2 Stars Reviews

Book Review: Virgin: The Untouched History by Hanne Blank

Hanne Blank’s survey of virginity through the ages looks at how this abstract concept has evolved, uncovering origins to the myths that have been perpetuated over centuries. Blank also considers the stories of famous virgins from the biblical to the royal and even those on our television screens.

Answering the question of what exactly virginity is, for once and for all, is probably an impossibility. Even if we could, we would still be left with an even deeper problem: the question of why we care about virginity in the first place.

I wanted so badly to love this, but like my last experience of Hanne Blank’s non-fiction, it left me disappointed. I’ve never read anything about the topic before, so I thought at least it can’t go rehashing old ground that I’m already familiar with. However, apart from specific anecdotes and historical stories, I didn’t feel like I learned anything interesting or new. Virginity is a social construct? Yeah, we know. It’s inherently rooted in patriachy? Yeah, no shit. Even though the book covers different eras and approaches, it felt really repetitive and it’s short length – only 250 pages if you discount the selected bibliography – really dragged.

Speaking of the bibliography, for a work that claims to be a survey of the small pool of existing research on the topic of virginity, there were no clear references to sources of the claims Blank was making about virginity within the text itself; just a list of works at the end of the book with no indication as to what specific part of Blank’s work relied on which source. On the odd occasion Blank did touch on some research that I wanted to know more about, I had no idea where to go because her mention of the source material was vague at best. There was even one instance where it was totally wrong; in the section about the narrative of the Virgin Mary, Blank refers to ‘work’ (vague enough as it is) by historian Helen Foskett. No such work exists; I can only presume she means Mary Foskett’s book A Virgin Conceived, which after I eventually found after much guesswork and Googling.

I think Hanne Blank’s writing style is very readable and accessible, which is why I still picked up Virgin after being disappointed with Straight, but I think both books suffer from trying to look at their topics from too many angles and never fully uncovering it in any actual depth.

Rating: 2 / 5 stars

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