Shaved, Rouged and Chignoned
- BuyFanny and Stella: The Young Men Who Shocked Victorian England by Neil McKenna
Faber, 396 pp, £16.99, February, ISBN 978 0 571 23190 4
Beneath their capacious skirts, Fanny and Stella were Frederick Park and Ernest Boulton, two young cross-dressers who were put on trial in Westminster Hall in 1871. Cross-dressing was not a criminal offence, so the men were charged instead with outraging public decency. On the slightest of pretexts, the prosecution also threw in ‘the abominable crime of buggery’, along with conspiracy to incite others to do the same.
Vol. 35 No. 6 · 21 March 2013
From Neil McKenna
Terry Eagleton accuses me of using ‘naff phrases and clichés’ in my book Fanny and Stella (LRB, 7 March). ‘Bouquets,’ he writes, ‘are the order of the day, advice is sage, disasters are unmitigated, rooms are too small to swing a cat in and events go swimmingly or arrive like a bolt from the blue.’ Eagleton’s careless – or careful – pluralisations give the impression that these phrases are strewn like confetti throughout my book. In fact, each is used once and once only. It is perhaps just as well that Charles Dickens is beyond the reach of Eagleton’s wrath, as Dickens used some of these ‘naff phrases and clichés’ and sanctioned the others. In David Copperfield, Mrs Crupp assures Mr Dick that there wasn’t ‘room to swing a cat’ in David’s chambers, and David and the Doctor agree that they should ‘go on swimmingly’ together working on the Dictionary. ‘The order of the day’ crops up in The Cricket on the Hearth. ‘Bolt from the blue’, ‘sage advice’ and ‘unmitigated disaster’ all occur in All the Year Round (though it’s impossible to know whether Dickens actually wrote these unsigned pieces, or merely ‘conducted’ them).
Terry Eagleton uses ‘unmitigated disaster’ twice in two books, and ‘the order of the day’ no fewer than nine times in the course of seven books, three of them in his Trouble with Strangers: A Study of Ethics (2009).
Vol. 35 No. 8 · 25 April 2013
From Ben Bethell
Terry Eagleton makes a common error in confusing hard labour with penal servitude (LRB, 7 March). When Frederick Park and Ernest Boulton were tried in 1871, those whom English courts sentenced to imprisonment – normally with, though sometimes without, hard labour – were consigned to jails run by local or county assizes. Sentences served in these institutions were often as short as a week or two, and never exceeded two years. Sentences of penal servitude had a five-year minimum (three years before 1864, and again after 1891). Park’s brother could not, therefore, have been sentenced to a year’s penal servitude; the sentence he served at Coldbath Fields, a jail run by the Middlesex magistracy, would have been imprisonment with hard labour.
Penal servitude was served in central government convict prisons: nine months’ ‘separate’ (solitary) confinement at either Millbank or Pentonville was followed by transfer to one of several ‘public works’ prisons, built from the mid-1850s to accommodate prisoners who would once have been transported. While the infirm (and the savvy) were sent to Dartmoor to reclaim land or to work indoors as tailors and shoemakers, at Chatham, Portland and Portsmouth prisoners laboured for the Admiralty and the War Office building and maintaining coastal defences. Those found guilty of the crime of sodomy could expect exceedingly harsh punishment, as Eagleton notes – 20 years’ penal servitude, or even life, was not uncommon – and they would indeed have worked alongside rapists and murderers. Unproductive labour was confined to local and county jails, and these prisoners would not, as Eagleton asserts, have walked a treadmill or operated a crank. Labour at a public works prison, though quite possibly less soul-destroying than the treadmill, was if anything more arduous, and if the reports of convict prison medical officers are anything to go by, far more hazardous.
Local and county prisons were brought under central government control in 1877, but remained distinct from convict prisons until both penal servitude and hard labour were formally abolished in 1948.