|International Vegetarian Union (IVU)|
A thesis presented to the London School of Economics, University of London,
The author is now Professor of Social Policy and Sociology at Kent University, England, and has given permission for this previously unpublished thesis to be published on the IVU website. The ownership and copyright remain hers and no part of this thesis may be used elsewhere without her express permission.
CHAPTER SIX: THE LATE NINETEENTH AND EARLY TWENTIETH CENTURIES.
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There runs through vegetarianism a vein of sexual eccentricity. It takes two forms, one centred around the advocacy of freedom and liberation, often with deviant or semi-sacrementalist associations, and sometimes involving highly eccentric theories of sex; (1) the other, much the predominant, around ideas of purity and sexual abstinence.
The theme of sexual purity turns up in a number of spheres, whether overtly in the common association of meat eating with sexual stimulation, or less openly in repudiations of 'low materialism.., and the idolisation of the body'. (2) 'Materialism throughout the context of vegetarianism is used equivocally; it can mean the gross pursuit of worthless possessions; it can mean the denial of the higher spiritual realm; but it can also mean the rejection of the physical, with its central meaning the denial of sexuality and pleasure in sex. The issue relates in some degree to the question of pleasure in food, where the vegetarian tradition is similarly divided. One can find passages that extol the pleasures of vegetarian food, what Clubb had earlier called 'gustatory delights’, (3) or recipes aimed to make the diet enjoyable, but one also finds, perhaps predominating, the tradition that rejects this, that reduces food to the barest minimum, that recommends plainness and blandness, and that castigates any elements of luxury in eating. Certain of the vegetarians - Shaw and Beatrice Webb among them - seem almost to dislike food; for Beatrice Webb this was part of a rigorous curbing of the pleasure-loving or passionate side of her nature in favour of a life of dedication and hard work, 'Man will only evolve upwards,' she wrote, 'by the subordination of his physical desires and appetites to the intellectual and spiritual side of his nature. (4) Lady Gwendoline Herbert was to have direct experience of the strength of this tradition of asceticism in the disturbance and agitation in the hall that ensued when she, addressing the May Meeting of 1896, asserted that vegetarianism involved no self denial. (5)
The vegetarians of this time were associated with a number of social purity movements, aiming to refine and de-sensualise human nature. Lady Paget expressed the predominating tone:
The older static model of man in terms of higher and lower natures, and of rising above the latter, continues, though for some in this period, influenced by evolutionary ideas and in particularly spiritual versions of these, this model is given a dynamic aspect and the movement translated into a temporal sphere, involving a cosmic and individual advance to a higher less fleshly plane.
The old belief in meat's stimulating effects was widely held. 'Keep your body in temperance and soberness', advised the Reverend C.H, Collyns, 'and you will find it far easier to keep it in chastity'. (7) In a similar vein a vegetarian diet was often recommended to boys in the fight against self abuse. Canon Lyttleton, (8) a head master of Eton, wrote of its benefits, and Eustace Miles, a vegetarian sportsman and public schoolmaster, wrote a number of books for boys which advocated a low, non-flesh diet for the problem. (9)
Not all subscribed to this view, and in an account left by Gandhi, we have hints of conflict over the issue. (11) Gandhi had arrived as a law student in alien England in the 1880's, and made contact with the London Vegetarian Society, and he recounts a conflict between Hills, whom he describes as a puritan, and Dr T.R. Allinson, described as an advocate of birth control, especially among the working classes. (12) Hills in his own writings makes it clear that sex is for procreation only: 'It has been given for its own special purpose, and for no other. It may not be abused for pleasure; it may not be indulged for passion'; (13) and he was able to force Allinson out of the Society over the issue, an action Gandhi deplored though he shared Hills' attitude to sex.