The Wallace K. Ferguson Prize
Rachel Hope Cleves’ Unspeakable : A Life Beyond Sexual Morality has stunned this jury. In its exposition of Norman Douglas’s lifelong, self-consciously shameless pursuit of sex with children, this book accomplishes several significant feats, even amid a bumper crop of impressive scholarship. For its archival work spanning many types of documents and places, its pioneering use of children’s letters, its layered appeals to theory and secondary sources, and its smart, sensitive, elegant writing… for these virtues only, this book would be prizewinning.
But on a broader plane, Unspeakable is particularly timely as we now reconsider the ‘art of bad men’, grapple with permitting freedom of speech for even ‘the unspeakable’, and struggle to recognize the power imbalances that structure sexual encounters in ways that complicate discourses of ‘consent’. The book defamilarizes such “familiar events” as early twentieth-century sexuality and the cosmopolitan world of letters, bringing to life a culture of post-war hedonism and sexual adventurism that invoked the allure of the pagan past to exploit the poverty and dislocation of children in a rapidly changing Europe. It forces the reader to historicize both moral norms to which they cling and the language of ‘monstrosity’ that pushes some kinds of harm outside the society that produces them. Rachel Hope Cleves risked a great deal in telling this story about intergenerational sex. The result is a gripping, heart-breaking biography that explodes the genre’s conundrum of sympathy for its subject.
Katie Hindmarch-Watson, Serving a Wired World: London’s Telecommunications Workers and the Making of an Information Capital (U. of California Press)
David Monod, Vaudeville and the Making of Modern Entertainment, 1890-1925 (U. of North Carolina Press)
Ishita Pande, Sex, Law, and the Politics of Age: Child Marriage in India, 1891-1937 (Cambridge University Press)
Despina Stratigakos, Hitler’s Northern Utopia: Building the New Order in Occupied Norway (Princeton University Press)