m. $16/$14 members. Reservations required, call 215-345-0210, ext. 123.

Visit www.mercermuseum.org

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