Archive Project: The Study of Sexual Inversion

My text for the Victorian Queer Archive is called “The Study of Sexual Inversion”, which is a chapter in the book “Studies in the Psychology of Sex” written by Havelock Ellis. This text was written in 1893. The text discusses a professor of psychiatry at Berlin who studied a case of sexual inversion in which the young woman dressed like a boy, played boys games, and was attracted to women. While this type of behavior would normally be dismissed as vice or insanity, Westphal, the professor of psychiatry discussed in the text, came to the conclusion that the young woman’s sexual inversion was congenital, therefore not a vice, and could not be considered insanity.

This text belongs in the Victorian Queer Archive because it discusses a young woman who is homosexual, which, as Holly Furneaux stated, “differs from the life-script of opposite-sex marriage and reproduction”. This woman was “absolutely indifferent in the presence of men” (Ellis). This woman also liked to dress like a boy and play boy games, two things that differ from the ideals of how a Victorian woman should behave.

This text also belongs in the Victorian Queer Archive because even though most doctors during the Victorian Period would consider sexual inversion to be an instance of vice or insanity, the text discusses how Professor Westphal determined that sexual inversion is in fact congenital, therefore not a vice, and can not be considered insanity. It therefore looks at sexual inversion and homosexuality in a way that differs from the way they were typically thought about during the Victorian Period.

This text differs from other texts written during the Victorian Period because it openly discusses orgasm. Most novels and poems written during the Victorian Period do not openly discuss anything sexual, instead the writing is just full of sexual undertones.

This text can be found here:

“Goblin Market” at a Frat Party

Quite obviously, the poem Goblin Market has a plethora of sexual undertones. We see these undertones most notably in two places. First, in the beginning when Laura and Lizzie see the goblin men:

(The line right before this passage is “Laura bowed her head to hear”)

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Many of the words in this passage are subtly (or not so subtly) sexual, like blushing, clasping, lips, close, fruits, hungry, and thirsty roots. The line “who knows upon what soil they fed their hungry thirsty roots?” definitely makes me think of sexually transmitted diseases. The interaction that Lizzie and Laura are having in the previous passage reminds me of how two girls would act at a party if one of them wants to go home with a questionable guy. Here is what I imagine the previous passage would be like if the scene was set in a college party:

A guy comes over to Laura and Lizzie to hit on them. He lets it known that he is single and ready to mingle. Laura is interested in the boy, while Lizzie tries to ignore him. The girls stand together to whisper about the boy. Lizzie tells Laura to stay at the party with her, because if she goes home with strangers she could get an STD.

The second passage where we see strong sexual undertones is on page 4 when Laura buys the fruits.

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There are many examples of sexual words in this passage, like sweeter, fruit, man-rejoicing, tasted, lips, and most obviously, suck. When Laura cuts off a piece of her golden hair, it can be seen as a symbol of her losing her purity, or virginity. By crying right after cutting her hair, Laura could be showing that she is sad about losing her purity. This passage really reminded me of a one night stand. If the passage above was set in a college setting, here is what I imagine it would look like:

Even after Lizzie warns her not to, Laura decides to go home with the boy from the party. She has sex with him, losing her virginity. She cries a little after, maybe because she is sad about losing her virginity, or maybe the sex was just that good? She also may have given him a blowjob, or three. After, Laura leaves his room, all out of sorts, on her walk of shame back to her dorm.

I was shocked to discover that this poem was written for children, because it has so many sexual references. I was also surprised at how this poem written in 1862 is so relatable to a 2016 college campus. Perhaps what has made this poem so popular across centuries is that it has timeless themes.

Greg Would Love St. Valentine’s Day

One of my favorite images that we looked at in the Trout Gallery is titled St. Valentine’s Day by the Illman Brothers.

St. Valentine's Day

This image shows what I assume to be a family or a large group of close friends celebrating the holiday of Valentine’s Day. We can see that the group of people in the picture are in an upper class based on their clothing and the decorative elements within the house they are in. What I like most about this image is how the artist made it mostly in black and white with just a few pops of color.

In William Rathbone Greg’s article, “Why Are Women Redundant?”, he discusses his issue with the fact that he finds many women in Britain to be redundant because they are not fulfilling their duties by marrying, serving their husbands, and having children. Greg would appreciate the image St. Valentine’s Day because in it women are anything but redundant. The artist put pops of colors into the outfits of the women, drawing the viewers eyes to them and making them  the subject of the image. All of the women we see in the image are right next to or touching children. One woman is holding a baby, one woman looks like she is playing with two children, and there are three women who appear to be watching over two other children. We also see one of the women taking care of the household duties by answering the door and receiving the mail. Greg would be incredibly pleased that these women are all looking after children because he believes that women’s “minds will narrow and hearts wither if they have nothing to do, and none to love, cherish, and obey” (Greg 159). One woman standing in the back of the image is the only woman without color on her dress, perhaps symbolizing that she is a servant of some sort. Greg would also approve of women as servants, because he believes they are fulfilling their purpose and are not redundant.

While there are many aspects of the image that Greg would like, he would probably have an issue with the ratio of men to women. There are more women than men in the image, which means some of the women must be unmarried (*gasp*).

Laura is Basically Walter’s Dog

Laura’s time in the Asylum affected her quite a bit physically and emotionally. The “sorrow and suffering… set their profaning marks on the youth and beauty of her face” (Collins 434), making post-Asylum Laura look almost identical to Anne. Laura also becomes increasingly childish, a trait we previously associated with Anne.

The relationship between Walter and Laura has altered drastically since Laura’s release from the Asylum. As Laura changes to become more like Anne, Walter loses romantic interest in her. Previously in the novel when Walter talked about drawing with Laura, he talked about how he could barely keep his hands and eyes off of her. Now when he talks about drawing with her he simply says he “sat by her side” (Collins 435). Walter never had an inkling of a romantic feeling for Anne, and now that Laura looks and acts more like Anne, Walter isn’t having as strong romantic feelings or any romantic feelings at all for Laura.

This makes me wonder exactly what attracted Walter to Laura in the first place. Clearly her appearance was a significant part of why Walter loved her. Earlier in the novel when Walter gushes about being in love with Laura, all he talks about is her appearance. He sees her as an object. Walter also might be losing romantic interest in Laura because she is someone who he now needs to take care of. Instead of just being able to watch her be pretty, he needs to worry about keeping her occupied and in a good mood.

The way Laura and Walter behave around each other post-Asylum reminds me of a way a dog interacts with it’s owner. Just as if Laura was his dog, Walter takes “Laura out for her walk as usual” (Collins 437). Whenever Walter leaves her, Laura gets anxious, claiming “Don’t be gone long! I can’t get on with my drawing, Walter, when you are not here to help me” (Collins 438). Laura’s anxiety about being separated from Walter reminds me of the way a dog behaves whenever it’s owner leaves. After her release from the Asylum, Laura also acts similarly to Mrs. Vesey, sitting around all day and being a very uninteresting character.

Walter’s Creepy “Love” for Laura

While there are lots of bizarre events occurring in The Woman in White, few passages made me feel as downright uncomfortable as the passage where Walter Hartright proclaims his love for Laura. Instead of saying sweet things about the girl he has fallen for, as would be expected, Walter goes on for paragraphs talking about his urges to touch Laura. He states that he “had just enough work to do, in mounting his employer’s drawings, to keep his hands and eyes pleasurably employed, while his mind was left free to enjoy the dangerous luxury of its own unbridled thoughts” (Collins 64). In other words, Walter likes doing his work because it gives him lots of time to think dirty thoughts about Laura, and it gives him something to do with his hands other than struggle to keep them off of her.

He doesn’t talk about any part of Laura’s personality that he finds appealing, instead he discusses the many parts of her appearance that he is attracted to. Walter goes into great detail describing how “the more attentively Laura watched every movement of his brush, the more closely he was breathing the perfume of her hair, and the warm fragrance of her breath. It was part of his service, to live in the very light of her eyes- at one time to be bending over her, so close to her bosom as to tremble at the thought of touching it” (Collins 65). Walter and Laura have barely interacted so far in the story, especially never a heartfelt, meaningful interaction, so I can’t imagine that Walter knows that much about Laura other than what he has observed at face value. Walter’s “love” for Laura is certainly only lust, and it is definitely obsession.

The lecherous way he talks about Laura does not give me warm and loving feelings. Walter even portrays himself in a creepy way when he talks about having to put up a guard  to prevent him from the temptation of the “beautiful and captivating women” that his career allows him to be around (Collins 66). Walter, you officially skeeve me out. The more times Walter announced that he loved Laura, the less I believed it. His “love” towards her is actually just extreme sexual desire.