Fanny and Stella: The Young Men Who Shocked Victorian
th AprilFanny and Stella, the flamboyantly dressed Miss Fanny Park and Miss Stella Boulton, are causing a stir in the Strand Theatre All eyes are riveted upon their lascivious oglings of the gentlemen in the stalls Moments later they are led away by the police What followed was a scandal that shocked and titillated Victorian England in equal measureIt turned out that the alluring Miss Fanny Park and Miss Stella Boulton were no ordinary young women Far from it In fact, Boulton and Park were young men who liked to dress as women When the Metropolitan Police launched a secret campaign to bring about their downfall, they were arrested and subjected to a sensational show trial in Westminster HallAs the trial of the Young Men in Women s Clothes unfolded, Fanny and Stella s extraordinary lives as wives and daughters, actresses and whores were revealed to an incredulous publicWith a cast of peers, politicians and prostitutes, drag queens, doctors and detectives, Fanny and Stella is a Victorian peepshow, exposing the startling underbelly of nineteenth century London By turns tragic and comic, meticulously researched and dazzlingly written, Fanny and Stella is an enthralling tour de force A rollicking read about a fascinating, oftentimes bizarre historical scandal and trial McKenna s prose suits the subject matter and keeps the story fun without sacrificing his scrupulous attention to research he doesn t shy away from including just as many of Fanny Stella s bawdy and outright explicit remarks activities as he does their sweet letters and expressions of sincere devotion, drawing a three dimensional view of the pair that s very human The image of Jack Saul peeping through a keyhole at the drag ball watching Stella and Lord Arthur entertain themselves, and then Saul s specific recounting of their exclamations of passion, had me laughing out loud The author takes care to place events in their socio cultural context with just enough information for the reader to make sense of things without losing the thread of the protagonists narrative Highly recommended for anyone with an interest in the subject. The beautiful haughty Stella and the handsome lascivious Fanny played a dangerous game in plain sight of the law, and a society that deemed them an outrage to public decency We are men, they mumbled miserably in unison And we are very, very sorry These were the words of Frederick William Park and Ernest Boulton, known otherwise as Fanny and Stella, upon their arrest on Thursday 28th April, 1870 Neil McKenna delves into the world of the he she ladies of late Victorian London as he unravels the case of two men who confused, confounded and captivated those who became part of their story.McKenna describes a London we might recognise one of gowns and corsets, the theatre, young people finding their way, and the authorities trying to keep the peace Fanny and Stella are large, showy characters, beautifully drawn from meticulous research and a clear understanding of the world they inhabited In thirty fast paced chapters we are initiated into the often strong language, the desires, and the practices of their underground world, in a way that allows us to feel just a little of the shock that our ancestors may have experienced, had the lifestyle of Park and Boulton ever been revealed to them We learn of the early days of the protagonists uncommon boys within unremarkable families Their voices are heard clearly and we, the modern readers, understand them What shocks us is the way their society views and treats them.The book is truly one of light and shade There is strutting pride and naked shame parents love and society s censure sisterly bonding and covert whoring It is certainly a cleverly woven tale which builds the big characters of Fanny and Stella, without allowing them once to become caracatures Historical facts are delivered seamlessly within the galloping drama, bringing much of the flavour of 19th century attitudes and laws We are reminded, for example, that the death penalty for sodomy had been repealed only in recent years, and that punishment was still crushing Beneath the comical theatre lies fear.Fanny and Stella s fate is in the hands of the law Crowds gather to catch a glimpse of these exotic creatures Can we tell if they are men or women What are they wearing What will happen to them Neil McKenna s account is an unbridled yet exquisitely corseted adventure that will leave you breathless. I enjoyed reading this book though the style of writing left something to be desired I felt with some misplaced apostrophes and some very purple prose Though the purple prose did in a way fit the subject matter The book shows a different side to Victorian society with men dressing up as women and appearing in public In the case of Fanny and Stella they also dressed as women to act in theatrical performances.Ernest Boulton Stella could easily pass for a woman and few people seeing her dressed as a woman could believe that she was actually a man In fact when she was dressed as a man many people were convinced she was actually a woman Fanny and Stella as they are referred to throughout this book were arrested in 1870 on suspicion of homosexuality and corrupting public morals However the police seem to have made something of a mess of the case since there wasn t actually a law prohibiting men appearing in public dressed as women or vice versa Medical evidence of homosexual activity was difficult to acquire and rarely reliable and unless two men were caught in the act it was virtually impossible to prove conclusively.The gentleman who was accompanying Fanny and Stella to the theatre at the time of their arrest appeared in court as a prosecution witness but in the end he proved to be much of a help to the defence as he was aware they were both men even though they were dressed as women This is a strange story which helps to throw some light on the wilder shores of human behaviour as well as showing that the tabloid press were just as scurrilous then as they are now.The book, which is based largely on the trial transcript and evidence contains comprehensive notes on the text, illustrations and an index. This book is an account not only of Fanny and Stella but the times they lived in Trans sexual people have a pretty hard time of it today but their era was massively worse, as it was for all people who loved their own sex rather than the opposite one Despite the prevalence of very passionate friendships between men which was OK the physical expression of that passion was beyond the pale, especially following some swingeing legislation that made love between men illegal although the gals got away with it because Queen Victoria couldn t believe women would do anything that filthy ha.McKenna s account of the police conspiracy to secure their prosecution hopefully for sodomy, which would have been a virtual death sentence by hard labour was exposed at the trial, as was the collusion of the police surgeon This is a gripping read, sympathetically written The narrative goes at a cracking pace and depicts the loyal, steady Fanny and the diva Stella with tenderness and great empathy A must read.
- Fanny and Stella: The Young Men Who Shocked Victorian England
- Neil McKenna
- 09 June 2018 Neil McKenna