Immaculate Forms

A History of the Female Body in Four Parts


By Helen King

Formats and Prices




$25.99 CAD

The turbulent history of women’s bodies, from classical Greece to the modern day

Breasts, clitoris, hymen, and womb. Across history, these body parts have told women who they are and what they should do. Although knowledge of each part has changed through time, none of them tells a simple story. The way they work and in some cases even their existence have been debated. They can be seen as powerful or as disgusting, as relevant only to reproduction or as sources of sexual pleasure.  
In Immaculate Forms, classicist and historian Helen King explores the symbiotic relationship between religion and medicine and their twinned history of gatekeeping over these key organs that have been used to define “woman,” illustrating how conceptions of women’s bodies have owed more to imagination and myth than to observation and science. Throughout history, the way we understand the body has always been debated, and it is still shaped by human intervention and read according to cultural interpretations.  
Astute and engaging, Immaculate Forms is for everyone who has wondered what history has to say about today’s raging debates over the human body and who is “really” female.

  • “In Immaculate Forms, Dr Helen King expertly weaves science, history, and culture to illuminate history and educate about the most misunderstood parts of our bodies. There is no better guide to trace the history of what we know and to make it relevant for us today. Never has medical history been more entertaining! Impeccably researched, thoroughly enjoyable, and filled with moments of surprise, this book will astound. Immaculate Forms is not just essential reading for those interested in science; it should be read by anyone interested in understanding how disinformation about women's bodies comes to be and how it can be exploited.” 
    Dr. Jennifer Gunter, author of The Vagina Bible
  • “Delightful, timely and critical. If cognitive science has taught us anything, it's that our imagination of the future is built from our memories of the past. Helen King is here to give us some better material to build with. The history of women's bodies isn't nearly what you think it is, nor the history of "womanhood" itself.”
    Cat Bohannon, author of Eve
  • “With erudition and cool wit, Helen King anatomises three millennia of Western commentary from doctors, teachers and theologians about the female body. Males have tended to do most of the talking; now readers across the gender spectrum can find surprises and illuminations in this entertainingly comprehensive survey of what past generations knew, thought they knew, and often got wildly wrong.”
    Diarmaid MacCulloch, author of A History of Christianity
  • Immaculate Forms is also a work of immaculate writing. With unrivaled expertise and a wealth of classical and contemporary detail, the author weaves historical knowledge of medicine, anatomy, literature, art and religion into a narrative that surprises, informs, excites and frequently amuses. Essential reading for busting prejudice and myth about women and their bodies.”
    Adrian Thatcher, author of Vile Bodies

On Sale
Jan 28, 2025
Page Count
496 pages
Basic Books

Helen King

About the Author

Helen King is Professor Emerita of Classical Studies at The Open University. She is an elected member of the General Synod of the Church of England, where she is vice chair of Together, which campaigns on a range of discrimination issues including discrimination on the grounds of gender or sexuality. She is the author of Hippocrates’ Woman and has published extensively on the history of women’s health. She lives in Oxfordshire, England. 

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