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28th April 1870. 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 measure. It turned out that the alluri 28th April 1870. 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 measure. It turned out that the alluring Miss Fanny Park and Miss Stella Boulton were no ordinary young women. Far from it. In fact, they 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 Hall. As 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 public. With 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.


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28th April 1870. 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 measure. It turned out that the alluri 28th April 1870. 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 measure. It turned out that the alluring Miss Fanny Park and Miss Stella Boulton were no ordinary young women. Far from it. In fact, they 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 Hall. As 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 public. With 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.

30 review for Fanny and Stella: The Young Men Who Shocked Victorian England

  1. 5 out of 5

    Gerry

    Fanny and Stella were actually Frederick Park and Ernest Boulfort but they indulged in a little cross-dressing, and not only in private, for they enjoyed flaunting their wares around the metropolis and elsewhere. Eventually their behaviour brought them to the notice of the police and they were arrested and examined by a police surgeon, who incidentally had no right whatsoever to undertake such a task. This revealed that they had been up to a little more than cross-dressing and subsequently led to Fanny and Stella were actually Frederick Park and Ernest Boulfort but they indulged in a little cross-dressing, and not only in private, for they enjoyed flaunting their wares around the metropolis and elsewhere. Eventually their behaviour brought them to the notice of the police and they were arrested and examined by a police surgeon, who incidentally had no right whatsoever to undertake such a task. This revealed that they had been up to a little more than cross-dressing and subsequently led to their being detained at Her Majesty's pleasure for a while. Once out and about they continued their activities but once again there was police intervention. They had affairs with various others, both male and female, and many high profile gentlemen were involved. Eventually a number of them were indicted along with Fanny and Stella when they all faced charges of indecency. However, because six doctors could not agree on the nature of the beast, as it were, they were eventually acquitted and went on to continue their lives, mostly performing as female impersonators both in the United Kingdom and America. The book seemed a fascinating subject, and indeed it was, but it was sometimes difficult to keep up with who they were as they went under so many different names. Were they male or female? Well, the best that can be said is that they were, as they were known, He-She Ladies. At one point Stella is described as 'Lais and Antinous in one. An amalgam of Lais the Corinthian, the most famous, the most beautiful and the most expensive courtesan of the Ancient World, the muse of Demosthenes, and Antinous, the most beautiful and most beloved boy of the Emperor Hadrian.' There were even questions asked about whether the pair of them were 'a species of hermaphrodite'. The book contains plenty of contemporary comment, with quotes from various letters, but also plenty of anatomical detail, some of which can be rather off-putting and perhaps too plentiful! But overall it is an interesting period piece, being both tragic and somewhat comic in turn.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Nicky

    Despite the claims of meticulous research, Fanny & Stella seems to be mostly a sensational recounting of some admittedly quite sensational events. On the one hand, I felt that there was a lot of delight taken in talking about the "sordid" details -- pretty thorough accounts of physical examinations for sodomy, and also a bit of an obsession with the sex as well. It's also written in many places as if it's nothing but a story, and it certainly doesn't keep in mind that for Stella and Fanny, this Despite the claims of meticulous research, Fanny & Stella seems to be mostly a sensational recounting of some admittedly quite sensational events. On the one hand, I felt that there was a lot of delight taken in talking about the "sordid" details -- pretty thorough accounts of physical examinations for sodomy, and also a bit of an obsession with the sex as well. It's also written in many places as if it's nothing but a story, and it certainly doesn't keep in mind that for Stella and Fanny, this trial was potentially a death sentence. On the other hand, from the descriptions here (admittedly this could be the author's work rather than reality), the two would have loved the attention, the tell-all details, outside the context of, you know, being in great danger. And I certainly learnt about the LGBT community in the Victorian period, and some of it rather surprised me. The fact that Fanny and Stella were referred to by those names, more or less consistently, and by female pronouns... I couldn't decide if that was meant to be respectful to them (what were their gender identities? Would they even have had a concept of that as we do?) or if it was meant to drive home at every point the whole "He-She Women" thing going on. Adding to that was the way the author presumed to know what was going on in their minds... All in all, it's entertaining but I wouldn't trust it as solid scholarship, and I'm a bit leery of the author's motives in writing it. Certainly it felt like there was a lot of prurient interest going on.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Nocturnalux

    The subject matter of Fanny and Stella is absolutely fascinating. The titular Fanny and Stella did more than just 'shock' Victorian England, their engagement in crossdressing and posing as women raises all sorts of highly interesting considerations about gender, performativity, sexual orientation, so much so that what was a bizarre episode of the 19th century is rife with critical potential to a 21st century audience. Unfortunately, the tone and overall approach of this book does not do them jus The subject matter of Fanny and Stella is absolutely fascinating. The titular Fanny and Stella did more than just 'shock' Victorian England, their engagement in crossdressing and posing as women raises all sorts of highly interesting considerations about gender, performativity, sexual orientation, so much so that what was a bizarre episode of the 19th century is rife with critical potential to a 21st century audience. Unfortunately, the tone and overall approach of this book does not do them justie. This title presents itself as an historical account but it hardly one. For the most part it is a quasi-novel, the author having apparently direct access to the actors' very thoughts, that never quite steps into the realm of historical fiction. Instead it hovers in this limbo of sorts that does a great disservice to shedding light on what is a most obscure tidbit of history. This ability to read the mind of the people involved in itself already displaces the book from historical research; but the content of these mental states is also highly debatable. The worst offender is a chapter dedicated to Stella's mother in which she gleefully gushes about her son's many admirers while playing matchmaker by picking the most gallant and best connected man from the lot. This is utterly absurd. Unless she was mentally challenged she would know that men could not legally marry other men in the late 1860's. This was not a viable option. Regardless of how open minded she might have been-and one wonders about this as well- she would never plan a marriage that could not possibly happen. Perhaps in order to make the book more entertaining (which it is, and a very easy read that can be consumed almost in one go) the author adopted a jocuse tone that while fun on occasion becomes increasingly distasteful as events unfold in a decidedly grim direction. It has been already been mentioned but once Fanny and Stella are arrested and charged with what amounted to conspiracy to incite others to commit 'sodomy' they are fighting for their very survival. Conviction would amount to a death sentence. Occasionally the book seems to remember this and pull back on the jollity but only to relapse into it a few paragraphs later. Despite all this, the book does a decent job at describing Stella and Fanny as actual people. When not projecting actual mental states into them, there is a lively depiction of two young men who went quite beyond the mold set for their demographic. The sheer gumption of it all takes one's breath away and the borderline way in which the text encroaches on fiction can lend some life to their characters. It is a sad fact that the very good moments do much to highlight of how everything off the bulk of it is. Those rare moments when the book rises above its cheap pseudo mock irony are all the more frustrating. It is at its best when it tackles the forensics of homosexuality, how it was categorized through a surprising vast body of medical literature; or the notions of a fluidity of gender framed in this time period were seen as liberating for what we now call budding lgbt groupings while triggering nothing short of a panic in much of the population and in particular with the authorities. These vectors are dealt with at some lenght and are a glimpse into what this book could have been. Veering almost on queer theory but with less of a theoretical apparatus to scare readers away, the author unveils an almost forgotten subculture whose claims to sexual liberation have been vindicated, at least to some extent, in our own time. Had Fanny and Stella kept this approach throughout it would have been truly amazing. As it is, it is an interest read that unfortunately cannot live up to its potential.

  4. 4 out of 5

    K.J. Charles

    The tremendous true story of two Victorian cross-dressers, Boulton and Park, or Fanny and Stella as they were known. You really didn't know the Victorians lived like that. They were arrested for public indecency and the trial was a spectacular scandal (especially with their high-life connections). This is brilliantly told, bringing a whole subculture to life. A must for anyone interested in the Victorians and/or LGBT history.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Meg Jayanth

    I'm about 70% of the way through. Rather magnificent so far - McKenna's theatrical style suits the subject matter. It's hardly a perfectly pure work of non-fiction biography, but the lavish prose, invention & liberal use of personal letters & documentation create a vivid sense of the characters of both Fanny and Stella, and - through the lens of the extraordinary show trial that they were submitted to (for *conspiracy* to commit buggery no less) - the often unacknowledged but most certainly very I'm about 70% of the way through. Rather magnificent so far - McKenna's theatrical style suits the subject matter. It's hardly a perfectly pure work of non-fiction biography, but the lavish prose, invention & liberal use of personal letters & documentation create a vivid sense of the characters of both Fanny and Stella, and - through the lens of the extraordinary show trial that they were submitted to (for *conspiracy* to commit buggery no less) - the often unacknowledged but most certainly very real lives of queer, genderfluid people who flouted the commonly held social norms but nonetheless were *a part of society*. This is the great strength of the book. From buying dresses in their own size, to scouring theatrical shops for shoes in male sizes, to promenading in Scarborough "dragged up" - Fanny, Stella, and their many sisters, admirers, families, friends, lovers, landladies, neighbours etc. are figures firmly entrenched within Victorian society, even if they are at odds with it. Fanny and Stella themselves are fascinatingly drawn and compelling protagonists. Brazen, courageous, petty, vain, loyal and silly by turns. In many ways a terrifying story of the machinery of the state turning against two of its citizens in a deliberately humiliating, chilling show trial based on ideological pressures and largely trumped-up evidence. What's surprising is how very modern some of the elements of the story are - apart from the harsh penalty for the "crime" of sodomy. The press sensation, scandal, political pressures, sexual misadventure, corrupt police force and overreaching prosecution, widespread misreporting, breathless public response, all of these feel very familiar, and help McKenna draw you into Fanny and Stella's story. Recommended to anyone with even a passing interest in queer history/culture, but more generally to anyone intrigued by the period, or historical fiction in general. It's a pretty rollicking tale of love, sex, scandal and theatre, and full of delight, charm and gloriously frank descriptions of anal sex.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Siria

    In the right hands, this could have been a fascinating work of history, but while the blurb for Fanny and Stella states that it's "meticulously researched and dazzlingly written", for me it failed on both counts. McKenna has clearly read widely on the trial at the heart of this book and on Victorian England, but it's not clear that he's read deeply on it; not only does he fail to follow some interesting lines of inquiry and contextualisation which are only hinted at here, he also frequently and In the right hands, this could have been a fascinating work of history, but while the blurb for Fanny and Stella states that it's "meticulously researched and dazzlingly written", for me it failed on both counts. McKenna has clearly read widely on the trial at the heart of this book and on Victorian England, but it's not clear that he's read deeply on it; not only does he fail to follow some interesting lines of inquiry and contextualisation which are only hinted at here, he also frequently and infuriatingly commits the cardinal sin of the popular historian, speculating wildly and giving that speculation as well-grounded fact. I lost count of the number of times I rolled my eyes at McKenna telling us what one person thought about another, what another person felt during sex, what emotions ran through an entire crowd—there is no way for him to know any of these things! If you want to write fiction, write fiction, and the style of the prose here does indicate that McKenna's tempted in that direction. While the purple prose may have been a deliberate affectation, a parody of Victoriana, it's one which is deeply wearying after several pages. There's enough drama inherent in the central story without any additional baroque flourishes: Frederick 'Fanny' Park, a judge’s son, and Ernest 'Stella' Boulton, two middle-class transvestite prostitutes who consorted with labourers and lords and whose arrest on the charge of enticing others to commit sodomy transfixed England in 1870. Diverting enough to read to the end, but not to be recommended as a work of history.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Elaine

    This is a "Franken-book" that could have been much better if the author had chosen to write either a scholarly account of the trial (and what led up to it and followed) OR a historical novel and not tried to do an amalgam of both. I get what he's going for--a theatrical, campy account of a campy, theatrical incident in history--but I don't think it's successful for a number of reasons, first and foremost that, for Fanny and Stella, this was not just a drag ball: their lives hung in the balance, This is a "Franken-book" that could have been much better if the author had chosen to write either a scholarly account of the trial (and what led up to it and followed) OR a historical novel and not tried to do an amalgam of both. I get what he's going for--a theatrical, campy account of a campy, theatrical incident in history--but I don't think it's successful for a number of reasons, first and foremost that, for Fanny and Stella, this was not just a drag ball: their lives hung in the balance, and not only theirs but the lives of their friends, one of whom apparently faked his own death and escaped and the other of whom disappeared into the continent and was last heard of discovered in women's clothing by the German police. I hate to think of what probably happened to him. And I wonder about the evidence for some elements of the account. For instance, we get a chapter in free indirect discourse from Stella's mother in which she ponders marriage prospects for her "daughter" and hopes to see her as the future Lady Stella Clinton. Did Mrs. Boulton really hope to see her son "married" to a man? That's pretty progressive for a Victorian matron! Is that artistic license, or is there evidence? As far as I know, this is the only book about this case or these men, and it benefits from the lack of competition. I hope it inspires someone else to write a scholarly account or a novel.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Nancy

    It wasn't what I expected, but I thought McKenna's "novelization" of Fanny and Stella and his camp prose were effective means to interpret his subject matter. It would have been better if not so cliche-ridden and a tic of using three synonyms where one word would have sufficed irritated, but it was an entertaining and even thought-provoking read.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Jayne Taylor

    To start with I was disappointed that it wasn't a story - a nice narrative from start to finish.... But after a couple of chapters I realised it was easy enough to read despite the (slightly odd) format - it's neither storytelling nor fact. Hard to describe, but it goes in easier than a factual account alone. It does jump around a little and I didn't always try hard enough to remember who's who as there were so many characters in and out. It's really rather rude (crude?) in places, yet I'm sure To start with I was disappointed that it wasn't a story - a nice narrative from start to finish.... But after a couple of chapters I realised it was easy enough to read despite the (slightly odd) format - it's neither storytelling nor fact. Hard to describe, but it goes in easier than a factual account alone. It does jump around a little and I didn't always try hard enough to remember who's who as there were so many characters in and out. It's really rather rude (crude?) in places, yet I'm sure it probably is a reasonable estimate of how people would have described things and spoken in those days. Slight tangent but not so long ago my work book group read A House of Silk, and somebody asked whether 'that type of thing really went on then?' - well apparently yes according to some of the additional info in this book! I have chosen this book for a reading group who are set to read it for our January meeting, half way through I began questioning whether I should withdraw it - but I've come round now. At least it'll give people something to talk about, even if they hate it. I did find the end rather disappointing as it seems to fizzle out a bit.... I found myself just wanting to get to the end so I could return it to the library and get onto my next book. However, I'm glad that I've read it - I did learn a lot about that period of time that I hadn't been aware of..... How things have changed hey?(-ish).

  10. 4 out of 5

    Gin Oliver

    Completely unique kind of book. Present from my sister to help me research the history of drag, Fanny & Stella is beautiful as a historical piece which, at times, tells you far more than you were expecting (and perhaps wanted to know) about the history of sodomy. Thoroughly researched and well written, it focusses on Fanny and Stella's trial for the crime of engaging in homosexual acts, but in turn highlights the attitudes of Victorian England towards homosexuality, cross-dressing and indeed any Completely unique kind of book. Present from my sister to help me research the history of drag, Fanny & Stella is beautiful as a historical piece which, at times, tells you far more than you were expecting (and perhaps wanted to know) about the history of sodomy. Thoroughly researched and well written, it focusses on Fanny and Stella's trial for the crime of engaging in homosexual acts, but in turn highlights the attitudes of Victorian England towards homosexuality, cross-dressing and indeed anything unbecoming of a lady . . . or a man. Illuminating, it wraps the story of these gentlemen around you like a fine, elegant stole.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Sally

    Having read rave reviews of this book, I was expecting a piece of lively, well-researched Victorian social history. What I found was a homoerotic peepshow. Was it really necessary for the author to dwell on details of intimate medical examinations and sexual encounters? Perhaps, yes, for the benefit of his intended target audience, but NOT one for me (middle-aged, female heterosexual)! I have given my (unfinished) copy to a gay male friend.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Jo

    In 1870 two young ladies were arrested at the theatre in London. And so begins the extraordinary tale of Ernest and Frederick aka Stella and Fanny. McKenna shows the other side of the Victorian era and writes in a wonderful style that brings all the main characters to life.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Aleksandr Voinov

    Interesting look into Victorian genderbending and drag, though not a "history" in the strict sense - too much soeculation re thoughts and feelings of the protagonist. That said, definitely interesting and quite mind-bending in places.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Orlok

    I found the subject matter of Fanny and Stella interesting, as it's not a world I knew much about, apart from the infamous Oscar Wilde case, so was looking forward to reading Fanny and Stella. I wasn't disappointed either, in terms of learning a lot more about the London gay scene in Victorian times. I was surprised by how brazen the men were, given that until recently sodomy had been a hanging offence, and was still effectively a life sentence if successfully convicted, given that ten years of I found the subject matter of Fanny and Stella interesting, as it's not a world I knew much about, apart from the infamous Oscar Wilde case, so was looking forward to reading Fanny and Stella. I wasn't disappointed either, in terms of learning a lot more about the London gay scene in Victorian times. I was surprised by how brazen the men were, given that until recently sodomy had been a hanging offence, and was still effectively a life sentence if successfully convicted, given that ten years of hard labour was likely to kill most people. What I was disappointed about was the style in which it was written. I found McKenna's approach was less than scholarly, and often suspected he was embellishing (read "making it up") rather than relying on research and writings from the time. This was particularly true of the personal interactions between the key players. Fine if you want to write an acknowledged fictionalised version of true events, but not so for a book purporting to be historical fact. I also found the swapping between the he/she pronouns a bit distracting, and would rather McKenna had settled on one approach and stuck with it. I did find the parallels between their case and some more modern examples enlightening, in as much as even in the face of overwhelming evidence, they were acquitted (anyone remember OJ?) due to the mess the prosecution made of things, and the creativeness of the defence in spreading doubt and uncertainty. All in all, I'm glad I read it, and was glad to see justice done, even if ultimately it was sad that their ambitions were not fully realised.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Thom

    In most books on Victorian England, the drama is to be found in the discontinuity between public morality and private debauchery. Mrs Fanny Park and Mrs Stella Graham (or Frederick Park and Ernest Boulton as they were known on their birth certificates) held no truck with this double-standard, bringing their private proclivities into the open; their arrest at the Strand Theatre, in full drag, scandalised society and led to a trial on trumped up conspiracy charges, where their co-defendants would In most books on Victorian England, the drama is to be found in the discontinuity between public morality and private debauchery. Mrs Fanny Park and Mrs Stella Graham (or Frederick Park and Ernest Boulton as they were known on their birth certificates) held no truck with this double-standard, bringing their private proclivities into the open; their arrest at the Strand Theatre, in full drag, scandalised society and led to a trial on trumped up conspiracy charges, where their co-defendants would include the American Consul and a lord of the realm. Despite their apparent openness, they still generated confusion, with some of their former suitors refusing to believe the truth - surely their effeminacy was a sign that they were hermaphrodites, or some other species of 'he-she creatures'? Mr McKenna is lucky to have a remarkably well-preserved set of records to fall back on (unlike Kate Summerscale in her latest, Mrs Robinson's Disgrace), but he is equally happy to fall back on less official sources such as pamphlets, street poems and gossip. His ability to empathise with his protagonists, adopting their language and sympathising with their desires, gives the book a unique voice, and makes for an extremely enjoyable read. At times, you feel he could make more of the cultural impact of the trial, but that would have taken away from the focus on the psychological make-up of his subjects - this is as much an emotional biography as a social study, which has its own value.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Graeme Aitken

    Some readers will remember Neil McKenna for his biography of Oscar Wilde published ten years ago, 'The Secret Life of Oscar Wilde'. In this new book, he illuminates a fascinating incident in gay history, the arrest and sensational show trial of Ernest Boulton and Frederick Park, aka Stella Boulton and Fanny Park. These two young men who liked to dress as women were arrested after an evening out at the notorious Strand Theatre. They had held court from a private box, carrying on and provoking the Some readers will remember Neil McKenna for his biography of Oscar Wilde published ten years ago, 'The Secret Life of Oscar Wilde'. In this new book, he illuminates a fascinating incident in gay history, the arrest and sensational show trial of Ernest Boulton and Frederick Park, aka Stella Boulton and Fanny Park. These two young men who liked to dress as women were arrested after an evening out at the notorious Strand Theatre. They had held court from a private box, carrying on and provoking the gentlemen in the stalls below. However, unbeknownst to them, the police had been investigating them for a lengthy period and arrested them with the intention of making an example of them. Impersonating a woman in public was merely a misdemeanour and could have been dealt with by a fine and a good dressing down. Sodomy, however, if it could be proved, was an extremely serious crime which would result in a sentence of horrific hard labour. And this is what the police were determined to accomplish. Neil McKenna has used the court records from the two trials, together with the associated evidence – mainly letters between the accused and their friends − to bring this fascinating story to life. Be assured that this is no dry history, but is an intriguing story written in a most lively, modern and enthralling style.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Emily Moon

    Despite my rating, I would say with all honesty that this was a thoroughly enjoyable and entertaining read that introduced me to a completely different side of a period of history that I thought I knew quite well. My criticism, however, is that our author should really have decided whether this was to be a history book or a work of fiction. It was a times frustratingly matter-of-fact about ‘truths’ and at others, graphic to the point of being quite inappropriate. I think I would have enjoyed it Despite my rating, I would say with all honesty that this was a thoroughly enjoyable and entertaining read that introduced me to a completely different side of a period of history that I thought I knew quite well. My criticism, however, is that our author should really have decided whether this was to be a history book or a work of fiction. It was a times frustratingly matter-of-fact about ‘truths’ and at others, graphic to the point of being quite inappropriate. I think I would have enjoyed it more had I started it with the knowledge that it is a ‘novelisation’ as opposed to a factual account of history. But, for enjoyment value, queer representation and for telling the stories of a throughly fascinating group of people, this book is well recommended.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Donald

    This is a quite fascinating true story that I'd never heard of until now. It is, as other's have pointed out, quite purple in it's prose, but that only adds to the overall story, rather than detracts. It's a chatty book, but the facts are not exactly meaty and although the sum of it's parts don't quite seem to add up to the whole, it's a glimpse into a hidden bygone underworld that underlines how far things have now come, (or not come in some cases!)

  19. 5 out of 5

    Andy Cooper

    A very good insight into the hypocrisy of Victorian England with regard to sex, sexuality and class. Whilst drawing on all the factual evidence available as the basis of this book it never appears dry and reads like a good court/legal drama.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Jessica

    An enjoyable story, though I think the best bit was learning all the now outmoded Victorian slang. I plan to bring "gamahuche" into my regular vocabulary...at least, as regularly as one has a need for that sort of terminology.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Eleanor

    A light and interesting read, faction rather than non-fiction, with a lot on how people felt, what they thought and so on. McKenna could well be quite accurate on these things, but he doesn't actually know it.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Dr J

    Fabulous - occasionally shocking - tale about two men, Fanny and Stella - and what they went through in a pre-Wilde obscenity trial Victorian world. Recommend reading and then listening to the podcast "Transgressions" which are modern tales of the same.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Webcowgirl

    This book is actually not particularly well written and leaves too much to conjecture, but I found it extremely compelling nonetheless.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Kay

    This is a really good read for the first half. The second half is just a repeat of the first half just worded differently. So disappointed.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Max Fincher

    Neil McKenna's fascinating new study of Mrs Fanny Graham and Miss Stella Boulton, or Frederick William Park and Ernest Boulton, provides an informative, dramatic and often humorous narrative of the personalities of the 'funny he-she ladies' who shocked Victorian society. McKenna shows how gay or queer men went in to the London theatres, treating them like cruising spaces. By day, Fanny and Stella were respectable staid bank clerks, yet when night fell, both transformed themselves into glamorous Neil McKenna's fascinating new study of Mrs Fanny Graham and Miss Stella Boulton, or Frederick William Park and Ernest Boulton, provides an informative, dramatic and often humorous narrative of the personalities of the 'funny he-she ladies' who shocked Victorian society. McKenna shows how gay or queer men went in to the London theatres, treating them like cruising spaces. By day, Fanny and Stella were respectable staid bank clerks, yet when night fell, both transformed themselves into glamorous women who would pick up men in the saloon bars of the Strand, Lyceum and Surrey theatres. On the night of 28 April 1870, the Metropolitan Police arrested Fanny, Stella and hUGH Mundell (one of their admirers) at the Strand theatre. Although both Fanny and Stella were both charged with conspiring to commit sodomy, there was no real hard evidence against them. They were on trial for crimes they had yet to commit, so to speak. There was also no law against cross dressing in nineteenth century England. In fact, cross dressing was very culturally visible in the popular fashion for burlesque plays, as McKenna describes. Fanny and Stella had a growing group of sympathizers who were bravely present at the trial to express their support. This is perhaps some of the earliest evidence I have come across of a more visible collective opposition to institutionalized homophobia in Victorian England. More than six doctors examined them for signs of anal intercourse, in the prosecution's desire to convict them, but could find nothing. Thirty one witnesses for the prosecution took the stand in court, some giving contradictory and false evidence. The Home Secretary was personally interested in the case. However, despite all the convoluted arguments used by the prosecution, the jury acquitted them on all counts. McKenna's history reveals that Stella was, by far, the most emotionally volatile and magnetic personality. A part-time amateur actress, she performed at the famous Scarborough theatre, and dated several socially prominent men, including John Fiske, the US consul in Edinburgh and Lord Arthur Pelham-Clinton, the black sheep soon of the Duke of Newcastle and godson to the Prime Minister, Gladstone. Stella was considered much more beautiful than Fanny (who in the photographs included in the book, does look a little mannish and dowdy by comparison). The theatre was an important space for both of them to identify and express themselves as women. Infatuated by Stella, Arthur Pelham-Clinton lived with her as if they were a married couple, in Southampton Street in London, along with Fanny. They fooled most of the servants with the exception of one who later testified against her employer at the trial. Fanny cheated on her 'sister', sleeping with Arthur behind her back, for which Stella never forgave her. After they were arrested, in a twist worthy of a Victorian sensation novel, Arthur suddenly disappeared when he was summoned to appear in court. He was later supposedly found murdered and buried, although there were no actual witnesses to prove that it was indeed his body underneath the gravestone with his name on it. Suspicion circulated that Pelham-Clinton was either being protected or blackmailed, supposedly because he knew too much information about other members of the upper-class establishment who were queer. If these men were to be exposed at the trial, rather like the Cleveland Street scandal in 1889, it would damage the reputation of the aristocracy beyond repair. McKenna effectively weaves into the his narrative the use of testimony from trial witnesses and diary entries that describe the social life of Fanny and Stella, and brings to life the demi-monde circles they moved in. They regularly attended 'bitches balls' (private drag balls) where entry was secured by a system of passwords. Despite the protestations of outrage by the newspapers, the public seems to have been more fascinated than repulsed by Fanny and Stella, unlike for example with Oscar Wilde later in the 1890s. Perhaps this was in no small part due to the mystery of how both of them so successfully managed to fool so many men for such a long time. Many of Stella's male admirers simply refused to believe that she was a man. An informative and fascinating read, written with verve and capturing the campy theatrical spirit and personalities of their lives, McKenna new detailed history of these two transgender women is a pleasure to read.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Mike Clarke

    E'en as we listen/Fading away....oh if only. Anne Fricker's morbid music hall paean to morbidity is Neil McKenna's leitmotif in this tale of woe. Along with The Funny He-She Ladies from the engagingly titled Curiosities of Literature. And yet, Fading Away is precisely what this book doesn't do. If anything it's a bit like being cornered in the Admiral Duncan on a Friday evening by a garrulous and slightly pissed tranny. The more you look desperately around, over her shoulder, towards the door, i E'en as we listen/Fading away....oh if only. Anne Fricker's morbid music hall paean to morbidity is Neil McKenna's leitmotif in this tale of woe. Along with The Funny He-She Ladies from the engagingly titled Curiosities of Literature. And yet, Fading Away is precisely what this book doesn't do. If anything it's a bit like being cornered in the Admiral Duncan on a Friday evening by a garrulous and slightly pissed tranny. The more you look desperately around, over her shoulder, towards the door, in short - in search of anything to rescue you, the more she buttonholes you, backs you into a corner, cajoles and then bludgeons you. And at the same time she's somehow screamingly funny. If you think that's overdoing it, you should try this book. It trundles along like a literary version of Emily Howard, Little Britain's 'rubbish transvestite', its wig askew, cheap makeup slapped on, overblown, frowsy, yet somehow with a certain magnificence notwithstanding. Boulton and Park, the Fanny and Stella of the title, were a cause célèbre - two camp little queens who loved dressing up in women's clothes, acting out fantasies of being grandes dames whilst eking out a living on the margins. Sordid rooming houses, minor theatricals and dabbling in prostitution made up their lives and like many others in London of the time (1870) they were tolerated to a point. But the world was changing - social, sexual and political rebellion was in the air and the frightened and puritanical Britiish establishment wanted to clamp down on deviancy in all its forms. Compared to this little drawing room romp, what came next - the police state, hard labour and nearly a hundred years of systematic persecution - makes this seem like halcyon days. Yet the trial of Boulton and Park ushered in an era that saw Wilde's trial and Turing's suicide, and only really drew to a close with Stonewall. Bizarre as it may seem, it was Fanny/Park's use of the ladies conveniences at a rather shabby theatre that started thenlandslide - provoking their arrest, interrogation and show trial, bringing to a wider - and not necessarily totally shocked - public a whole world of mollies, pooves, cross dressing and bum fun. The trial received massive press coverage and was recorded verbatim by clerks of the court and it is their arrest and arraignment that forms the centrepiece of this book. Most of the rest is speculation based in scant evidence about their lives, motivations and inner thoughts. McKenna has developed a clever conceit - the book pastiches and parodies a Victorian romance, heavy with verbiage as it clunks along. This can get wearing and after 350pp you realise how little there was to start with. But it's undeserving of Terry Eagleton's broadside in the London Review of Books which is the usual homophobia masked as objectivity. It's a startling recreation of a moment in time so real you can almost smell the tinctures, absinthe, the great unwashed crowds and the boy-girls' scent. It may be fey, but it certainly doesn't fade. Now, pour me a G and T and tell me again about your near-triumph in the RVT amateur drag championships, Veronica....

  27. 4 out of 5

    Saturday's Child

    Oh dear, was this book fact or fiction? What I was looking for was an interesting non-fiction read but that's not what I got. While I did learn about Fanny and Stella as well as attitudes of the day in Victorian England, I found the author's style of writing challenging.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Damaskcat

    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 dres 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 more 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.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Yara (The Narratologist)

    Fanny and Stella tells the story of two young men arrested for crossdressing and trying to lure other men into performing "unspeakable acts." This book covers the surprising twists and turns of the trial, the different Victorian attitudes towards "sodomy," and how exactly one would go about creating this illusion of being a woman (inflated sheep's lungs are involved). It's a fascinating look into the queer underbelly of London society, with its male prostitution, secret drag balls, and the const Fanny and Stella tells the story of two young men arrested for crossdressing and trying to lure other men into performing "unspeakable acts." This book covers the surprising twists and turns of the trial, the different Victorian attitudes towards "sodomy," and how exactly one would go about creating this illusion of being a woman (inflated sheep's lungs are involved). It's a fascinating look into the queer underbelly of London society, with its male prostitution, secret drag balls, and the constant danger of getting caught. Neil McKenna is very passionate about his subject matter, but often gets a little carried away with the gossip and speculation. He has a tendency to drift off into (purple) prose, describing emotions and thoughts he can't possibly know about. Personally, I would have preferred it if he had made more of an effort to stick to the facts, but it seems that he cannot help but let his own emotions shine through (or shout from the page, more like). That said, the story of Fanny and Stella is quite spectacular, and this book is definitely an interesting read for those of you who are interested in queer history or those wacky Victorians in general. Oh, and fair warning: the descriptions of both sexual acts and medical conditions get very graphic at times, so you might want to think twice about reading this on a crowded subway. A great opportunity to pick up some hilarious Victorian slang though (I, for one, am adding "crinkum-crankum" to my vocabulary).

  30. 4 out of 5

    Julie Hudson

    An interesting tale of two cross dressers in Victorian England and the trial that they faced for sodomy (which only 10 years previously was punishable by death). How our views have changed over the last 150 years. However, about half way through I started to get very fed up with the style of writing and skimmed through to the end. Too much repetition and over use of adjectives. As an example: "their world was under siege from an army of threats: internal and external, visible and invisible, actua An interesting tale of two cross dressers in Victorian England and the trial that they faced for sodomy (which only 10 years previously was punishable by death). How our views have changed over the last 150 years. However, about half way through I started to get very fed up with the style of writing and skimmed through to the end. Too much repetition and over use of adjectives. As an example: "their world was under siege from an army of threats: internal and external, visible and invisible, actual and imagined". Then two sentences on: "the nation was in a state of flux, of transformation". The world seemed to be changing almost daily. New ideas, new inventions and new ideologies were everywhere. There were threats of war, revolts and revolutions at home and abroad." It became very laborious and I thought if it had been better edited or treated it would have been a much better read. Some of the very graphic description about their ailments didn't go down too well whilst reading eating my lunch either but that was the least of my complaints. I did however learn how the word "antimacassar" is so named: (the doily things that go on the back of chairs, especially public transport) - the gentlemen of that age used Macassar oil to style their hair and an antimacassar was something put on chairs and shoulders of uniforms to protect against it.

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