Monday, December 29, 2014

The Marriage Question

Victorian sexuality can be approached from so many directions, including (but not limited to) body image, sexual orientation, masturbation, prostitution, sex education, disease, religion, marriage, and pornography. All of these aspects overlap and influence each other, creating tremendous diversity in attitudes toward sex at any given point in history. Each of these factors provide the context in which sexual identities are created. This post is the seventh in a series of posts that seek to explore that context from the 1890s with an emphasis on male sexuality.


“A man who moralizes is a hypocrite, and a woman who does so is invariably plain.” - Oscar Wilde, Lady Windermere's Fan.
Victorians generally viewed heterosexual marriage as beneficial to both men and women. Marriage and motherhood were the ultimate goal for a young woman. In the separate spheres ideology, women were portrayed as the angel of the household and a wife would act as her husband's moral compass. In this view, corrupt men could be reformed by such a woman.

Heterosexist views of sexuality painted women into asexual angels. In terms of sexual relations with their husbands, new brides were advised to "GIVE LITTLE, GIVE SELDOM, AND ABOVE ALL, GIVE GRUDGINGLY. Otherwise what could have been a proper marriage could become an orgy of sexual lust." - Ruth Smythers (1894).

Even today, the heterosexist binary view of gender paints men with sex drives that they will not be able to control if women aren't chaste enough. Ideally, the Victorian wife's refusal of sex tempered her husband's raging libido. Of course, we know none of this is true. Men do not necessarily have higher sex drives than women, and many people would give anything to turn their marriages into "an orgy of sexual lust." But, in the Victorian era, if you were a man, who masturbated or thought about having sex with men, marriage to a woman, who would ideally refuse to have sex with you, would somehow save your life.

History is full of examples of this not working out very well. Oscar Wilde is one example, though friends speculated, at the time, that, perhaps, he had married the wrong woman, and that if he had married his first love (Bram Stoker's wife), none of his same-sex relationships would have ever taken place.

Florence Stoker is an example of the ideal Victorian wife. The Stokers had one child. After he was born, his parents stopped having sex. Although there's evidence that Bram Stoker may have had many homosexual fantasies, there's no evidence that he ever cheated on his wife, even though they spent most of their time apart (he was busy working and travelling).

Although I don't think that Oscar marrying Florence would have prevented his affairs, I don't think that either of them were happy in their marriages, even though Florence was such a 'good' wife. They pined for each other, and neither were completely happy with their spouse. So, what happened when someone was unhappy with their spouse in the 1890s?

I've already mentioned 'the marriage question' in my post on sexual orientation. The marriage question focused on divorce. Ironically, the divorce rate in England and Wales in the 1890s was the lowest in Europe. However, its estimated legal separation rate was the highest.

Bram Stoker's employer, Henry Irving got married in July 1869. One night in November 1871, when she was pregnant with their second child, his wife criticized his work: "Are you going on making a fool of yourself like this all your life?" They were riding in a carriage, and Irving stepped out of it at Hyde Park Corner. Their paths would never cross again. They never divorced, and when Irving was knighted for his work, his wife styled herself "Lady Irving."

Irving's case was not exceptional. Contrary to popular belief, marriage was very unstable in Victorian times. Private separation deeds were common place and not confined to the upper-classes, as poor and working class people also sought to avoid the embarrassing scandal of divorce.

Martha Tabram, possibly the first victim of Jack the Ripper, had parents who separated, then had a troubled marriage herself, due to her alcoholism. Her husband left her in 1875, and paid her 12 shillings a week for three years. He reduced this amount to two shillings and sixpence when she moved in with another man.

Further contradicting popular beliefs about Victorian marriages, many couples of all classes lived together without ever getting married. Oscar Wilde's brother lived with his second wife for about a year before they were married. In the Murder of Mrs and Baby Hogg, we learned that the killer lived with a man before moving in with Mr Hogg, and had assumed that first man's name without marrying him.

With real life providing so many examples that contradicted the mainstream ideal of what marriage should be, writers and readers in the 1890s questioned the institution of marriage on legal grounds, and based on human desire. With the support of women writers mentioned elsewhere in this blog, legal reforms began to support women's property rights in marriage, and after it. As the Darwinian Revolution began to scientize the way people thought about themselves and their basic instincts, people questioned the monogamy that traditional marriage demanded. If men supposedly had such strong libidos, maybe they weren't meant to be with just one woman their entire lives.

The marriage question, also sometimes referred to as 'the sexual problem,' brought with it the concept of 'varietism.' According to Anne Humphreys, 'varietism' meant anything from promiscuity to serial monogamy, and the language used to discuss it was cloaked in evolutionary theory. This need to describe sexuality in terms of evolutionary theory ties back into people's needs to justify desires that were not condoned by their religious beliefs.

Although they thought and wrote about it an awful lot, the marriage question was never really answered in the 1890s. Though they thought about 'varietism' and engaged in alternatives to conventional married life, none of it was ever fully embraced by the more dominant aspects of their heterosexist culture. In 1912, Dr Muller-Lyer wrote:
The body of available and necessary knowledge to be taught the young became larger, the task of imparting it more difficult, and it was essential that family life should become consolidated, for much of this instruction could only be imparted by and in the family. And therefore monogamy became more frequent and met with definite approval, and unrestrained varietism in sex relations began to appear harmful, exceptional, and disreputable.
Consequently, the marriage question was thought about and written about throughout the twentieth century, and the way that we discuss it reflects the challenges of our times. Like most nineteenth and early-twentieth century German texts on evolutionary theory, eugenics, and race, Muller-Lyer's book is loaded with racism and classism, but he does suggest that we stop morally judging our ancestors for their sexuality, which is an attitude that should be applied to the way that we think of our contemporaries as well.

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Friday, December 26, 2014

God, Goddesses, Guilt, and Desire

Victorian sexuality can be approached from so many directions, including (but not limited to) body image, sexual orientation, masturbation, prostitution, sex education, disease, religion, marriage, and pornography. All of these aspects overlap and influence each other, creating tremendous diversity in attitudes toward sex at any given point in history. Each of these factors provide the context in which sexual identities are created. This post is the sixth in a series of posts that seek to explore that context from the 1890s with an emphasis on male sexuality.

There are no perfect rules for sexual behavior, but the conservative elements of society often try to enforce traditional rules and understandings. Sometimes when these rules are based upon mistaken ideas, they generate more problems than they solve. - "Shattering Sacred Myths," The Academy of Evolutionary Metaphysics, 2005.
Religion can be defined in many ways. For the purposes of this discussion, I'm defining it as a set of beliefs about what life means, and how it ought to be lived. I'm going to focus on how religion in 1890s London influenced the way that men thought they ought to be living their sexual lives.

Religion was different in the early-Victorian era from what it became after Darwin published the Origin of Species in 1859. In the late-Victorian era, people were not so much moving away from religion as they were moving away from literal interpretations of the Bible. This is the time when people started to feel "more spiritual than religious," which I still hear people saying today.

Contrary to what American Creationists claim, Darwin didn't turn very many people away from religion. The Presbyterian Church of England was founded in 1876. Jehovah's Witnesses evolved out of the Bible Student Movement of the 1870s, which also gave rise to the Watch Tower Society. New Churches began forming around the world at a rate not seen since the Protestant Reformation, and this continued into the early-twentieth century.

While many clung harder than ever to their religious beliefs, others began understanding religion in new ways. For some, this meant exploring the history of religion around the world, and lead to the creation of hybrid religious organizations in London, like the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, and numerous other spiritualist cults, including sex cults that claimed the expression of female sexuality was divine and/or men should have as many wives as possible.
"Priestess of Delphi," by John Collier  (1891).
"It was an era of religion and faith, and intellectual change." - Nina Auerbach 
The Salvation Army was founded in 1865, in the throws of the Darwinian Revolution, and represents the kind of change that was happening. Still riddled with ethical problems, the Salvation Army has always been something of an activist church that has maintained a vision of Christianity in action. It has, since its founding, promoted the idea that the ideal expression of one's faith is through good works, especially helping those less fortunate.

The flip side was what bad works could get you. Sex and sexual desire, outside of the desire to procreate within marriage, could create tremendous feelings of guilt, and was likely one of the reasons that 'discipline and punishment' was a popular fetish in Victorian pornography.

If one doesn't feel guilty about wanting something that is generally frowned upon by others, one might be inclined to find ways of justify wanting it. In this was a time of intellectual and spiritual change, new religions offered many ways to justify some sexual desires. For example, the religious utopian community of Oneida NY reorganized the Victorian concept of marriage and supported a system of 'free love,' which elevated the status of women, while making them vulnerable to the sexual desires of higher ranking Oneida men.

Although the Oneida Community was founded before the publication of
the Origin of Species, they began selective breeding programs in the 1870s.
Meanwhile, intellectuals, and many of the Bohemian artists in this blog, began looking to history, as well as religion, for guidance on how and why they should live their lives. Removing sex from the equation, Edmund Gosse's Father and Son explores the tension between the religious beliefs of early- to mid-Victorian parents and their children, who used their creativity and improved understandings of science to reevaluate traditional religious beliefs. Oscar Wilde wavered between Anglicanism and Catholicism, while embracing historical examples of same-sex love between older and younger men.

It was important and still is to people, like Wilde, to find historical precedents for how they needed to live their lives and express themselves sexually because religion was being used as an extension of (some may say the root of) Victorian morality, a concept they used to condemn the things they didn't like, including sex, women, foreigners, poverty, and disease. The intellectual and artistic quest to better understand humanity and our internal struggles gets painted as the antidote to foolish religious beliefs. This is in no small way because of the comfort knowledge can bring to one, who has long suffered from unnecessary religious guilt.

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Saturday, December 13, 2014

The No-Nose Club and Victorian STDs

Victorian sexuality can be approached from so many directions, including (but not limited to) body image, sexual orientation, masturbation, prostitution, sex education, disease, religion, marriage, and pornography. All of these aspects overlap and influence each other, creating tremendous diversity in attitudes toward sex at any given point in history. Each of these factors provide the context in which sexual identities are created. This post is the sixth in a series of posts that seek to explore that context from the 1890s with an emphasis on male sexuality.


Speaking about disease within the context of sexual identity, the first that come to mind are sexually transmitted diseases (STD). Other diseases also play a big role in how we identify as sexual human beings across gender lines. Illness even makes us feel irresponsible today: not just blaming ourselves for getting sick, but also feeling that we should have been better prepared for such an event. Consequently, health plays a huge role in any person's sexual identity, as does the fear of getting sick.

Victorian, and other historical, illnesses are approached with hindsight, and we can't talk about sexual identity and disease without talking about STDs. From where I sit, literary historians like to read the most common Victorian STDs onto historical figures. Oscar Wilde did not die of syphilis; there's also no solid emphasis that Bram Stoker had it. Yet, we seem obsessed with reading these diseases onto our beloved authors.

Things were quite different at the time. 

'Morality' was central to the very heterosexist racist society that was London, and the rest of the English-speaking world, in the 1890s. Morality was a concept they used to condemn the things they didn't like, including sex, women, foreigners, poverty, and disease. 

Cartoon from The Wasp (San Fransisco) of May 26, 1882,
promoting the then-common racist myth that diseases
were rampant in Chinatown. (Source)
One of the most outstanding examples of how Victorians used illness to shame the sick is Max Nordau's Degeneration (1895).
A race which is regularly addicted, even! without excess, to narcotics and stimulants in any form (such, as fermented alcoholic drinks, tobacco, opium, hashish, arsenic, which partakes of tainted foods (bread made with bad corn, which absorbs organic poisons (marsh fever, syphilis, tuberculosis, goitre), begets degenerate descendants who, if they remain exposed to the same influences, rapidly descend to the lowest degrees of degeneracy, to idiocy, to dwarfishness, etc. That the poisoning of civilized peoples continues and increases at a very rapid rate is widely attested by statistics.
Degeneration was translated to English three years after its initial publication, and introduced to London at a time when they were starting to talk more seriously about STDs.  Coincidently, 1895 is the same year Wilde went to prison. The book maintained ideas that were popular outside the bohemian set; chiefly, that lust was incompatible with intellect and artistic genius.

Women were still blamed for the spread
of STDs in WW2 propaganda posters
If the statistics Nardau refers to existed, they were, at best, misleading. Victorian doctors did not yet possess the means of accurately diagnosing STDs, and were as likely to overlook STDs, as they were to over-diagnose them. Wealthier people would have been seen outside of hospitals, and could expect their doctors to be discreet. Autopsies usually only superficially identified cause of death, such as which organs failed, though they might not know why.

They knew that STDs existed, and primarily blamed prostitutes, as is evidenced by the Contagious Diseases Acts, originally passed in parliament in 1864. 'Blame' is even too light a word, in this context. If a female sex worker was believed to have a STD, she would be locked away in a special hospital, until 'cured' - only there wasn't enough room in these Lock Hospitals (that's actually what they were called), so she was more likely to end up in a workhouse infirmary. Those laws were repealed in 1885, but the prevailing attitude toward sex workers and disease hadn't really changed by the 1890s.

Still, I am trying to talk about how STDs impacted a man's sexual identity in the 1890s. The state didn't do anything to the men, who had slept with the infected sex workers. In one sense, these men were left to fend for themselves, to find their own treatment. I don't know how many saw doctors. Their doctors were very discreet, after all. More realistically, they continued sleeping with sex workers, and spreading their infections.

Origin of the No Nose Club. Star, Issue 1861,
18 February 1874, p. 3. (Source)
The idea of catching an STD would have been terrifying, and a little unbelievable. As I've mentioned before, sex education wasn't very popular yet, and rumours were abundant. Indicative, of what men imagined from an STD was the No-Nose Club, which Linda Dowling calls, "an imaginary assembly of beakless sufferers of syphilis." They imagined that the signs of such terrible diseases would be quite obvious.

"The Martyrdom of Mercury," (1709).
If one didn't have symptoms, one couldn't be sick! Antibiotics weren't used to treat the disease until 1905-1910. For a man in the 1890s, having an STD was probably a secret shame, akin to masturbating. Admitting you had it or did it was akin to admitting you were a crazed pervert. Treatment with mercury was most common in the 1890s, and that was worse than the symptoms of infection, which brings us back to the spreading of diseases. It was as John H. Stokes wrote in 1920:
The third great plague is syphilis, a disease which, in these times of public enlightenment, is still shrouded in obscurity, entrenched behind a barrier of silence, and armed, by our own ignorance and false shame, with a thousand times its actual power to destroy. . . . It is one of the ironies, the paradoxes, of fate that the disease against which the most tremendous advances have been made, the most brilliant victories won, is the third great plague, syphilis the disease that still destroys us through our ignorance or our refusal to know the truth. (Source)
Shame kept people from getting treatment, so people died from their illnesses. Our beloved Mrs Beeton, of the  popular household management book, a pillar of society, died of syphilis, contracted from her husband. It may have also killed her first two children. I mention Mrs Beeton because her case demonstrates that there is no shame in getting sick. She bought into Victorian morality wholeheartedly, and it did nothing to save her.

Lee Jackson tells the story of another innocent woman, who died of syphilis, and concludes: "Who could have seen that hapless, unoffending victim to her woman's trust and man's barbarity, hurried to an early grave, without asking himself could such a one have been marked out for example and for punishment by a discerning Providence, as some would tell us?"

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Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Why Victorians Thought Sex Manuals Were Like Porn

Victorian sexuality can be approached from so many directions, including (but not limited to) body image, sexual orientation, masturbation, prostitution, sex education, disease, religion, marriage, and pornography. All of these aspects overlap and influence each other, creating tremendous diversity in attitudes toward sex at any given point in history. Each of these factors provide the context in which sexual identities are created. This post is the fifth in a series of posts that seek to explore that context from the 1890s with an emphasis on male sexuality.

Sex Education

We know now, beyond any reasonable doubt, that sex education reduces the risk of unwanted pregnancy, and prevents the spread of sexually transmitted diseases. Of course, there are still a few crazy people, who argue against sex education, people, I assume, who don't know the difference between sex education and pornography. Those people were the majority in the nineteenth century, believing that sex education led to promiscuity. 

The Victorians had more of an excuse for feeling that way, as there was often little difference between sex education manuals and pornography. Often pornography was a young man's first introduction to sex. BuzzFeed Contributor, Fern Riddel inadvertently made this case last year with a list of "9 Books That Will Change Your 19th Century Sex Life." The books are described as sex manuals, and include the English translation of the Kama Sutra (1883), and My Secret Life (1888).

I imagine that most of my readers know about the Kama Sutra and Orientalism in the nineteenth century, and beyond. The chapter of My Secret Life, published by anonymous, but attributed to Henry Spencer Ashbee, begins like this:
Providence has made the continuation of the species depend on a process of a coupling the sexes, called fucking. It is performed by two organs. That of the male is familiarly and vulgarly called a prick, that of the female a cunt. Politely one is called a penis the other a pudenda. The prick, broadly speaking, is a long, fleshy, gristly pipe. The cunt a fleshy, warm, wet hole, or tube. The prick is at times and in a peculiar manner, thrust up the cunt, and discharges a thick fluid into it, and that is the operation called fucking. It is not a graceful operation, in fact it is not more elegant than pissing, or shitting, and is more ridiculous; but it is one giving the intensest pleasure to the parties operating together, and most people try to do as much of it as they can.
If you read the rest of this chapter, you will quickly see that the author needs a lesson in "no means no." The Victorian sex manual's association with books like this made more earnest attempts at promoting sex education much more difficult. I'd like to give two examples of this: The Fruits of Philosophy, and Abbotsholme, before I discuss the difference in sex education for Victorian men and women.

An American doctor, atheist, and writer, Charles Knowlton wrote 'The Fruits of Philosophy, or the Private Companion of Young Married People' and was sharing it with his patients. In addition to offering treatments for impotence and advice on conceiving children, the book promoted then-popular methods of contraception, like chemical douching. For his efforts, Knowlton was prosecuted and fined for distributing pornography, so he published a second edition in 1832, so that it might be more widely distributed.

Of course, this led to Knowlton's three-months in prison, and another blasphemy trial in 1838. He died in 1850.

Annie Besant (1847–1933)
was a prominent British socialist, theosophist,
women's rights activist, writer and orator
and supporter of Irish and Indian self-rule.
In 1877, Charles Bradlaugh and Annie Besant were tried in London, for publishing the book there. Telling of the demand for sex education, the trial turned the book into a bestseller, increasing sales from around 700 copies to 125,000 copies in a single year. 

I've seen it proudly stated that England was the first country to offer formalized sex education classes. However, I don't think the creator of those classes felt that his country was so proud of him at the time.

Cecil Reddie
Cecil Reddie was the founder of Abbotsholme School, a school for boys between the ages of ten and nineteen, in Rocester in Staffordshire. Reddit was an education reformer, influenced by John Ruskin; fellow teacher, Clement Charles Cotterill; polymath, Patrick Geddes; and the romantic socialist poet, Edward Carpenter. Reddie lived with Carpenter, and Carpenter helped Reddie found the school in 1889. He ran the first formalized sex education class at that school. 

In 1900, Reddie wrote a book about his experiences running the school from 1889-1899. Though many of his students were British, his teaching methods were more popular in Europe, especially Germany. Teachers came from around the world to learn his methods, and set up their own schools. In England, his methods were met with great opposition, though the greatest opposition he faced came after the turn of the century when England developed a distaste for his pro-German leanings.

1890s Abbotsholme School.
Which leads me nicely into the difference between sex education between genders. If any female students attended such classes in the 1890s, Reddie would have likely been shut down. The rest of England wasn't as opposed to men learning about sex, as it was to women learning about... well... anything. 

The sexual education of boys was broadly discouraged. As I said in my post on prostitution, it was broadly believed that men needed some form of sexual relief, but they weren't allowed to masturbate. If there was any chance that sex education, being so much like porn, might encourage a man to masturbate, it was to be discouraged. Hence, most wouldn't risk it.

On top of this, a young man's parents likely didn't have any sex education either, and probably didn't know that they were making their sons and daughters more vulnerable to diseases and unwanted pregnancies. The idea that their children might have been masturbating would have terrified most parents in the 1890s. Because most sex manuals were so strongly linked in their minds to pornography, knowledge of sex insinuated an interest in pornography.

Consequently, any sex education for women was reserved for marriage. "Instruction and advice for the young bride," an article published in The Madison Institute Newsletter, Fall Issue, 1894, promotes the notion that women have no interest in sex - even after they are married! Author, Ruth Smythers writes, encouragingly, "By their tenth anniversary many wives have managed to complete their child bearing and have achieved the ultimate goal of terminating all sexual contacts with the husband."

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Sunday, December 7, 2014

Rent Boys & Degenerate Men

From Tom Kalin's "Swoon" (1992).
Victorian sexuality can be approached from so many directions, including (but not limited to) body image, sexual orientation, masturbation, prostitution, sex education, disease, religion, marriage, and pornography. All of these aspects overlap and influence each other, creating tremendous diversity in attitudes toward sex at any given point in history. Each of these factors provide the context in which sexual identities are created. This post is the fourth in a series of posts that seek to explore that context from the 1890s with an emphasis on male sexuality.


Our attitudes toward women and prostitution haven't changed much since 1899, but attitudes toward men and prostitution changed dramatically between 1890 and 1899. As I explained in my post on sexual orientation, the decade began without the labels of hetero, or homosexual, society was very heterosexist.

Male prostitution existed in 1890. Homosexual prostitution, both male and female, was a common part of city life. The city had molly houses (places for men to dress in drag and meet other men), and there was an all-male brothel on Cleveland Street in 1889. Male prostitutes serviced male clients.

Without sexual orientation labels, people normalized male homosexual acts by over-sexualizing men. The idea was, and sadly sometimes still is, that men needed to have sex, masturbation was forbidden, and if he couldn't find a woman, sex with another man would do, especially a young man because they could sometimes look a little like women.

Richard Freiherr von Krafft-Ebing
with his wife, Marie Luise.
In Psychopathia Sexualis (1886; 1894 translated), Richard von Kraft-Ebing only reinforced the idea that, while abstinence in women was to be expected, abstinence in men was "sufficient to overcome re-pugnance for the unnatural act," by 'unnatural' he meant 'homosexual.'

So, it was believed that:
  • Men needed to have sex.
  • If they masturbated, they might go insane, or develop epilepsy.
  • If they couldn't find a woman to have sex with, a man would do.
  • Two men having sex was still unnatural, whatever that means.
The heterosexist society of London in the 1890s heteronormalized the male on male sex acts taking place in the streets until they were blue in the balls, but the fact was that there were more female prostitutes per capita in London in 1890, than there are today. 
Indeed, many of those who campaigned against female prostitution, both in the eighteenth century and the early twentieth, sought only to regulate the trade rather than to eliminate it, fearing that if men did not have easy access to women, they would turn to each other. - Kerwin Kaye
It might have actually been easier for these men to hire a female prostitute. None of these men were paying men to have sex with them because they couldn't find a woman who would do it; these men were paying men to have sex with them because homosexual sex was exactly the kind of sex they wanted to have.

Cleveland Street Scandal in the London Illustrated News (1889).
The Criminal Law Amendment Act of 1885, which sent Oscar Wilde to prison for two years, was a source of ongoing torment for many men, who slept with "rent boys," or male prostitutes. When the Cleveland Street brothel was discovered by police, it was rumoured that one of its clients was second in line to the throne, reinforcing a popular idea that the men who hired male prostitutes were generally rather affluent. This led to some especially seedy characters, taking up the profession of male prostitution, in order to be able to blackmail their clients after the fact. 

The practice was so common that most of the writers in my blog, who used male prostitutes at one time, or another, were at some point also victims of blackmail. Consequently, the clients were labelled as degenerate hedonists, who deserved to be blackmailed; while the male prostitutes themselves were to be viewed with suspicion.

Until the invention of homosexuality, neither of the actors in male on male prostitution were viewed as homosexuals, only as degenerate men with excessive sexual tastes that corrupted younger men into an 'easy' way of making money.

Gender played a strong role in the perception of prostitutes. More agency was read into the characters of male prostitutes. They were seen as more responsible for their own fates, and their own destinies. A male prostitute could leave it behind him, when he got too old to continue working, or simply didn't wish to carry on with it anymore. The main difference between the perception of male prostitutes versus the perception of female prostitutes was how much agency men and women had.

No one seemed to be organizing to reform male prostitutes the way that they were organizing to reform female prostitutes, often called "fallen women," out of the separate spheres ideology. Separate spheres ideology maintained that while men needed sex, women shouldn't even want it a little bit. The idea that a Victorian woman might have had sex with many men was devastating to the angel of the household mythology. Even if a female prostitute was reformed, or somehow 'saved' from her 'vile' circumstances, she would never be admitted into polite society, as was the case with Lady Meux.

Lady Meux.
Still, Victorians were mighty reformers, and a man with a questionable past could always be redeemed by marriage to a morally outstanding woman. I will write more on marriage later.

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Wednesday, December 3, 2014

The Charlatans of the 1890s Anti-Masturbation Movement

Victorian sexuality can be approached from so many directions, including (but not limited to) body image, sexual orientation, masturbation, prostitution, sex education, disease, religion, marriage, and pornography. All of these aspects overlap and influence each other, creating tremendous diversity in attitudes toward sex at any given point in history. Each of these factors provide the context in which sexual identities are created. This post is the third in a series of posts that seek to explore that context from the 1890s with an emphasis on male sexuality.


Onanism is another word for masturbation that was popular in the 1890s.
Masturbation is a natural part of human life. Many adults and children even do it in their sleep. In the 1800s, it was generally believed that masturbation was bad for you - real bad. Although women masturbate too and precautions were taken to prevent them from doing so, the anti-masturbation movement primarily focused on men. 
Throughout the 1800s and into the mid-1900s, charismatic charlatans and money-hungry doctors throughout the Western World and its colonies continued to cash in on the anti-masturbation craze by selling snake oil and sadistic appliances to the masses. Most of these devices operated on the principle that aversion therapy - teaching men to associate fear and pain with genital stimulation - would put an end to masturbation. Among the numerous devices manufactured to cure self-stimulation: a "Penis Cooling Device," invented by Frank Orth (1893); the Stephenson Spermatic Truss (1876); a saw toothed steel penis ring to prevent erection (1908); a leather and steel penis "corset," invented by a Dr. Fleck (1931). These and dozens of other types of cages and chastity contraptions were routinely used on boys and men, not only in the spas and clinics run by the charlatans, but in hospitals and mental wards throughout Europe and North America, where psychiatrists eagerly applied themselves to the task of " curing" male masturbation by causing intense pain to their genitals. - Gloria G. Brame, The Truth about Sex, a Sex Primer for the 21st Century: Sex and the Self (2011).
 One of the most famous anti-masturbation advocates of the 1890s was John Harvey Kellogg of Kellogg's cereal. He may rightly be considered one of the charlatans that Brame refers to above, because he made a lot of money through his sanatarium and anti-masturbatory Corn Flakes cereal.

John Harvey Kellogg
Typical of the medical professionals of the era, Kellogg advocated sexual abstinence. He discouraged sexual activity for both medical and moral reasons, which he learned through the  Seventh-day Adventist Church, but were broadly supported at the time. He wrote books about abstinence, and believed the diet he was prescribing would reduce the sexual urges of its adherents. Kellogg loved enemas for this reason, and, like Frank Orth, the inventor of the 'Penis Cooling Device,' Kellogg supported the 'benefits' of hydrotherapy.

Frank Orth's Penis Cooling Device.
Kellogg was even against excessive sex within a marriage, and any sexual acts that were "against nature." Legend has it that Kellogg even spent his honeymoon writing one of his books on abstinence.

In his campaign against masturbation, Kellogg drew upon contemporary scientific rumors of masturbation-related deaths, in "such a victim literally dies by his own hand." Many of his contemporaries joined him in the claim that masturbation caused cancer of the womb, urinary diseases, nocturnal emissions, impotence, epilepsy, insanity, as well as numerous other disabilities.

Kellogg set out to rehabilitate masturbators through extreme measures, including genital mutilation of both sexes. He advocated the circumcision of young boys without painkillers to curb masturbation, and the application of phenol to a young woman's clitoris. He produced cages for boys' genitals and electric shock therapy.

People, like me, pick on Kellogg because he is a recognizable figure, who promoted harmful ideas. In context, Kellogg's ideas were as commonplace as viagra is today. Out of context, circumcising a guy of any age to keep him from masturbating sounds barbaric, but today's widespread circumcision of boys began in the late-Victorian era for this reason.

Medical Reference
(28 September 1895).
As late as the 1860s, circumcision was viewed primarily as a Jewish practice, until doctors began to view it as a way of preventing men and boys from masturbating. One 1895 medical journal calls circumcision "the physician's best friend and ally" because it "provides immunity from after-reproach." The same medical journal claims:
...should there be any play the patient will be found to readily resume his practice, not begrudging the time and extra energy required to produce the orgasm. It is true, however, that the longer it takes to have an orgasm, the less frequently it will be attempted, consequently the greater the benefit gained.
This journal advocates early circumcision, but says that if performed before puberty, it might have to happen again! Yikes! It also greatly advocates circumcision on men over fifty because they are less likely to suffer "the mental depression" that was sometimes observed after the fact in younger patients. However, they felt that passed that age masturbation has little effect on a man's health.

So, if doctors in the 1890s really believed all this nonsense, does Brame go too far in calling them charlatans? In some cases, these doctors were absolutely charlatans! Harry Finely makes the point that with all of the anti-masturbation propaganda circulating about, these 'doctors' had a very guilty and captive audience because almost everybody has masturbated at some point in their life. Combine that guilty conscience with a $10 instant cure, and these doctors definitely turned into charlatans.

I would compare it to the distribution of viagra today. Many men worry about their ability to get and maintain an erection, which has resulted in the over-prescription and abuse of medical aids, like viagra. Doctors, today, don't make extra money for writing a prescription, they worry for their patients, and I think many misguided doctors felt the same way regarding their patients concerns over masturbation in the 1890s.

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Tuesday, December 2, 2014

The Sexual Orientation of Men in the 1890s

Victorian sexuality can be approached from so many directions, including (but not limited to) body image, sexual orientation, masturbation, prostitution, sex education, disease, religion, marriage, and pornography. All of these aspects overlap and influence each other, creating tremendous diversity in attitudes toward sex at any given point in history. Each of these factors provide the context in which sexual identities are created. This post is the second in a series of posts that seek to explore that context from the 1890s with an emphasis on male sexuality.

Sexual Orientation
"Sexual orientation" is the preferred term used when referring to an individual's physical and/or emotional attraction to the same and/or opposite gender. "Gay," "lesbian," "bisexual" and "straight" are all examples of sexual orientations. A person's sexual orientation is distinct from a person's gender identity and expression. - The Human Rights Campaign
For the purposes of this post, I will be looking at the sexual orientations of self-identified men in the 1890s, especially writers. There will be little discussion of trans-men because I have little information on the lives of trans people in London in the 1890s, though they certainly existed, and likely wrote many wonderful things. I encourage all of my readers to discuss 1890s trans authors' sexual orientations in the comments of this post.

Oscar Wilde and Lord Alfred Douglas
1890s London was an extremely heterosexist place to live and be. It was also the most interesting and scary time of the century, in terms of discussing sexual orientation. Male homosexuality, as it exists today, was, in many ways, invented at this time. Of course, the history of male homosexuality dates way back before the 1890s, but at least two major events happened in 1890s London that would shape male homosexual culture for the next hundred years. Oscar Wilde's infamous trials occurred in 1895, and Havelock Ellis's translated Sexual Inversion (1897) became the first English medical textbook on homosexuality. 

Robert Ross at age 24
When I say that male homosexuality was invented, I mean that without differentiating labels of sexual orientation, we are all just sexual human beings. Men certainly didn't need the label of 'homosexuality' to be openly attracted to other men. Robbie Ross was relatively open about his sexuality before the 1890s, he was discriminated against and bullied at school, and embraced by his family. It was the ways that heterosexist society understood male homosexual attraction that were changing.

Heterosexist society is only capable of understanding homosexuality from within the context of heterosexuality. It normalizes heterosexuality, but at the beginning of the decade even heterosexuality was a problem. 

The Elder's Happy Home (1881).
'The sexual problem' and 'varietism' were a couple of the terms used in alternative journals to discuss what was most commonly being referred to as 'the marriage question.' Of course, marriage to a woman was the ideal goal of male sexuality in the 1800s. The marriage question's main focus was divorce, though it was expanded to include polyamory, and the complications involved in legalizing extramarital relationships to legitimize the children born of these relationships. Essentially, it struggled with the problem of men who were sexually attracted to people other than the woman they married.

W. Somerset Maugham's first novel, Liza of Lambeth (1897) tackles the marriage question by outlining many of the ways in which working-class Londoners struggled with the institution of marriage, and the ways in which marriage regulated heterosexual sex. At one point, Liza's lover even considers bigamy.

Hall Caine and Family (1890s).
Living as man and wife outside of marriage was more common than most people think in the Victorian Era. (George Elliott) Mary Ann Evans' partner, philosopher and critic George Henry Lewes was already married when he met Evans, but had an open marriage, and was unable to get a divorce, so he lived with Evans, as if they were man and wife. Hall Caine's wife, Mary Chandler was only 13 when they met, and too young to get married. They lived together, had children, and people assumed they were married, although they couldn't and didn't get married until she was almost of age.

Evolutionary theory provided fascinating new ways to think about those problems. The Darwinian Revolution was changing the way that people thought about life, the universe, and everything. As soon as it was published, it began to permeate fiction. By the 1890s, young writers had inherited a body of work to build off of that had created scenes and plots that adopted natural selection as part of human mating rituals. 

Darwinian courtship narratives featured, as Bert Bender put it, 'aggressive, eager, and possessive males and coy females; males participating in the "law of battle"; or scenes of music and dance that dramatized Darwin's theories on sexual attraction and biological beauty." Darwinian courtship narrative were also applied to real life.

Scientists used theories of evolution to naturalize perceived differences between men and women, especially in terms of courtship and sexual attraction. The dance floor became a metaphorical jungle for men and women's animalistic instincts. In my post on dancing, I discuss the scenes of music and dance that provided middle- and upper-class men one of the rarer opportunities to meet single women their mothers would approve of because those women occupied entirely different spheres of London life than their male counterparts. Most discussions on the separate spheres of Victorian life emphasize the restrictions that this highly gendered society imposed on women, but many Victorian men hardly ever got the chance to meet a woman they weren't related to. When they did, their were guides to help them through it, like Flirting Made Easy (1882).

From Flirting Made Easy (1882).
Although Flirting Made Easy is called a guide for girls, the text is clearly directed toward men, and echoed Darwinian courtship narratives found in fiction. Mrs. Humphry, Manners for Men (1897) describes the ideal man as the product of evolution, defined through his abilities to deal with all of the elements presented to him in the masculine spheres of society.
It was once said by a clever man that no one could be a gentleman all round who had not knocked about the world and associated with all sorts and conditions of men, high and low, rich and poor, good and bad. Experiences like these are like the processes for refining gold. The man who emerges unharmed from the fire of poverty and its associations, and who retains his independent manliness in relations with those high-place, must have within him a fibre of strength that is the true essence of manliness.
In this, we also have the idea of men knocking about with men becoming more manly men, which seems to reinforce the righteousness of a separate spheres ideology, in the midst of which a man could go to certain theatres, streets, hotel lobbies, and hire a 'rent boy.' Rent boys were young male prostitutes.

In the 1880s, 'the social purity movement' sought to contain the many manifestations of male lust, including prostitution.  In 1885, they pushed through legislation that would ruin Wilde's life ten years later.  The main intention of the legislation wasn't on regulating homosexuality (most of the movements supporters likely had little idea that such relationships existed). The legislation's main intent was to protect young girls from indecent assaults. Section 11 of the Criminal Law Amendment Act of 1885 revised the age of consent for girls from thirteen to sixteen (so until 1885, there was nothing legally wrong with Caine's relationship with Chandler).  The law was also amended to make any indecent assault punishable by making 'gross indecencies,' regardless of age, punishable as a misdemeanor.  Consequently, the vague wording was interpreted more broadly to apply to consensual same-sex acts between adults, which is what Wilde was sent to prison for in 1895.

I keep saying that most people in this heterosexist society didn't know anything about homosexuality, so that it was as if homosexuality didn't exist. Clearly, men who were interested in such encounters found them, and a dialogue was beginning to emerge. Richard von Krafft-Ebing first introduced the word 'homosexual' to the language through his English translation of Psychopathia Sexualis in 1892. A more popular word among homosexual men, at the time, was 'Uranian,' which emerged in poetry that referred to a third sex, which placed a female psyche in a male body.

The widespread belief that homosexual men are more feminine emerged during this time, and was reinforced through Ellis and Wilde.

Before Wilde was identified as a homosexual, the traits that we've grown to associate with homosexual culture were regarded as part of the culture of refined gentlemen, living an artistic life. Wilde was flamboyant, he cared about his hair, his clothes, his wife's clothes, he edited a woman's magazine, he wrote for the theatre... Ladies loved Oscar Wilde so much that he hired a guy with hair like his to travel with him on his American tour, so that he might be able to fulfill his many female fans' requests for locks of hair without having to cut any of his own. He was a masculine sex symbol at the beginning of the 1890s - not in spite of his aestheticism, but because of it.

At the end of the decade, the characteristics that made Wilde so masculine and sexy to women were associated with what Ellis called 'sexual inversion.' In his book, Ellis provided what is considered my many to be the first objective assessment of the sexual relations of homosexual men, including men with boys. Ellis didn't characterize homosexuality in terms of morality, or as a disease. It did, however, create a link between homosexuality and child abuse that has been difficult to reverse. There was no evidence then, or now, to suggest that homosexual men were, or are, more likely to abuse children than heterosexual men.

Child abuse was approached much differently in the 1880s and 90s than it is today, as illustrated through the beginning of Caine's relationship with Chandler (who eventually became his wife). Chandler's father ran a restaurant, and was called on to deliver a sandwich to Caine. After delivering the sandwich, Chandler's father (rightly or wrongly) believed that something sexually inappropriate had occurred between Caine and 13 year-old Chandler. Because he now viewed his daughter as sexually impure, he insisted that she was to be Caine's responsibility from that day forward.

Other cases in the UK and throughout the colonies, provide examples where parents sought monetary compensation in addition to an arrangement where the pedophile had access to their child victim. It was cases like this that the 1885 law sought to prevent. Pedophilia is not considered a sexual orientation today, but rather a paraphilia, or 'a condition characterized by abnormal sexual desires, typically involving extreme or dangerous activities.' It wasn't considered a sexual orientation in the 1890s either, if only, because people were still trying to figure out what sexual orientation was.

Three Yale men in drag; New Haven, CT (1880).
This photo likely had nothing to do with
sexual orientation, just some young men
dressing up as women for a photo.
Because 1890s London was such an extremely gendered and heterosexist society, anything outside of reproductive sex within a marriage was considered a vice, and needed to be repressed. Of course, the people within that society were still people with all kinds of sexual urges, as is clear through the lives of the writers presented here, like Oscar Wilde, Robbie Ross, Hall Caine, and Bram Stoker.

By today's standards, Oscar Wilde would most likely identify as bisexual because he did love women, including his wife, Violet Hunt, and Florence Balacombe (the future Mrs Stoker). He also loved Lord Afred Douglas, and Robbie Ross.

Robbie Ross was a homosexual before there was a word for it, and is perhaps one of the first gay activists. During the First World War, he even mentored a group of primarily homosexual poets and artists, which included Siegfired Sassoon and Wilfred Owen.

Hall Caine was also probably bisexual. He had many children with his young wife, but he also had many extramarital love affairs with men.

Although it's popular to insist that Bram Stoker was also into men, I would argue that he was probably a very typical heterosexual gentleman. There's no evidence that he ever cheated on his wife. He had romantic friendships with men, like Walt Whitman, which could rightly be considered an infatuation. However, he spent the majority of his married life away from his wife, which gave him ample opportunity to act on any extramarital urges he might have had, and didn't. I think that those romantic friendships were simply characteristic of a time when men weren't afraid of being considered homosexual because no one really knew what homosexuality was.

Of course, I am transposing contemporary ideas of homosexuality, bisexuality, and heterosexuality onto historical figures, which is a pretty anachronistic thing to do. In 1890s heterosexist society, if sexual orientation had anything to do with a man's identity, he most likely viewed it in a Jekyll and Hyde way, meaning he would Hyde any parts of himself that didn't fit with the heterosexist expectations of respectable life. He may still engage in those activities, but he would be very careful about letting anyone know about it.

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Sunday, November 30, 2014

20 Things You Should Know About Bram Stoker's Wife

Florence Stoker (2 November 1880)
Who was Bram Stoker's wife? Why should we care about her? Stoker wrote Dracula, surely that makes him the interesting one. Nope.
  1. Mrs. Stoker's friends called her Florrie.
  2. Florrie's middle names were: Anne Lemon. How can we not love someone named for such a delightful citrus fruit?
  3. Florrie was born Florence Anne Lemon Balcombe, the daughter of Lieutenant-Colonel James Balcombe of 1 Marino Crescent, Clontarf, and wife Phillippa Anne Marshall.
  4. Florrie's family were poor Irish Protestants.
    Sketch of Florrie
    by Oscar Wilde
  5. Florrie was Oscar Wilde's first love, and he was hers. She never really got over him.
  6. Florrie had to break up with Wilde when she got engaged to Stoker.
  7. Joseph Pearce writes that: "In Wilde's art, Florence Balcombe's absence had proved far more potent than her presence. He was fully aware of the paradox and learned the lesson it taught. Thereafter, the paradox of pain and the creativity of sorrow would permeate his life and his work."
  8. Florrie got married in Dublin in 1878.
  9. One of the things that Stoker and Henry Irving first bonded over was the fact they had both married women named "Florence."
  10. Their only child was born in 1879.
  11. After the birth of their son, Florrie's marriage to Stoker was platonic.
  12. To Bernard Partridge George du Maurier once said that the three most beautiful women he had seen were Mrs. Stillman, Mrs. John Hare, and Mrs. Bram Stoker.
  13. Florrie wanted to be an actress.
  14. There's evidence that Florrie made a stage debut 3 January 1881 because of a letter that Oscar wrote to Ellen Terry: "I send you some flowers - two crowns. Will you accept one of them, whichever you think will suit you best. The other - don't think me treacherous, Nellie - but the other please give to Florrie from yourself. I should like to think that she was wearing something of mine the first night she comes on the stage, that anything of mine should touch her. Of course if you think - but you won't think she will suspect? How could she? She thinks I never loved her, thinks I forget. My God how could I!"
  15. That year, the census recorded Florrie's occupation as an "artist." 
  16. Sadly, there's no evidence (that I can find) that Florrie continued acting, nor of any other art that she might have created.
  17. Florrie did, however, keep a painting Wilde made for her for the rest of her life, and always referred to him as "Poor O."
  18. The accomplishment history remembers her for was her attempt to destroy every copy of the film Nosferatu (1922) because it violate her copyright on the Dracula franchise.
  19. Florrie outlived her husband by 25 years, and wanted her ashes mixed with those of her husband. They weren't.
  20. When Florrie's son died in 1961, his ashes were added to his father's urn. Creepy?
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Sunday, November 23, 2014

1890s Literary Hostesses

The literary hostess is a figure, who pops up repeatedly in the biographies of all my 1890s writers. Married, or unmarried, she was usually, but not always a woman of means, who loved literature, and the arts. Her motivation for hosting the great writers of the day ranged from simple interest, to loving a particular writer, or even trying to advance her own writing career. A literary hostess might have also been an author in her own right, but she also helped to build the community of writers in London in the 1890s.

'A Five O'Clock Tea' (1893).
In his poem, "Slightly Foxed," William Plomer writes about the life of the husband of Gloria Jukes, an 1890s literary hostess.
Ignored in her lifetime, he paid for her fun
And enjoyed all the fuss. When she died he was done.
He sold up the house and retired from the scene
Where nobody noticed that he’d ever been.
His memoirs unwritten (though once he began ‘em)
He lives on a hundred and fifty per annum
And once in the day totters out for a stroll
To purchase the Times, two eggs and a roll.
Up to now he has paid for his pleasures and needs
With books he had saved and that everyone reads,
Signed copies presented by authors to Gloria
In the reign of King Edward and good Queen Victoria.
They brought in fair prices but came to an end,
Then Jukes was reduced to one book-loving friend [...]
Roger D. Sell accurately describes it as "a poem about the fickleness, bitchiness and transience of metropolitan literary circles." All of which are qualities the imagination, however unfairly, immediately transfers onto the literary hostess herself.

Louise Chandler Moulton
Louise Chandler Moulton was an American poet, writer, critic, and outstanding literary hostess. Willis J. Buckingham writes:
Few American women were more widely known as writers, and none was so conspicuous and active as a literary hostess, both at home and in England, as Louise Chandler Moulton. Living in each city for half the year, she presided over notable weekly salons in Boston and London for several decades. She knew everyone, from Longfellow and Emerson to Ezra Pound. Her poems, travel sketches, and literary letters, were widely admired. Her own verse was superficially like Dickinson's in being highly personal, brief, and frequently concerned with unfulfilled love and the transience of life. In its graceful, faded diction and utterly conventional pressed-rose melancholy, her verse was eminently suited to popular taste.
The life of the literary hostess, and author, as Moulton lived it, illustrates how a life of letters in the 1890s needn't be a solitary life at all. Their writers groups were fine salons in major cities, organized by women.

Some of these women have also been characterized as the "Grand Dames" of the 1890s, rich women, who served as patrons of the arts, like Annie Horniman and Lady Ottoline Morrell.

Lady Ottoline Morrell (1912)
Lady Ottoline didn't really become a literary hostess until after the turn of the century, but I couldn't resist including her sassy picture here, and taking a moment to note the kind of influence a woman like her could have on literature. She had an open marriage, and carried on many love affairs, while caring for the many children her husband had through his extramarital relationships. Among many others, her lovers included the philosopher Bertrand Russel, and the historian Roger Fry. Lady Ottoline is said to have been immortalized in literature through the characters of Mrs Bidlake in Aldous Huxley's Point Counter Point, Hermione Roddice in H.D. Lawrence's Women in Love, and as Lady Chatterly, among many others.

Lady Jane Francesca Agnes Wilde a.k.a. 'Speranza.'
Oscar Wilde was raised by one of the greatest literary hostesses of the late-nineteenth century, though his mother's salons began to peter off in the 1890s, due to her old age and failing health. It's said that once someone asked Speranza how she attracted such interesting people to her salons, and she replied: "By interesting them, of course!"

Speranza's salons were said to be crammed full of famous people from the time her sons were children. She entertained celebrities and writers by candlelight, and liked to keep the atmosphere dark because it encourage "bawdy talk."

Speranza is another one of those literary hostesses, who was an incredibly successful author in her own right. At one point in her life, she was considered Ireland's National Poetess.

I once called Hall Caine's wife, Mary, an unlikely archivist, but the truth seems to be that the women of London's literary circle in the 1890s were the keeper of records, and the organizers of events, as much, if not more than, their male counterparts. Perhaps, for some, it was because they needed these literary connections to get their work published, but so did the male writers. That's why so many attended their parties and salons.

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