The Victorians and piano legs

Nothing sums up the Victorians’wonderfully prudish attitudes to sex as to the the thought that they were aroused by piano legs.
Matthew Sweet, in Inventing the Victorians (2002), describes the origin of this story. In 1837, a Captain Frederick Marryat, the author of The Children of the New Forest (1847), whilst on a visit to America, visited a girls’ boarding school in New York state, where he saw a “square piano-forte with four limbs dressed in modest little trousers, with frills at the bottom of them”
These covers, he was told, were necessary to preserve the “utmost purity of ideas” amongst the impressionable young girls.
Captain Marryat dutifully recorded these events in his A Diary in America (1839). The British press seized on Marryat’s story with glee. Jokes about prissy Americans hiding their piano legs were repeated in songs and newspaper stories for years; eventually, the story became shorthand in the press for Victorian prudery.
In Charles Dickens’ novel Martin Chuzzelwit , published a few years later in 1842, one of the characters experiences a version of Marryat’s tale when he innocently talks of “the naked eye,” shocking the American woman he is speaking with into silence.
Sadly, it seems there is no evidence that piano legs were ever considered scandalous.The most obvious explanation was that anything draped was not to avoid maidens blushing, but to cover up the cheapness of the furniture.

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