Ever Had An Erotic Moment With An Eel?

The Georgian Menagerie ★★★★☆

By M@ Last edited 105 months ago

Last Updated 12 August 2015

Ever Had An Erotic Moment With An Eel? The Georgian Menagerie 4

Londoners couldn't wait to get a view of 'Her Majesty's Ass'. It was 1762, and lucky Queen Charlotte had received a zebra as a belated wedding present. Few Brits had ever clapped eyes on such a creature, and it soon became a popular attraction. Bottom jokes were as readily employed in the 18th century as they are today, and the Queen's Ass became a long-running gag among commentators and columnists.

We learnt this in The Georgian Menagerie: Exotic Animals in 18th century London. It's a book that sounds a little specialist, but which abounds in peculiar stories. Just take a look at some of the other highlights from the list of contents.

Bear Grease for your Powdered Wig, p75
The Product of the Civet's Posteriors, p91
Sweet Camel's Breath, p133
Llama's Spit, a Pot of Barclay's Entire and Elephant Chops, p157

And so on. Christopher Plumb's new book scuttles, squarks and slithers with insight as he probes how Georgian Londoners interacted with exotic beasts. Some chapters examine menageries and proto-zoos. Other sections look at individual animals. Electric Eels, for example, provided a shocking diversion for the well-to-do. Curious visitors would join hands to form a circle, then complete the circuit by grasping the slippery fish. Some even found the experience erotic.

Far from being a whimsical gallimaufry of animal anecdotes, this is a scholarly take on the subject, drawing deeply from the archives and primary sources. The book was spun out of a PhD thesis and does, occasionally, tend towards the academic in tone. Overall, though, The Georgian Menagerie is a clearly written, often surprising insight into an area of London's history we've rarely heard much about. Expect an electric eel cafe to open in Shoreditch by the end of the year.

The Georgian Menagerie by Christopher Plumb is out now from IB Tauris. Buy direct from the publisher. Buy from Amazon. Better yet, buy from your local independent bookshop.

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