Queer Victorians


Doug Ireland reviews Charles Upchurch's recent book on homosexuality in 19th century England. Besides detailing the surge in "attempted sodomy" arrests after the 1820s—a change Ireland attributes partly to a draconian revision in the anti-sodomy statute, and partly to the creation of the London Metropolitan Police Force— the article pushes back against a common belief about the period:

Previous historical accounts have made the unwarranted assumption that there was little public discussion or public awareness of same-sex activities in Victorian England until late in the century, when a series of notorious cases involving queers culminated in the prosecution and conviction of Oscar Wilde.

But Upchurch, after a decade of meticulous research, demonstrates that this assumption is palpably false. Earlier examinations of the press in early-and-mid Victorian England relied on indexes and databases built on key words that missed many published reports on same-sex conduct and legal action. But by minutely examining the files of three newspapers with different class audiences between 1827 and 1870, and cross-checking them with court records, official documents, and correspondence, Upchurch has shown that not only was there broad public awareness in these years of sex between men, but that male homosexual conduct was a matter of considerable public discussion.

Naturally, the outlet oriented towards the upper classes prefered to cover cases "in which men of social standing and property successfully defended themselves against 'indecent assault' charges," while the working-class paper "usually gave priority in its coverage to those cases involving men of modest means in some way, usually as accusers of the wealthy."

The book is titled Before Wilde. The rest of the review is here.

NEXT: "I always remember the fate of Carrie Buck whenever I hear a judge praised for the literary artfulness of his opinions."

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  1. from Camille Paglia:

    “Before Stonewall, urban newspaper obituaries were coded for such typical scenarios as “the 49-year-old unmarried antiques dealer was found bound and gagged in his ransacked, lavishly furnished apartment.””


    1. That is a very interesting article. Paglia really is wickedly smart and absolutely fearless in her argument.

      1. Queer Victorians

        Were there any other kind?

  2. while the working-class paper “usually gave priority in its coverage to those cases involving men of modest means in some way, usually as accusers of the wealthy.”

    The old “shake down the rich guy with an embarassing accusation” trick really is old!

    No mention of glorious woman on woman action?

  3. I am confused as to how anyone could have ever thought that there was no conversation about homosexuality before the end of the 19th Century. That kind of thing has always gone on.

    1. Yes.

      Of course the sodomites were not actively campaigning for the right to engage in sodomy. . The idea that sodomy would be a civil right was alien on both sides of the pond.

      1. That was of course hilarious to the Irish, who always referred to homosexuality as “the English disease”.

  4. This’ll never work.

    1. Totally unnecessary.

      1. Butt we’re in love!

  5. The damn hippies (Cartman!) have created this concept that everything before Woodstock was a super-repressed society. It’s sort of a shame because understanding how homosexuality was treated in, say, Revolutionary times (as one example) is very interesting. Also, how people responded to Steve Smith roaming the woods as the New Jersey Devil.

    1. Awesome book, BTW:

      Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality: Gay People in Western Europe from the Beginning of the Christian Era to the Fourteenth Century (Paperback)


      John Boswell’s highly acclaimed study of the history of attitudes toward homosexuality in the Christian West challenges received opinion and our own preconceptions about the Church’s past relationship to its gay members, among whom were priests, bishops and even canonized saints. The historical breadth of Boswell’s research (from the Greeks to Aquinas) and the variety of sources consulted (legal, literary, theological, artistic, and scientific) make this one of the most extensive treatments of any single aspect of Western social history. The product of ten years of research and analysis of records in a dozen languages, this book opens up a new area of historical inquiry and helps elucidate the origins and operations of intolerance as a social force.


    2. That the inhabitants of New Jersey descended from Steve Smith’s powerful seed actually explains a lot. Jagerbombs!

      1. i so don’t like you anymore.

    3. You’ve gotta understand that Steve Smith has eaten a lot of hippies.

      1. What do they taste like –
        Some kind a’ treat?
        How many hippies can this monster eat?
        It ate Stills and Nash before they could shout
        And then it chewed on David Crosby
        But it spit him out!

  6. I’m assuming homosexuality was extremely widespread among London’s fopulation.

    1. They’re just dedicated followers of fashion.

  7. On the psychological level, cruising shows that gay men are perpetually hungry for a masculinity that should reside confidently within them but clearly does not.

    No, it shows that gay men, just like straight men, love the variety of no strings attached sex.

    The difference is that it’s way harder to coax a woman into no strings sex than a man, so most straight men don’t bother cruising for sex with hetero women because it’s a waste of time.

    1. “The difference is that it’s way harder to coax a woman into no strings sex than a man”

      And even if women say there are no strings, believe me, there are.

      1. Why do women insist on strings when it comes to sex? Do they not like sex?

    2. so most straight men don’t bother cruising for sex with hetero women because it’s a waste of time

      Pretend you have great wealth or that you are famous.

    3. Unless you’re James Bond. Which I’m not.

      1. Art-P.O.G.,

        Make up a story that you are a professional soccer player from another city. Use an Italian accent too.

        1. I’m a terrible liar…which would just make it that much better.

          1. You could go white captain’s hat, double breasted jacket and white ascot and let the ladies imagine where you got the wealth to dress that way in public.

            1. Word.

    4. most straight men don’t bother cruising for sex with hetero women because it’s a waste of time.

      cruising for sex with lesbians is another matter entirely.

  8. the working-class paper “usually gave priority in its coverage to those cases involving men of modest means in some way, usually as accusers of the wealthy.”

    This would explain why even though progressives control congress and the executive branch they refuse to allow gays in the military and legalize gay marriage. The left’s “support” of gay rights is nothing but “show” covering a long standing and historic hatred of homosexuals.

    1. Whoa, don’t you think you’re heaping a bit too much scorn on “the left”?

      1. Never. Liberals exist to be punished. Liberals exist only to be punished.

    2. I always find it amusing when supposedly individualist, anti-collectivist libertarian types speak of “the left” as a monolithic bloc that speaks with one voice and agrees on all issues. And also happens to coincide almost entirely with the Democrat party. Just like any supposed group, “the left” is a collection of autonomous individuals (whether they like it or not) who do not all agree even on what it means to be “liberal” or “progressive”, let alone on gay rights.

      1. Except when Obama speaks. Then everyone must agree or be cast out.

      2. Zeb, you are — alas — entirely too reasonable for this place.

    3. If any of those yanqui queers show up here to infect our glorious revolution with AIDS, I’ll throw them in jail.

      1. That’s not what you said on those starlit nights in the mountains, you fickle bitch.

  9. Who’s surprised? Everyone knows cravats are totally gay.

    1. Gayer than ascots?

        1. Dickies.

          Not gay. Just dorky.

        2. Nothing is gayer than ascots.

      1. If you need any proof that ascots are gayer than cravats, I offer this irrefutable proof: http://www.nypost.com/p/blogs/…..VwnDRtiZ3J

        1. you convinced me. i hate that guy.

    2. Cravats certainly sound gay. What are they?

      1. Seriously, if the word “fopulation” doesn’t appear at least once in this book, I’ll be disappointed.

      2. cra?vat??/kr??v?t/ Show Spelled Pronunciation [kruh-vat] Show IPA
        Use Cravats in a Sentence
        See web results for Cravats
        See images of Cravats
        ?noun 1. necktie (defs. 1, 2).
        2. a cloth, often made of or trimmed with lace, worn about the neck by men esp. in the 17th century.
        3. Medicine/Medical. a bandage made by folding a triangular piece of material into a band, used temporarily for a fracture or wound.


        1650?60; < F cravate neckcloth, lit., Croat (< G Krabate < Serbo-Croatian hr?v?t); so called because worn by Croatian mercenaries in the French army

        1. The Croatians had gay mercinaries? Oh, I see, French. That must be whenre the Germans got their gay mercenary ideas from.

        2. The cravat is also the proto-necktie. Men can blame those things on the Croation influence on French fashion.

        3. The cravat is also the proto-necktie. Men can blame those things on the Croation influence on French fashion.

    3. The 18th Century was really the age of the metrosexual. Men wore wigs and makeup and were more concerned with fashion than at any time I can think of.

      Interestingly, the general population would have none of it. While the elites were running around in wigs and pantihose, the lower classes were idolizing rough rogues. The 18th Century is when the Robinhood myths made a big come back.

      By the end of the century people had had it and demanded a different kind of elite. Men’s men like Lord Nelson became popular heroes again and the age of the fop gave way to the most more masculine version of 19th Century manhood.

      1. I think you’re oversimplifying quite a bit. History is something that never happened written by someone who wasn’t there, and sexual history doubly so.

        1. History always involves simplification. It has to. But compare the famous men of the 19th Century to those of the 18th and you will see a lot more rough masculinity among the former.

          1. You mean, the men of the 18th century who are famous in the 21st. NOT the same thing as the men who were popular in the 18th century.

            1. Read what I said above. They were never popular with the masses. The mass hero of the 18th Century was the rogue not the gentleman.

          2. The 19th century men definitely had the best mustaches.

      2. Men’s men like Lord Nelson

        Universally depicted wearing high heels, a wig, hose, and a lace cravat.

        1. Nelson did not wear a wig. He is shown in his Navy dress uniform in most pictures. He was anything but a metrosexual.

          1. Nothing says gay more than a Navy uniform!

          2. J. Edgar Hoover was a pretty tough guy too.

            1. Did Hoover ever arrest a perp himself? Ordering people go out and do dangerous things isn’t the same as being a tough guy.


          3. And explain the “come-hither” pose copped by Nelson in this portrait. Something tells me that Napoleon spurned his advances at some point and that’s what started the whole thing.

            1. He’s giving himself a breast exam. Very forward thinking this Nelson fellow.

            2. Nelson was one of the bravest men who ever lived. And a cold eyed killer. You philistine.

              1. That doesn’t preclude him from being gay.

                1. Alexander the Great was probably gay, and he conquered about as much of the world as the transportation technology of his day would allow.


              2. Andrew Cunnan was a stone cold killer,a nd brave enough to take his fight right to Gianni versace.


        2. C’mon…you can’t tell me you’ve never tried on lingerie. Just to, you know, see how it feels.

          1. Good call by me on the ascot above.

          2. Or because your girlfriend was kind a into it.

      3. “””While the elites were running around in wigs and pantihose, the lower classes were idolizing rough rogues. The 18th Century is when the Robinhood myths made a big come back.”””

        Robin Hood: Men In Tights?

  10. Ascots are definitely gayer than cravats.

    1. I never really knew what the phrase “you can tell how gay he is by the length of his cravat” really meant until now.

      Apparently cravats convey more information than the simple ascot.

      1. I too come to Reason to learn.

      2. Being able to tell the difference between an ascot and a cravat is gay.

    2. WTF? Ascot is a racetrack, isn’t it? What’s gay about betting on horses?


  11. Gayer than Mario Cantone teabagging Andy Dick?

    I refuse to apologize for putting that image in all of your heads.

    1. Are they wearing wigs and ascots?

    2. **applause**

      Wow, you’ve really outdone everything ever said with that one.

    3. Bringin’ a knife to a gun fight are ya?

      I’ll see your Cantone/Dick combo and raise you Bruce Vilanch/Perez Hilton tryst.

      1. I see that and raise you an Andrew Sullivan Matthew Yglesias bear tryst.

        1. Just fold now John. You’re bluffing.

          1. Oh come now. You can’t tell me those two haven’t met in some Kos convention and paired off after some late night drinking. “Why don’t you come up to my room Andrew? I can show you the signed pair of Obama’s underwear I go at the DNC this summer”.

            1. That’s nothing. Imagine, now–Krugman and Geithner, nailing each other in the ass before settling down for some late-night spooning.

            2. I see your Sully/Yglesias and raise you Barney Frank and Richard Hatch.


    4. a whole new meaning to Steamboat Alley. thanks.

  12. I suppose we can all be grateful SugarFree’s not around for this part.

  13. Hey, I could have gone with some Kirk/Spock slashfic stuff with links. Just be thankful I’m feeling magnanimous today.

    1. If you call that horrible mental image you left like an electronic landmine earlier magnanimous then you are using a different dictionary than me.

      1. Episiarch has been dreaming of Mario Cantone’s Steampipe Alley for years.

        1. i thought i was the only one who’d remember that show. i was born down the street from where it was taped.

  14. Epi, everyone knows that all the cool emo kids are writing Twilight fanfic these days.

    1. “Let us make it abundantly clear: if you hate life, truly hate the sun, and need to smoke and drink coffee, you are Emo. If, however, you like dressing in black ’cause it’s ‘fun’, enjoy putting sparkles on your cheeks and following the occult while avoiding things that are bad for your health, then you are most likely a douchebag vampire wannabe boner.”

  15. I probably shouldn’t have gone with Bruce Vilanch so early, but you needed to be taught a lesson in humility.

  16. I recomemend “Sex, Dissidence and Damnation: Minority Groups in the Middle Ages” By J. Richards

    A very interesting read about not only about gay/lesibans but also about other groups such as Jews.

    1. What? You lump us in with the queers?

  17. Hugh Hefner wears an Ascot…therefore not necessarily gay in nature.

    Hello ladies!

  18. Sexual transmitted disease was something else that people where very aware of but spoke and wrote of only in coded terms that are opaque to modern readers. I read a history of 19th century medicine that explained how public debates over dealing with STDs was conducted in code. I imagine there was a lot of cross fertilization with discussions on homosexuality.

    Syphilis cast a vast shadow over both politics and personal morality in the 19th and early 20th century especially after the discovery of the germ theory of disease. Almost everyone past the age of 40 knew someone personally who had died slowly and horribly from the disease. Because children were born with it, they feared that it might be able to encode itself into the genome (like we know some retroviruses do today). A big chunk of expansion of power granted to the state in that era can be traced back to a desire to fight syphilis.

    1. I bet you read all the magazines.

  19. Just imagine the smell of 19th century anal action — the shit-matted fur, the grime-oozing balls, the louse-bitten, filth-blackened choads, the cracked dark assholes…lubricated with British spit.


    1. Awesome!

    2. +1,000

  20. relied on indexes and databases built on key words

    Is “indexes” one of those odd Limey words, or is my use of “indices” terribly pass

    1. Doug Ireland is American. Also the correct plural of Index is Indices. Indexes is the wrong, terrible, backward and barbarian form preferred by lowlifes, illiterates, Steve Smith and other types of Americans.

      1. So, a Database Manager should not be called an Indexian either?

        1. Only if he a native of the gas giant Index IX.

          1. I need to write that down on a card. Now, what to call it?

  21. I probably shouldn’t have gone with Bruce Vilanch so early, but you needed to be taught a lesson in humility.

    I decided to be even more magnanimous by not breaking out Harvey Weinstein.

    1. Fierstein?

      1. Because Harvey Weinstein is openly heterosexual.

        1. That’s what makes it all the grosser, Art. Besides, I hate Mirimax.

          1. Why? Miramax (and the Weinstein Co.) know movies.

  22. What’s with all the children hanging out on Reason lately? From the level of unimaginative, tedious and boring vulgarity displayed I can only assume that Reason has founded a junior chapter at Beavis and Butthead Memorial high school.

    1. Boredom. The posts are not as interesting lately I don’t think.

      1. And there’s so much repatition (two on Rand again today). And space hotels? Exactly what does that have to do with anything?

        1. And this on election day. Nothing on the NJ, VA governors’ races or the NY 23 election. Last I looked those were pretty important. But Reason doesn’t put up one post about them.

          It feeds into the “Reason staffers are a bunch of closet liberals” paranoia. Right now it looks very good for Republicans and no posts. If it looked bad, I can’t help but think there would be at least two or three “Republicans are getting killed isn’t it great” posts today.

          1. Crap, I forgot to vote. And @##@ nested comments, the post I have downthread is supposed to be above this one.

          2. Why don’t you just come out and say what you’re thinking so we can all have our drink?

          3. Matt Welch must be spinning in his tanning bed over the potential conservative gains.

            I wonder…when John McCain dies, will Matt Welch show up at the funeral with a bullhorn and God Hates Republican signs?

            1. Ha ha ha ha, that’s ridiculous, man.

        2. I see there’s another piece on Palin.

          Two on the supreme court. Three on the stimulus…

          The subject matter has been lacking as of late.

          1. I like this article and the D.W. Root one, at least.

            1. True, but one has to sift through a shit-load of Suderman and KMW in order to find them.

    2. What do you mean ‘lately’?

      1. “Tony Stark/makes you feel/He’s a cool exec/With a heart of steel/As Iron Man/All jets ablaze/He fights and fights/With repulsor rays”

    3. The kids over at Freeman Online are much smarter. They can actually write more than a few paragraphs at a time. When a Reason writer associates crying and gay passivity and Glen Beck (or was it Andrew Sullivan?) in a single sentence, you can only imagine the ASCII zombies that will invariably surface to discuss.

    4. What’s with all the children hanging out on Reason lately?

      We were all waiting for a chick to show up. When you’re not around, there’s bugger-all else to do.


  23. I blame the MTV. And JB.

  24. Reason has founded been hijacked by a junior chapter at Beavis and Butthead Memorial high school Sukisite.

    If none of that makes sense to you, count your blessings.

  25. I guess we get the peers we deserve?

    1. You post to blogs with the peers you have—not the peers you might want or wish to have at a later time.

      1. Heh heh…awesome…my old SecDef… 😀

        1. But I love you, Artty.

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