When A Return to Modesty was first published in 1999, its young author surprised many with her invitation to consider the new power to be found in an old ideal. With her deeply personal account as well as fascinating intellectual exploration into everything from seventeenth-century manners to the 1948 tune “Baby, It’s Cold Outside,” Wendy Shalit launched a worldwide discussion about the possibility of innocence and romantic idealism.
Today, a young girl is pressured to look “hot” before she even knows her own home phone number, and becoming a porn star is just another way of paying for university. Still, now that we have arguably “hit bottom” as a society, the concept of modesty has also become more relevant than ever.
Unfortunately, many problems Shalit originally explored, such as date rape, hookup culture, and most alarmingly, the sexualization of young girls, have only become more prevalent. And now that social media increasingly blurs the line between public and private life, the pressure to be publicly sexual is greater than ever.
What is desperately needed is an alternative, and it is a vibrant one that can be found in this classic work. Beholden neither to social conservatives nor to feminists, Shalit reminds us of a different path that is not prudery, but a compelling ideal—and indeed, a different way of looking at life.
Now, in the 15th anniversary edition that addresses the unique problems facing society now, A Return to Modesty shows why “the lost virtue” of modesty is not a hang-up that we should set out to cure, but rather a wonderful instinct to be celebrated.