Wednesday, 11 December 2013

‘Play the Game’ – Victorians and Sport

"Play up! play up! and play the game!"

So, I’ve decided to attempt to ‘reframe’ the Victorians by exploring their love for Sport. Although Victorian Britain saw the creation of many rules and sports still used today, the sports themselves make little, if no appearance in the literary works we have studied this year. I found this strange – firstly because it might just be believable for the working class Britons depicted in Mary Barton to have a ‘kick about’ on the ‘Manchester Fields’; especially as sports were then and indeed are still in a way perceived today to be of interest to the working class. But if John Barton slide tackling George Wilson wasn’t believable, then surely Brontë removed the scene where Isabella and Edgar serve up a five set thriller in their garden. Although seemingly ridiculous; football, tennis and a range of other sports were increasingly popular across the classes and are surely an important part of the literary works social-historical context but instead of including these, the respective authors have instead got the women sat about sewing and drinking tea.

The first 'Ashes' winning team of 1882
Source: Wikipedia
Whilst continuing to use Gaskell’s Mary Barton as an example of a sport absent novel, it is obviously worth considering the time in which the novel was published and how that compares to the development of what we would now regard as ‘sports’. Being published and indeed set in the 1840s, Gaskell’s novel coincides with the peak of Britain’s love of cricket, a sport with rules which had been in place since the mid 18th century; in fact 1877 saw the first British cricket tour of Australia, which of course was lost (further proof that sport has changed very little!). Incidentally, the Australians toured Britain in 1882 and upon winning the series The Sporting Times published this famous obituary:

‘In affectionate remembrance of English cricket which died at the Oval on 29th August, 1882. Deeply lamented by a large circle of sorrowing friends and acquaintances. R.I.P. N.B. The body will be cremated and the ashes taken to Australia.’

... these of course being The Ashes which are still lost by England today.

Cricket as described by The Guardian (2003), was played by factory workers, people like John Barton and George Wilson, on recreational fields, like those featured in the novel, though it would probably be played more often than depicted in the novel! It was also, whilst watching a Youtube clip of the BBC’s documentary series ‘Empire’, that I noticed that increasingly strong link between the idea of sport and indeed playing sport, and the attitudes and abilities of soldiers in battle. This strong link which runs throughout the episode ‘Playing the Game’, could have been applied through Gaskell’s Mary Barton as she presents the Chartists; in having these people playing sport Gaskell could have further presented the Chartists as honourable and just people.

If you can tolerate the open shirt of Jermey Paxman for an hour, you can watch the whole episode below, although Paxman does summarise with a comparison to Newbolt’s poem ‘Vitaï Lampada’ or ‘Torch of Light’, which shows an acute comparison between a young man playing cricket and a young man going into war:

There's a breathless hush in the Close to-night --
Ten to make and the match to win --
A bumping pitch and a blinding light,
An hour to play and the last man in.
And it's not for the sake of a ribboned coat,
Or the selfish hope of a season's fame,
But his Captain's hand on his shoulder smote --
'Play up! play up! and play the game!'

The sand of the desert is sodden red, --
Red with the wreck of a square that broke; --
The Gatling's jammed and the Colonel dead,
And the regiment blind with dust and smoke.
The river of death has brimmed his banks,
And England's far, and Honour a name,
But the voice of a schoolboy rallies the ranks:
'Play up! play up! and play the game!'

This is the word that year by year,
While in her place the School is set,
Every one of her sons must hear,
And none that hears it dare forget.
This they all with a joyful mind
Bear through life like a torch in flame,
And falling fling to the host behind --
'Play up! play up! and play the game!' (Sir Henry Newbolt)

Victorian Britain was also the birth place of modern football and rugby. Both games were played among the working classes and were considered brutal sports which often resulted in people being too injured to go to work. Maybe this is why Gaskell chose to not include the popular working class game in her novel, to remove the air of savageness which would then be associated with her protagonists. To remove this ‘brutality’ and restore the Victorian spirit of fair play and discipline the schools of Eton and Rugby sat down and wrote up the official rules, which ended up contrasting greatly – the Rugby school allowing the predominant use of hands, and the Eton school ruling it as foul play and so creating the two different games: Rugby and Football.

An athlete being helped across the line at the first London Marathon.
Source: The Guardian Website.
If Gaskell deliberately left sport out to ensure that her characters appeared to be more ‘Victorian’and respectable then I suppose it’s justifiable; John Barton planning murder on crutches isn’t quite as effective. Though if the novel had been set just a few decades later then I am sure that John Barton would have been racing the others around the fields: the late 19th Century saw a dramatic increase in participation for the extremely competitive sport of pedestrianism. Pedestrianism is essentially walking until your competitors give up and it was common for races to last days! To give you a glimpse of how ridiculous and indeed competitive the sport was, British champion George Littlewood had his alcohol football set alight whilst he was using it, following his record ‘walk’ of 623 miles in six days. The competitive nature of ‘pedestrians’ produced the first cases of doping in sport, mainly because it was seen that ‘athletes’ could use medicines to cure any problems they had during sport as they would out of it; so cocaine and alcohol were normal practice whilst participating! Such was the popularity of the sport that the first London marathon was run in 1908. To supplement the runners love for 'tonics' whilst participating, each ‘athlete’ was given a mug of gravy to ‘help recovery’.

Gaskell’s absence of sport may just about be justifiable, though I am adamant that had the novel been written a few decades later she would have simply had to include John Barton demonstrating his abilities as a pedestrian, whilst taking cocaine and like every good northerner, recovering with a mug of gravy!

A Victorian Food Tour

The Victorians were obsessed with food, among many other things. The lack of it, how to serve it, when to eat it, where to eat it...and so on. From Oliver Twist's "Please sir, may I have some more?" to Queen Victoria's daily egg in a golden cup for breakfast, food has been well documented in this time period and played a large role in the literature of the times as well. Many Victorian heros and heroines have experienced conflicts involving food. Many times it is the lack of food that captures the imagination, as the reader's sympathies are engaged with the poor starving orphan boy. While there is no question that the poor lived horribly in the Victorian era, if one had money, there were plenty of places for you and some are still around today.

There have been a few blogs already focusing on what the Victorians ate, and so my blog aims to show where and how they ate. I’ve found that the Victorians as a culture sometimes feel so alien to us, what with their love of taxidermy and hair jewelry. One of the best ways to make them seem more “real” is by looking at shared interests. 

Food is most definitely a shared interest. So let’s eat our way around Victorian London, shall we?

First stop: The wonderfully bustling Borough Market. Borough Market supposedly opened way back in the 13th century, but rose in prominence during the Victorian era, due to its strategic location near the Thames and the original part of the Port of London. This made it perhaps the biggest food market in London. 

How it looked in the 1860s.

How it looks today. It's aged quite well!

What was on sale at Borough Market? The usual suspects- fruit, grain, vegetables, and livestock. Today, one doesn't usually find the livestock or grain, but everything else, including exotic foods from around the world.

Borough Market was usually for the lower classes- those who had to shop for their own food instead of having it delivered to their houses.

Fun fact: During Victorian times, one could get shellfish such as oysters and clams for incredibly cheap as these foods were the hardest to preserve and spoiled easily. In Oliver Twist, one of the less savory characters, Noah Claypole, eats oysters as fast as Charlotte the maid can shuck them- “He was in a slight degree intoxicated; and these symptoms were confirmed by the intense relish with which he took his oysters, for which nothing but a strong appreciation of their cooling properties in cases of internal fever could have sufficiently accounted.” 

Additional in-joke because oysters are well-known for their supposed aphrodisiacal properties- Charlotte is feeding Noah. Saucy!

No oysters for me today, but I did grab a roast duck sandwich. Duck was an easily accessible food in the Victorian era- you’d find them swimming along the Thames just as you’d do today. Hopefully my lunch didn’t come from there.

Next stop: The Trafalgar Tavern

Taverns and eating houses were primarily for the middle classes- those that did not have their own kitchens at home, so the only option was to buy food ready-made. However, the Trafalgar Tavern is special because it seems to have been more for the upper middle classes. Charles Dickens, William Thackeray, Samuel Pepys and even Benjamin Disraeli ate here. The Hawke Room, upstairs, served as the setting for the wedding breakfast scene in Dickens’ Our Mutual Friend.

The tavern is known for its whitebait dinners: Shoals of tiny fish were caught daily from the Thames, deep fried in lard, then dressed in lemon juice and pepper. The recurring theme in these two locations is that food often came from the Thames. That’s right, the same foul river that served as sewer and washbasin was also a food source!
I wasn't a fan. My food kept staring at me.

Third stop- Let’s move up a social class and explore what the fashionable ladies of the Victorian era did. In the 1870s tea and confectionary shops became popular places for women to socialize. They would eat, shop, and gossip over sweets such as petit fours and biscuits. These types of places with their women-only clientele were important because they allowed women to leave the home, yet still partake in socially-approved activities.

Tea in this period has become so important that it crosses all class barriers. If one was not a fashionable upper-class lady, one would probably have their tea similar to the situation described in the opening chapters of Mary Barton. Mr. And Mrs. Barton are preparing for a tea with their friends the Wilsons.

“Run, Mary dear, just round the corner, and get some fresh eggs at Tipping’s (you may get one a-piece, that will be fivepence), and see if he has any nice ham cut, that he would let us have a pound of.”

“Say two pounds, missis, and don’t be stingy,” chimed in the husband. 

“Well, a pound and a half, Mary. And get it Cumberland ham, for Wilson comes from there-away, and it will have some sort of relish of home with it he’ll like- and Mary, you must get a pennyworth of milk and a loaf of bread- mind you get it fresh and new- and, and- that’s all, Mary.” Mary Barton, 1848.

The Bartons’ tea will be served at their home. Elizabeth Gaskell makes a point to let the reader know the prices of foodstuffs- she is establishing authenticity about her subject as well as indicating that the Bartons must be savvy about their expenses. 

Tea’s capacity to cross classes is still apparent today- anyone, even two American students from Hawaii, can still enjoy a proper afternoon tea at Harrods. It was delicious!

Our next stop on the Victorian food tour is a place where the most important men ate and still do today: the opulent Mansion House. This is the official residence of the Lord Mayor of London, and it has a grand dining hall known as the “Egyptian Hall” (which isn’t accurate because all of the decorations of the hall are Roman). It is used for official functions and state dinners, usually involving foreign dignitaries. 

Plough Monday, an important annual event: “On the Monday evening the Lord Mayor gives the grandest dinner of the year in the Egyptian Hall, at the Mansion House, to 400 persons, at which some of the Royal Family often attend, a ball taking place in the evening.” Old and New London, 1878.

Unfortunately I am not a person of political importance, and so did not eat here.

Final stop: Still hungry? Let’s go look for some Victorian street food! The lower classes sometimes didn’t have time to sit down and enjoy a meal- they were always working. A common practice was to buy something ready-made and eat it while tending one’s stall, begging, or even “working the corners.”

Donkey’s milk
Want really really fresh milk? Sometimes vendors would have the animals alongside them on the street, udder at the ready. Other vendors would simply have the milk available in pails- bring your own cup or tankard. Sometimes the “milk” could be just a mixture of chalk and water.

Hot eels
Eels were chopped, boiled, seasoned with pepper, and kept hot. Pieces of the meat were served in a cup, and one could add vinegar if wanted. Eat quickly though- the vendor needed the cup returned, and more often than not didn’t bother washing the cup before passing it on to the next customer.

Sheep’s trotters
You could eat these lovely things cold or hot. Just buy the trotter already skinned and parboiled, then bring it with you as you walk the streets of London, sucking at the bone. Extra flavor from the bits of mud or worse between the sheep’s toes. Yum.

On second thought, I’m not hungry anymore. Let's end here.

Food and where to get it is so prevalent (or non-prevalent) in Victorian literature that sometimes it even drives the plot. In Mary Barton: it is what forces Esther to prostitution. “I sold my goods any how to get money to buy her food and medicine...and it was winter, cold bleak winter; and my child was so ill, so ill, and I was starving.” Mary Barton, 1848.

In Great Expectations, it is the act of giving food to a starving convict that seals our hero Pip’s fate. Pip is threatened and nearly strangled by the convict, who is clearly willing to kill for food. Pip steals food from his own house to give to the man. When that convict comes into a lot of money, he gives much of it to Pip because he is so grateful.

Victorian literature likes to dwell on the lack of food because it makes for better dramatic tension. If the hero is hungry, that automatically gives him or her a goal to strive toward. However, as we’ve seen from our tour today, not all Victorians were starving. If one had money, one could actually dine quite well in Victorian London. I hope you’ve enjoyed this tour of places where the Victorians used to eat and that it has painted a more realistic portrait of the times. Let us end with a quote from The Popular Guide to London and its Suburbs, 1862:

“...if you want anything very cheap, and not particularly nice, you may find it in almost every bye-street, where hot joints smoke and steam in the windows, and you may get your appetite appeased by the scent of the dishes before you have put a morsel in your mouth. Remember Mr. Punch's advice to diners—What to eat, drink, and avoid: Turtle, Champagne, and Ham Sandwiches for a penny!”


A Social History of Tea, Jane Pettigrew [The National Trust:London] 2001(p. 110-112)

'The Mansion House', Old and New London: Volume 1 (1878), pp. 435-447. URL:

"History of the Mansion House." City of London. N.p., 10 Apr. 2012. Web. 25 Oct. 2013.

"The Trafalgar Tavern." Greenwich Guide -. N.p., 17 Apr. 2013. Web. 24 Oct. 2013.

"The History of Borough Market." Borough Market. N.p., 2009. Web. 24 Oct. 2013.

Bentley, Nicolas. The Victorian Scene: 1837-1901. London: Spring Books, 1971

Dickens, Charles. Dickens' Dictionary of London: An Unconventional Handbook.London: E.J. Larby, 1908. Print.

Pardon, George Frederick. The Popular Guide to London and Its Suburbs: Comprising Descriptions of All Its Points of Interest, with Historical, Literary, Statistical and Useful Information. London: Routledge, Warne and Routledge, 1862. Print.

Pictures are mine except for ones with link provided.

Tragic Figure of Female in Waterhouse's Paintings

In Victorian era, most women who need to depend on their husband. The women in the period were probably suffering from such circumstances. They need to get married with men, and their work were mostly housework at home. The lifestyle which they have is obviously different from the one in modern society. From paintings by John William Waterhouse, these aspects are revealed slightly in his contexts. He was fond of literary topic, such as women's tragedy, femmes fatales, and Arthurian literature. In The Lady of Shalott (1888) by Waterhouse, he represents Shalott’s death because she sees the man with whom she falls in love. She “suffers under an undisclosed curse”. (Riggs, 1998)  Waterhouse were fond of Tennyson’s poem, and he created three scenes of The Lady of Shalott in total. Furthermore, he painted the tragic woman, Ophelia in Hamlet three times. This blog post will show two paintings of women by Waterhouse and discuss tragic figure of women in the paintings.

He is classified into one of the artists in Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood which is defined as a group of English artist to revive the style before Raphael, and the other members are included Holman Hunt, John Everett Millais, and Dante Gabriel Rossetti. For Waterhouse’s background, in 1849, he was born in Roma where his father was a painter. In 1850s, he studied at Royal Academy in England and assisted his father there. After he lived in Primrose Hill Studio, he continued to create more works. His paintings are fond by rich buyers, particularly, According to Kerr, he did not have difficulty with money. (Kerr, The Art and Life of John William Waterhouse) For his personal comments, it remains a few, and some of letters seem to exist. (Tippi, 40)

The Lady of Shalott by John William Waterhouse, 1888

When he was tired of being criticised paintings in Greek and Roman mythologies, and Christian history, he tried to highlight classical and modern literary works. (Upstone, 37) In 1889, Waterhouse created the painting The Lady of Shalott which was based on the same title of Tennyson’s poem. Tennyson’s poem is also based on Arthurian legend. His aimed was to highlight Arthurian literature again instead of Christian history, Christian thoughts and Greek and Roman myth. Waterhouse’s picture is concerned about the scene;

And down the river's dim expanse

Like some bold seer in a trance,
Seeing all his own mischance -
With glassy countenance
Did she look to Camelot.
And at the closing of the day
She loosed the chain, and down she lay;
The broad stream bore her far away,
The Lady of Shalott. 

For Tennyson’s poem, Upstone explains the poem "The Lady of Shallot was a fairy lady engaged in wearving 'a magic web', the tapestry itself having magical properties" (38). She needs to use a mirror all the time when she looks outside. Her domestic world is only the building where she lives; on the other hand, the outside world is always weaving by the mirror. According to Upstone, three candles in front of the Lady are the implication which the Lady faces a dreadful fate, death. There are two small swallows which may be implied that she is going to the new world (38-9).  In this case, the new world could be said death. Because of these elements, it is slightly implied a religious aspect as Christianity. This point is different from Tennyson’s poem. The painting became popular in the period; however, Upstone suggests that Waterhouse add his own interpretation into the work. He describes in dark tone in the background, in contrast, he might represent her innocence in the way of dressing in white. The tapestry is especially beautiful colour of pink.

Furthermore, the story has another interruption from Feminism view. The Lady could be said the women’s symbol which stays at home and does housework until she dies. In this idea, the building where she lives is thought her “home”. Once the Lady knows another world and tries to escape from “the home”, she should die. She might be restricted by “the home”.

Ophelia by John William Waterhouse, 1889

Another painting of Waterhouse’s works has the same theme of death. Ophelia in Shakespeare’s Hamlet, she mostly goes mad. It is because not only her boyfriend Hamlet rejects her, but also her father was killed by her boyfriend. She may choose to go the place in danger, and “falls into the stream while picking flowers.” (Lupton, Thinking with Shakespeare) The flowers around her are imagined her death. Many artists described the scene when she dies in the stream, in contrast, Waterhouse’s first version Ophelia was obviously no water. (Tippi, 22) Waterhouse represent her deathly emotion in the picture. Her face might show her abandoned feeling for Hamlet. Her eyes are strongly gazing at viewer, and her left hand grasps the glasses and her hair powerfully. (Moore, 2007) In Hamlet, she is broken at last, however, in this picture, she is thought still sane.There are Waterhouse perhaps express both She could face the death in Waterhouse vision even though her death is suicide or not. Shakespeare’s Ophelia is sometimes criticised her weakness, and she is probably an unrealistic woman. Even in Shakespeare’s period, women could be quite stronger than original Ophelia. On the other hand, Waterhouse might success to make Ophelia more realistic.

              The two ladies who Waterhouse described suffer under their unfortunate circumstance. One is because she has curse to see outside by the mirror. Another is because  Two stories were made in different period, however, the treatment of female is thought almost the same. These pictures could show tragedies by women who get struggled by men.

Work Cited
Lupton, J. “Methods in Madness: Thinking with Ophelia” Thinking with Shakespeare. Web. 09. Dec. 2013
Moore, M. “Waterhouse's Versions of Ophelia” English and History of Art 151. Brown University. 2007. Web. 10. Dec. 2013
Riggs, T.Summary” John William Waterhouse. Tate. 1998. Web. 10. Dec. 2013
Trippi, P. J. W. Waterhouse. London: Phaidon Press Limited. 2002

Upstone, R. J.M. Waterhouse: The Modern Pre-Paphaelite the Netherlands: Groniger Muserm Groninegn. 2008

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

The Victorian Workhouse

‘If this girl had stolen her mistress's watch, I do not hesitate to say she would have been infinitely better off. We have come to this absurd, this dangerous, this monstrous pass, that the dishonest felon is, in respect of cleanliness, order, diet, and accommodation, better provided for, and taken care of, than the honest pauper.’ Charles Dickens, A Walk In a Workhouse (1850)

The Victorian workhouse was undoubtedly a phenomenon that captured and defined a huge aspect of Victorian society, particularly the grim reality for the working class in Victorian England.

First established in 1834 after the passing of Poor Law Amendment Act, workhouses were set up to prevent workers from claiming poor relief and instead earn their keep. Inmates were classified under Edwin Chadwick’s commission and subsequently separated into several groups depending on one’s age, gender and competence. These included able-bodied men over 15 years, able-bodied women over 15 years, men infirm through age or illness, women infirm through age or illness, boys between 7 and 15, girls between 7 and 15 and Children under the age of 7and 15. Once these groups had been established, it was final and there was no further differentiation between each individual. This meant the old, physically ill and mentally unstable were all grouped together in certain divisions. Married couples were parted and children separated from their parents. The conditions were taxing both emotionally and physically.

 Oppression and discrimination towards the working class was a prevalent issue at the time, reflected in some of the most classic pieces of Victorian Literature, particularly the writings of Charles Dickens who rebuked many social and economic aspects of Victorian society. Arguably the most famous depiction of the Victorian workhouse is in Oliver Twist. In the extract below, Dickens highlights the limitations of food in the workhouse, the issue resulting in one of the most famous quotes in a Dickens novel, ‘Please sir, I want some more’.
Oliver Twist and his companions suffered the tortures of slow starvation for three months: at last they got so voracious and wild with hunger, that one boy, who was tall for his age, and hadn't been used to that sort of thing (for his father had kept a small cook-shop), hinted darkly to his companions, that unless he had another basin of gruel per diem, he was afraid he might some night happen to eat the boy who slept next him, who happened to be a weakly youth of tender age. He had a wild, hungry eye; and they implicitly believed him. A council was held; lots were cast who should walk up to the master after supper that evening, and ask for more; and it fell to Oliver Twist’. Dickens, Charles (1837-9) Oliver Twist (Chapter II)

As the picture (left) depicts, the buildings were generally bleak, morbid, prison like structures with high, domineering walls and windows which restricted the inmates view. There was no aesthetic enhancement and the décor materialised the general workhouse morale:  monotonous, uninspiring and often depressing.  However it is architecture like such which are now symbolic of the Victorian era. 
Upon arrival, inmates were searched, cleaned and given traditional workhouse clothing. Women’s-wear consisted of long, baggy dresses, knee length drawers, stockings and poke bonnet as seen in the above picture. Men wore striped shirts, trousers that where adjusted at the knee with string, woollen draws and socks, a neckerchief and a coarse jacket. Children were similarly dressed and all inmates had a pair of hob nailed boots.

The standard workhouse consisted of dormitories that were restricted in space. Majority of inmates shared a bed of which were arranged in barracks.  In an extract from George Orwell’s ‘The Spike’ (which was a colloquial term for a workhouse) he describes his experience of a dormitory
‘The cells measured eight feet by five, and, had no lighting apparatus except a tiny barred window high up in the wall, and a spyhole in the door. There were no bugs, and we had bedsteads and straw palliasses, rare luxuries both. In many spikes one sleeps on a wooden shelf, and in some on the bare floor, with a rolled-up coat for pillow. With a cell to myself, and a bed, I was hoping for a sound night’s rest. But I did not get it, for there is always something wrong in the spike, and the peculiar shortcoming here, as I discovered immediately, was the cold’. Orwell, George (1931) The Spike.


The walls were 'decorated' so as to speak with rules and ironic bible passages and quotes such as ‘Blessed are the Poor’.  Luxuries that included newspapers, books and games were not permitted. There were also workrooms, washrooms, a bake-house, dining halls, a mortuary, a chapel and a refractory ward which was for solitary confinement. There was no consideration for the infirm situated on upper floors, which often meant they were captive as they were unable to use the stairs.  

Oakum picking (left) was a standard job in the workhouse amongst women along with other domesticated roles such as scrubbing and polishing. Men were assigned to physical tasks such as driving the corn mill which involved walking on a Treadwheel construction.

Because workhouses were densely populated, diseases tended to spread much faster. The hospital ward dealt with various epidemics ranging from measles, smallpox, scarlet fever, typhoid fever an dysentery.

Although general connotations of the workhouse represent the unforgiving hardship working class citizens at the time had to endure, its history is an enlightening one of architecture, economics, social and politics collectively.

Works Cited:

Dickens C. (2007). Chapter II. In: Oliver Twist. London: Penguin Popular Classics.

Orwell, G. (1931). The Spike.


Victorian Homosexuality and Oscar Wilde

We live in a society today where the topic of homosexuality has always been a much talked about issue in many countries in the world. As an anthropology major, and also a student of an American university and being raised in an Asian society (Singapore), homosexuality has been very much of a controversial topic in the various societies that I have been exposed to personally in my experiences. Hence, exploring this topic during the Victorian period seemed to give me a different perspective and possibly my own take of what sexual identity was to the Victorians in terms of homosexuality.

Homosexuality among men has been occurring far beyond the Victorian era. However, the nineteenth century was when begin a wave of prosecutions against homosexual men. It was during then where homosexuality was considered a descriptive term. This meant that the Victorians started looking at homosexuality as less of what they considered as a mental defect or illness but they started seeing it as an act of crime. Homosexuality remained as something to be despised throughout the Victorian era. There were a lot more anxieties against male homosexual activities as compared to lesbian activities. Homosexual acts were a capital offence until 1861. That was when the death penalty act for buggery was abolished.

The timeline of the LGBT history in Britain during the Victorian era are as follows:

·         1861 - The death penalty for buggery was abolished. A total of 8921 men had been prosecuted since 1806 for sodomy with 404 sentenced to death and 56 executed.
·         1866 - Marriage was defined as being between a man and a woman (preventing future same-sex marriages). In the case of Hyde v. Hyde and Woodmansee (a case of polygamy), Lord Penzance's judgment began "Marriage as understood in Christendom is the voluntary union for life of one man and one woman, to the exclusion of all others."
·         1871 - Ernest 'Stella' Boulton and Frederick 'Fanny' Park, two Victorian transvestites and suspected homosexuals appeared as defendants in the celebrated Boulton and Park trial in London, charged "with conspiring and inciting persons to commit an unnatural offence". The indictment was against Lord Arthur Clinton, Ernest Boulton, Frederic Park, Louis Hurt, John Fiske, Martin Gumming, William Sommerville and C.H. Thompson. The prosecution was unable to prove that they had either committed any homosexual offence nor that men wearing women's clothing was an offence in English law. Lord Arthur Clinton killed himself before his trial.
·         1885 - The British Parliament enacted section 11 of the Criminal Law Amendment Act 1885, known as the Labouchere Amendment which prohibited gross indecency between males. It thus became possible to prosecute homosexuals for engaging in sexual acts where buggery or attempted buggery could not be proven.
·         1889 - The Cleveland Street scandal occurred, when a homosexual male brothel in Cleveland Street, Fitzrovia, London, was raided by police after they discovered telegraph boys had been working there as rent boys. A number of aristocratic clients were discovered including Lord Arthur Somerset, equerry to the Prince of Wales. The Prince of Wales’s son Prince Albert Victor and Lord Euston were also implicated in the scandal.
·         1895 - Oscar Wilde tried for gross indecency over a relationship with Lord Alfred Douglas, was sentenced to two years in prison with hard labour.
·         1897 - George Cecil Ives organizes the first homosexual rights group in England, the Order of Chaeronea. Dr Helen Boyle and her partner, Mabel Jones, set up the first women-run General Practice in Brighton, including offering free therapy for poor women. Helen Boyle also founded the National Council for Mental Hygiene (which subsequently becomes MIND) in 1922. British sexologist Havelock Ellis publishes Sexual Inversion, the first volume in an intended series called Studies in the Psychology of Sex. He argues that homosexuality is not a disease but a natural anomaly occurring throughout human and animal history, and should be accepted,not treated. The book is banned in England for being obscene; the subsequent volumes in the series are published in the US and not sold in England until 1936."

This timeline of the LGBT history definitely gave me a good view of the progression of homosexuality in England. If you had noticed from the timeline of events, it was mostly focused around activities involving male homosexuality more than female homosexuality. There was some evidence that suggested that during the Victorian era, female homosexuality was present and acceptable amongst the upper class. This could be true because of the belief that women could not have sexual intercourse on their own. Hence, a romantic relationship between two women did not matter as much as compared to males as they were more likely to be involved in activities involving sexual intercourse and hence explaining the penalties for the act of buggery. Throughout the timeline though, the stigma of being homosexual was starting to become more relaxed as the first homosexual rights groups were being set up in England. The Victorian era did show a great turning point in the idea of homosexuality from first an illness (before the Victorian period) to a crime and then to a form of human rights worth fighting for.  

Upon going much information regarding Victorian homosexuality, the incident that stood out to me the most was definitely the Oscar Wilde trials. Oscar Wilde seemed to be one the most openly gay Victorian writers/poet that I read about at a time period when being homosexual was despised upon highly. The Oscar Wilde trials was one the famous trials that made an impact in how I viewed Victorian homosexuality or just homosexuality in my personal opinion. The purity and greatness of the relationship between Oscar Wilde and Lord Alfred “Bosie” Douglas alone did make me reconsider the importance of looking at homosexual relationships in a more in-depth way. This is because their relationship I viewed and understood through his writings were a lot more emotional and in depth as compared to looking at homosexuality through the act of having sexual intercourse between two makes as what the LGBT timeline suggested.

Oscar and Bosie in 1893

Oscar Wilde met Lord Alfred Douglas in the June of 1891. Lord Alfred Douglas was then an Oxford undergraduate and also a talented poet. Oscar Wilde on the other hand became one of London’s most popular playwrights in the early 1890s. It was said that “it was during the course of their affair that Wilde wrote Saloméand the four great plays which to this day endure as the cornerstones of his legacy”. There were many literary evidences to show the nature of the relationship between Wilde and Douglas. To me the most outstanding ones were the handwritten letters by Oscar Wilde to Alfred Douglas. They were a lot more beautifully written than I had imagined.

Oscar Wilde's letter to Bosie, November 1892 (The Morgan Library)

In the January of 1893, Oscar writes:

“My Own Boy,
Your sonnet is quite lovely, and it is a marvel that those red rose-leaf lips of yours should be made no less for the madness of music and song than for the madness of kissing. Your slim gilt soul walks between passion and poetry. I know Hyacinthus, whom Apollo loved so madly, was you in Greek days.
Why are you alone in London, and when do you go to Salisbury? Do go there to cool your hands in the grey twilight of Gothic things, and come here whenever you like. It is a lovely place and lacks only you; but go to Salisbury first.
Always, with undying love, yours,

As from this letter, Oscar was obviously feeling the loneliness without Douglas even though he lives in a place he could call lovely as though even being surrounded with beautiful things, nothing in nature could be better than Douglas. But more than that Oscar describes to feel the loneliness of Douglas a lot more than his own loneliness. At the same times, he does want to be supportive of whatever Douglas wants to do which is to go to Salisbury even though all he wants is to spend time with him.

Their relationship got a lot more intense and also the tension escalated quickly as the downfall of Oscar Wilde started due to the father of Alfred Douglas, John Sholto Douglas, the Marquess of Queensberry. He took many measures to end their relationship. Also on the opening night of Wilde’s new play The Importance of Being Earnest that was set to open at the St. James Theatre, Queensberry planned to disrupt it but Wilde had Douglas’s father, the Marquess of Queensberry, prosecuted for libel instead. This play soon became his masterpiece and he reached the height of his success. However, very soon after that his downfall began and the trials had led Wilde to charges against “gross indecency” and eventually had him end up in two years of imprisonment.

On the eve of the final trial, Wilde wrote:

“My dearest boy,

This is to assure you of my immortal, my eternal love for you. Tomorrow all will be over. If prison and dishonor be my destiny, think that my love for you and this idea, this still more divine belief, that you love me in reture will sustain me in my unhappiness and will make me capable, I hope, of bearing my grief most patiently. Since the hope, nay rather the certainty, of meeting you again in some world is the goal and encouragement of my present life, ah! I must continue to live in this world because of that”

Even though, there was much distress in their relationship and only Wilde had to be imprisoned which did not completely make sense because Douglas was also in the relationship with him, he only had thoughts of their love being more than physically together and also something as more deeper and stronger than the existence of life itself. His love for Douglas kept me strong.

In the Victorian period, it was a losing battle for Wilde to be single-handedly fighting to be with the one he loves eternally just because he was male, his writings has showed a lot of depth in what a homosexual individual sees and feels emotionally which is quite far off as what the society sees and feels about being homosexual. 

Finally, something to ponder about...

"He has also ruined my life, so I can’t help loving him — it is the only thing to do" - Oscar Wilde

Works Cited:

Wilde, Oscar, and Merlin Holland. Oscar Wilde: A Life In Letters. New York: Carroll & Graf, 2007

A Theory of Scandal: Victorians, Homosexuality, and the Fall of Oscar Wilde. Ari Adut. American Journal of Sociology, Vol. 111, No. 1 (July 2005), pp. 213-248