Archive Project: The Peculiar Love Triangle in Jude the Obscure

Queerness, according to Holly Ferneaux, is “that which differs from the life-script of opposite-sex marriage and reproduction.” Jude the Obscure by Thomas Hardy, as a whole, is a fairly unusual example of queer relationships. Jude Fawley and Sue Bridehead each weave in and out of their separate marriages, divorces and remarriages with their other partners–Arabella and Mr. Phillotson. They do get together at some point, but not only do they never get married, they stay together without having sex for quite a while. In other words, while the relationship is heterosexual, the main characters have children but never get married with each other.

The moment of conversation between Sue and Mr. Phillotson–Sue’s husband, later left and divorced–in particular is an interesting moment. It reveals Sue’s perspective of marriage that must have been quite unusual, as she acknowledges herself, at the time.

The beginning half of her claim is that if married people are not happy together, there should be something done to free each other. While this might have been quite a radical thought in the Victorian era, this in itself is not very peculiar. One should note, however, that Sue wants from the conversation is not divorce. Breaking the marriage is not within her interest, whatever reason may be. Instead, what she asks Mr. Phillotson is to let her go and live away from him–essentially, with Jude. When Mr. Phillotson asks her if she would be alone when she moved away, then Sue admits reluctantly that “if you [he] insisted, yes. But I [she] meant living with Jude.” And when he asks back “As his wife?” she answers, “As I choose.”

While her answer does not necessarily mean that she would be living with Jude as his wife, it does suggest that even though she is married, she has the freedom to be another’s partner as well. The use of “wife” is also interesting, as it is not a partner of something else of the sort, but a word that explicitly referrs to marriage. Because Sue is not suggesting a divorce or breaking her relationship with Mr. Phillotson in any way, this can only suggest a polygamous relationship.

The polygamy dives further in as Sue explains that she does actually like Mr. Phillotson. One could wonder if this genuine, or is just what is said to make her husband feel better and therefore lend a better chance of convincing him. The context could certainly justify for the latter, looking at the passionate way by which Sue presses her point. Yet the way she calls him a friend, and reflects upon her own affection of him and how different being in intimate terms with him is from her guesses from before, suggests that she indeed has some genuine feelings for him–just not that of love.

Is her desire–or decision–to keep the marriage while leaving away, then, an act for Mr. Phillotson to keep him from going through more pain? Or does she actually desire having a relationship with both him and Jude? It is difficult to tell, but it is worth noting that Mr. Phillotson writhing under her words seems to be causing quite enough pain already. Her living away with another man would be quite enough a scandal; no better than a divorce, if not worse.

And the line at which the conversation ends is also quite funny. She remarks, upon hearing Mr. Phillotson lament that she is in love with Jude, that he may go on thinking what he wants to think, but asks whether he thinks “if I had been I should have asked you to let me go and live with him?” Her suggestion that she might not be in love with Jude, either, when she is so strongly asking to go and live with him, is even more bezarre. To be in a polygamous triangle is one thing, but to imply that she may be in love with neither of them is indeed, even queerer.

The link at the Victorian Queer Archive contains the text of the conversation, as well as Thomas Hardy’s response in his second edition to the criticism he received of his being against marriage itself.


Hardy, Thomas. Jude the Obscure. London: Osgood, McIlvaine, & Co, 1895.

Archive Project: “LOUISA VINCENT, Breaking Peace Wounding, 25th October 1847”

Nothing beats a good, old fashioned, Victorian sex scandal.  This court case from the Old Bailey follows the testimony of Louisa Vincent, a woman on trial for attacking her former lover and father of her illegitimate child.  The proceedings include testimony from both the defendant and her alleged victim. 

I chose this text for my Victorian Queer Archive project because it includes so many details that would scandalize, yet intrigue, a Victorian audience.  The subject matter is taboo and serves to queer assumptions about Victorian society’s prudishness and aversion to sex, especially given the public nature of trials in the 19th century in London.  Furthermore, the “queer” nature of the subjects–poor, criminal, sexual, unmarried–highlights that the figures that inhabit the edges of Victorian society (and who receive public attention) are not always the pure, innocent, and gentlemanly ideal.

In his text “Sex, Scandal, and the Novel”, William A. Cohen suggests that sex scandals publicly reveal sexual information and knowledge that might otherwise be best kept secret.  The lewd sensationalism of crime and passion can be seen in this transcription.  For example, Louisa Vincent (Prisoner) and Thomas Soarston (Witness/victim) both argue over who initiated the fight.  Soarston accuses Louisa of attacking him first, while Louisa accused him of not providing for their child and of starving her (“I was without victuals four days”).  The “he said/she said” nature of the testimony is something that is seen in contemporary sex scandals as well. Curiously, Louisa is on trial despite evidence that Soarston also hit her.  I would suggest that this is because Louisa is obviously an outcast from Victorian society: the presence of an illegitimate child marks her as impure and tainted.  In addition, the implication that she is a prostitute (and Soarston her pimp) further alienates her from polite Victorian society.  On the other hand, illegitimate children and infidelity in general were tolerated more for men, therefor Soarston’s breaches of Victorian norms do not reflect as poorly upon him.

Cohen also mentions that the “unspeakability” of the sex scandal which actually serves to create discourses that reinforce the notion of sex as taboo.  Instead of the sex scandal quashing discussions of forbidden sex, it actually creates the opposite effect.  For instance, trials at the Old Bailey were a form of public entertainment.  These trials, however, still made use of heavily coded language in order to avoid transgressing too heavily.  This is evidenced in the italicized explanation of the testimony:

“The prisoner put in a written defence, stating that the prosecutor, after premissing her marriage, had induced her to live with him, telling her that his wife was transported; that after some time he wished her to obtain money by prostitution, which she refusing he deserted her, agreeing to allow her something for the child; that she went to him for the money, when he knocked her down and ill-used her, and all she did was in her own defence.”

In this excerpt alone, there is mention of forced prostitution, infidelity/polygamy, and even of rape (“he knocked her down and ill-used her”).  None of these transgressions are openly named, instead this excerpt employs language that Cohen calls the “richly ambiguous, subtly coded, prolix and polyvalent” that is inherent in the sex scandal.

Finally, while “scandal teaches punitive lessons”, indicating its moralizing nature, sex scandals still incite in a Victorian audience the possibility of transgressing and the potential for the queer to enthrall and thrill.


Works Cited

Cohen, William A. “Sex, Scandal, and the Novel.” Sex, Scandal, and the Novel. Victorian Web, n.d. Web. 10 Nov. 2016.

LOUISA VINCENT, Breaking Peace Wounding, 25th October 1847. London’s Central Criminal Court. 25 Oct. 1847. The Proceedings of the Old Bailey Online. Web. 10 Nov. 2016.




Archive Project: “Jenny” by Dante Gabriel Rossetti

For my VQA project I looked at the lengthy, dramatic monologue Jenny authored by Dante Gabriel Rossetti. I specifically looked at stanza’s 22-24 which can be found in my archive post linked: here. The narrator of the poem is a customer purchasing services from the prostitute, Jenny, in the poem. Throughout the poem the narrator romanticizes and sympathizes with the role of the prostitute. The poem touches on a myriad of subjects regarding Victorian prostitution including: it’s prominence, venereal diseases, and social ostracism.  Jenny was first published privately in 1870 in Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s Poems but it is said that this version is vastly different from the original draft Rossetti wrote in 1847, that was heavily revised in 1858 and 1869.

A close reading of the section I chose: Rossetti simply equates the images of books to brains throughout the poem and makes a scathing insinuation that individuals, especially proper Victorian women, her prescribe to the Victorian mode of thinking (to hush sexuality of women in particular) cannot appreciate Jenny’s decency as a human being. Jenny’s heart becomes “a rose shut in a book/In which pure women may not look” (120) that cannot be understood or related to if one accepts the Victorian mode of thinking that prostitutes are merely fallen women, dehumanizing them entirely. Rossetti also comments that due to this harsh conceptual mistreatment of prostitutes, fellow women will be unable to sympathize with her on the level of womanhood “Only that this can never be:-/Even so unto her sex is she” (121).

Shortly after, the narrator also queers the gender binary when it comes to the occupation of a prostitute. While he just critiques the inability of others to see Jenny’s good heart and nature, he dehumanizes her as a woman by saying that she is “A cipher of a man’s changeless sum/Of lust past, present, and to come,” (121). When the narrator looks at Jenny the “woman fades from view” (121). What is interesting about this is that she is then just seen as a spiral of men’s lust, is seen as an object, but in Victorian times that concept is not very different for chaste, proper women, who are still the objects of their husband’s and subject to men’s lust. In this way Jenny almost has MORE freedom than the average Victorian woman which is what perhaps makes her truly more dangerous in the eyes of Victorian society.

Lust is also depicted as a “toad within a stone” (121) where the narrator is commenting once again that although lust and it’s discourse may be entombed in the stone of Victorian society, it is well and alive whether people wish to believe it or not. This relates to the fact that toads entombed in stone have often been found alive even when the stone is broken open. The narrator states that this lust “shall not be driven out/Till that which shuts him round about/Break at the Master’s stroke” (123) and “the seed of Man vanish as dust:-” (123). Without the help of God or someone of higher power like government officials, the Victorian societal tomb over lust will not be broken. The narrator also claims the “seed” or sperm of Man would also need to be eradicated to eradicate lust. In this way the poem almost speaks up for Jenny in that the narrator recognizes that the world of lust is not her fault but the fault of her society and the failure of the government or other high offices to regulate it’s sexual promiscuity. Insinuating that the “seed of Man” must “vanish as dust” also brings in some interesting pondering of eugenics. It is ironic, because the narrator himself is caught up in lust but equally recognizes the danger and social stigma lust has caused Jenny and her kind and insinuates that lust is a negative thing in general.

As stated in my close-reading above: I believe this text is a crucial addition to the Victorian Queer Archive for the push-backs it provides on the Victorian mirage and focus on hetero-normative relationships. The most prominent one being that the poem revolves around a prostitute, which strays from the traditional heterosexual marriage plot and brings in themes of polyamory as well as unrequited love. This text is particularly potent in this regard in that the narrator provides sympathy for the occupation as prostitute and a fundamental understanding of Jenny as a human not merely an object. This text also deserves to be put in the VQA due to its queering of the gender binary in that Jenny is merely seen as a novel of men’s lust and does not appear as a woman at all. In brings into question if not ALL women of the Victorian era are not truly seen as women but as a product of men’s lust. The fact that the narrator recognizes that lust exists and is unlikely to go away due to Victorian society’s “skirting around” it also helps the text stray from hetero-normative in that it accepts that heterosexual marriage is not just a morally and socially pure union but is more than often fueled by lust and most importantly, betrayed by lust.

Works Cited:

Rossetti, Dante Gabriel. Poems. London, Privately Published, 1870. British Library, Accessed 20 Nov. 2016.

Archive Project: Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s Painting of The Bride

In Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s painting, which has many different titles associated with it from “The Bride” to “The Beloved” to “The King’s Daughter” where the focus is supposed to be on the pale woman at the center of the painting, but race is weaved throughout every detail of this piece. There are some symbols, some explicit, and some hidden aspects of race and colonialism embedded into the deeper meaning Rossetti’s work of art.

For one, the little Black girl is at the closest one to the audience in the painting. While she is at the forefront of the image, she is also tucked in the corner of the painting. She seems to be the flower girl, but she has  a lot of gold jewelry on while the rest of the women in the painting are more simple. This is playing up the historical aspect of British colonizing of African land for resources such as gold as well as the colonizing and controlling of Black bodies during slavery. While the girl is covered in gold, she is the only individual in the painting who has a naked torso, which queers the Black female body as a spectacle or as something to be looked at- there is sexualizing and fetishization of a young Black female body before she even reaches adulthood or goes through puberty.

There is one woman in the back of the painting, who for the most part is hidden from the audience’s view expept for part of her face. She seems to be either a mulatto woman, perhaps Egyptian, perhaps Muslim, perhaps Latina… It really is hard to tell exactly where she could be from, but her skin complexion gives off the impression of exoticism. It significantly represents how race is coded in Victorian English texts, just like sex, and not explicity talked about. Even when looking for a poem to pair with this painting, it was difficult to find one that related to race because Vitorian poets like Rossetti don’t explicity name the ethnicity of the female subjects.  And we see here the race of this woman, her full identity, is literally hidden from the audience while the little Black girl is positioned at the forefront, holding flowers- a symbol of life and fertility.

The bride seems to be wearing not the traditional white wedding gown, but what resembles a luxurious kimono and that could be a coded reference to Orientalism and colonialism. As an audience, we do not know where the painting’s setting is supposed to be or where this wedding is located geographically. There is definitely a sense of racial otherness, foreignness, and us vs. them in this piece because there are representations of non-Western culture all clumped together in one painting. There is not just reference to one race or geographical location, the symbols are recognizable enough to make a broad guess as to what part of the world is being referenced, but also too vague to tell what specific culture or community is being represented.



Rossetti, Dante G. The Bride. 1865-1866; 1873. Tate Gallery, London.

Archive Post: Catherine Booth and her Sermon on Sexual Morality

Despite being one of the most prominent Christian feminists in the Victorian era, Catherine Booth is not regarded as someone who challenged prevailing concerns on sexual morality. Yet through her sermons she delved into topics most of her audience would probably have balked at if they were discussed in any other context. The two excerpts I grouped together in my archive post do not propose queer alternatives to Victorian perceptions of sexual “deviancy.” Instead, they unveil Protestant fears about those susceptible to “wicked passions,” in this case (oddly enough) children and theologians. Booth’s words today might be as credible as William Rathbone Greg’s position on redundant women, but they also come from a female minister and Salvation Army co-founder whose presence in England outshone that of her husband. Implicitly, her lectures (as she calls them) complicate our current understanding of Victorian sexuality among ardent advocates for a chaste-until-marriage, heteronormative society.

I decided to focus on Booth’s second lecture, which deals with “mock salvation,” a hypocrisy that, according to her, afflicts many Christians. She states something that made me think of Oscar Wilde: “No mere intellectual beliefs can save men, because right opinions do not make right hearts. Alas, we all know the little practical effect opinions have on character” (Booth 38). While she applies this argument to good effect later on in the passage when talking about duplicitous people, by itself, it is more or less a comical absolutism. Notice the rhetorical move with “alas, we all know,” as well. Perhaps the strangest part of the lecture, however, is Booth’s unsubtle foray into children and sexuality:

“Hence wise parents universally recognise, whether they make any pretensions to Christianity or not, the necessity of family government and careful training in order to check, counteract, or eradicate, as the case may be, these tendencies to evil; and thus they acknowledge the necessity for a certain kind of salvation in their children, and they recognise also this fact, that if they do not attempt to work out this salvation, the children will bring them to wreck and ruin” (30).

She asserts that the institution of “family government” is the only thing protecting children from their malignant natures. It is a cynical perspective on kids, perhaps shared by many a Protestant during that time. Coming from a woman with multiple children, however, it is even more shocking. Is she suggesting that the only path to salvation requires “eradicating” our innate “tendencies to evil?”

Booth, Catherine. “Lecture II. A Mock Salvation and a Real Deliverance from Sin.” Popular Christianity. A Series of Lectures Delivered in Princes Hall, Piccadilly. 3rd ed., The Salvation Army, 1891, pp. 30; 38-39.

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:

Eyre and Edward: queered gender

Jane Eyre was written by Charlotte Bronte in 1848 and published under her androgynous pseudonym, Currer Bell. Based only on the fact of Charlotte Bronte’s revision of herself into a male (or at least uncertainly gendered) writer, Jane Eyre becomes weighted with the question of gender: who is a woman? who is a man? why might a woman wish to be or behave as a man? who gets to do what in Charlotte Bronte’s world?

The typed Victorian understanding of gender rested on a binary system: male and female. Men behaved masculinely (riding horses, killing animals, being manly) and women behaved femininely (embroidering, accepting marriage proposals, wearing corsets). Despite the Victorians’ efforts to uphold and perpetuate this kind of gender, their extremized gender system often fell through, as people of the “wrong” sex acted according to the gender norms of the opposite sex.

Jane Eyre is a deeply female text, relying on female strength and female spiritual power. However, its understanding of “femaleness” does not owe much to the Victorian understanding of female as feminine. Throughout, Jane behaves with her own volition, expresses her own agency, and insists on her own independence. In the scene of Rochester’s proposal to her, she addresses Rochester as an equal, despite their status differences. Her angry (and deeply unfeminine) speech to him ends in the declaration, “‘It is my spirit that addresses your spirit; just as if both had passed through the grave, and we stood at God’s feet, equal, — as we are!'” (Chapter 23) Despite the tempering of religion, Jane clearly believes herself and Rochester to be spiritual and mental equals. Her repetition of their equality, as well as her claiming of her own natural independence (“I am a free human being with an independent will”), subverts the Victorian gender binary and expected female behavior.

In this way, Jane Eyre presents a queer understanding of gender. Jane behaves not as a “womanly woman” but as a “free human being”; by degendering herself, Jane in effect revokes her role as a feminine woman and claims agency over her own life. Her direct revision of “normal” behavior for a woman creates androgyny in the text, as she performs typically “masculine” behavior in her attempts to reach a level of equality with Rochester.

Jane tells Rochester directly, “‘I am better than you'” (Chapter 23). In context, the phrase seems only to point out that Jane is more morally admirable since she would never accept a spouse she did not love. However, in the gendered hierarchy of Victorian status, Jane’s expression of a direct superiority overturns Victorian understandings of gender position.

Thus Charlotte Bronte’s writing of Jane Eyre. However, fifty years after Jane Eyre was published, an edition came out featuring illustrations by Edmund Garrett, whose understanding of Jane Eyre’s gender owed more to Victorian norms than to the novel itself. Garrett’s representation of Jane and Rochester’s togetherness is wholly different than Bronte’s degendered, stormy Jane: in Garrett’s picture, Jane is below and behind Rochester, demoted to the background of their pose, while Rochester’s hands are occupied in hiding and enclosing (therefore possessing) Jane.

The illustration entirely misunderstands the scene and its implications for gender in the text. Jane Eyre is not a shrinking woman to be covered and protected by a male guardian, nor is Rochester (despite his attempts to fill the role) a stoic man offering protection and guidance to a young female. Jane Eyre herself subverts both these typified gender roles – but Garrett’s illustration misses this entirely, down to the title.

Garrett captions the picture “‘Are you happy, Jane?'” Clearly, we’re meant to decide that Jane is happy: head dropped onto Rochester’s shoulder, face half-hidden behind Rochester’s hand, body covered and dominated by Rochester’s, she’s leaning into him, submitting to him. Neither look happy in the picture, but Jane’s eyes are mostly closed, suggesting another form of submission (sexual or emotional) in addition to her stance.

The Victorians’ troubled relationship with gender stemmed mostly from their insistence on a binarized system, which contributed to their confusion when humans didn’t fit into “masculine” or “feminine” categories but understood themselves as simply human. Jane Eyre expresses this, but Edmund Garrett refuses to see it. In some ways, the fifty years between Jane Eyre‘s publication and Garrett’s illustration solidified the gender binary; although Jane Eyre explicitly refuses to be feminized, Garrett represents her as a stereotype of Victorian feminine womanhood. Neither Jane herself nor Charlotte Bronte understand Jane as a feminized woman; rather, she is a human woman, whose understanding of herself as a woman depends on herself rather than the cultural expectation of her time.

Because of this deviance from the Victorian norm, as well as the novel’s revisions and subversions of gender, Jane Eyre can be understood as a queer text. Jane herself is a queer character: she is not all man or all woman, but simply Jane.

Link to VQA:

The Diaries of Anne Lister

The archival document I chose for this project was a diary entry written by Anne Lister on September 20th of 1824. Anne Lister’s series of diary entries document her life as a lesbian just before the start of the Victorian Era. Her diary includes entries ranging from 1824 to 1826 and contain information on her daily life including her sexual and romantic relationships, her role as a woman and landowner in the economy, and the social regulations placed upon her as a lesbian.

I chose my particular entry because it is one of the first times Lister is shown discussing her sexuality with another person. In this entry, Lister discusses how she told Mrs. Barlow that she “preferred ladies’ company to gentlemen’s.” I found it very interesting that Lister followed this statement with the claim, “Did many things ladies in general could not do, but did them quietly.” This particular statement seemed to be a remark on the liberating factor of being a lesbian, for Lister is arguing that her sexuality gives her a certain element of freedom. Although I can not say what exactly Lister is saying she can do that other women can not, one that is definite is her being a landowner. She explains that upon her uncle’s death, she was given his land; however, “He had no high opinion of ladies- was not fond of leaving estates to female. Were I other than I am, would not leave his to me.” This quote hints at Lister’s own divergence from the Victorian narrative of being a heterosexual, proper lady. Rather, she describes herself throughout her diaries as being more masculine both in her stature and in her sexual desires. Due to these traits that are geared towards masculinity, Lister was able to inherit her uncle’s land.

This is one example of attention to sexual identity that Lister exhibits in her diary entries. Eve Segwick in her book “Tendencies”  discusses elements of sexual identity which include “he preponderance of your traits of personality and appearance, masculine of feminine,” “The gender assignment of your preferred partner” and “your self-perception as gay or straight.”  Each of these forms of looking at sexual identity are brought up in this diary entry of Anne Lister. As she talks about her gender, her sexual identity, and the gender of her preferred partner, Lister is going against the heteronormative narrative that is present in much of the Victorian era. She identifies as a woman who seeks out romantic and sexual relationships with other women, thus forming a queer narrative. Her divergence from femininity and heterosexuality make Anne Lister’s diary entries queer.

Link to Victorian Queer Archive:


Archive Project: Jack the Ripper

If there’s anything I’ve learned about the Victorian era, it’s that it contained sexually frustrated men and women. While the romantic sensation novel was present, it was read when the housewives were home and the husbands were out to work and play. Though these sensations and sexual interests were often cloaked behind books and language, there were a series of events that captivated the London eye and brought sex to the forefront of discussion, pushing back against the modest pretenses of the time.

During the year 1888, a serial killer made his presence known in Whitechapel, a district of East London. The murderer targeted female prostitutes, ripping them apart with such anatomical accuracy that many believed him to be a doctor. The killer became known as Jack the Ripper, and articles, illustrations, and letters written by Jack the Ripper or people claiming to be him were all released to the public during this time period. The Jack the Ripper scandal became a real life sensation novel for the public to engage in, there was even a horrifying similarity between each new killing as a new “chapter” in a novel. As these letters and articles were published in newspapers and became the hot topic of debate in London, the men and women were forced to address the reality of sex crimes.

In the first letter signed “Jack the Ripper,” he makes fun of the police’s inadequacy in finding him and his plan to continue, “ripping them [whores] till I do get buckled’ (Anonymous). Even the graphic nature of the crimes and reports, such as one victim’s uterus being removed by the killer, brought sexual organs to the forefront of thought. Men and women of all classes were captivated by these tragedies, as is evidenced with an illustration in The Illustrated Police News that depicts four women that seem to be of higher class (noting their dresses and coats) with weapons in their hands and the caption, “Ready for the Whitechapel Fiend Women Secretly Armed” (Whitechapel Murders). Thus the death and sex sensation became a part of society rather than an escape from it (through a novel). The brutal carving of the victims’ sex organs as well as the work of the women who were killed left no room to hide the sexual deviance that was coming to light in society. One article written after the death of the first prostitute highlights the social status of the victim with, “unhappily, one result of the inquiries made has been to connect the deceased with that class of women whom poverty or misfortune have driven to seeking a living upon the streets of London” (The Body is Identified). All classes, wrapped up in their real-life sex and murder mystery, had to address prostitution and the degrading conditions these women lived in in order to survive independently of a man’s income.

This letter, illustration, and article addressing the gruesome acts of Jack the Ripper upon the unsuspecting people of Whitchapel should be in the Victorian Queer Archive in order to highlight one of the first times London’s society was forced to notice the lives of prostitutes. Not only did the constant newspaper updates bring forth sex, sexual organs, and prostitution, which would normally be unacceptable topics, it also generated discussion between men and women about the act of prostitution. Sex for money, really sex outside of marriage and for any purpose other than reproduction, had not been so heavily debated until Jack the Ripper began to make society acknowledge the humanity of these prostitutes and fight to save their lives.

Victorian Queer Archive:


Works Cited

Anonymous. “Dear Boss Letter.” Letter to Central News Office. 25 Sept. 1888. London.

Anonymous. “Whitechapel Murders.” The Illustrated Police News [London] 22 Sept. 1888: No.1,284. Print.

“Whitechapel Murders. The Body is Identified. But Where is the Murderer?” East London Observer [London] 18 Aug. 1888: n.p. Print.

Victorian Queer Archives Project

In this passage, Miss Du Prel and Temperly are having a discussion concerning the “duties” of women. Miss Du Prel believes that work should be evenly distributed. She doesn’t understand why all women must do the same work despite their different passions and mind sets. Temperly feels that all women should do the same work because it is what they are best suited for. He believes that women are meant to do the household duties because it is what “Nature” intended.

While this text has the ideals of the period in Temperly’s dialog, Miss Du Prel’s dialog attempts to queer gender roles. Miss Du Prel questions the gender roles assigned to women, diverging from the societal norms of the time. Miss Du Prel challenges the ideal that women are meant to do house work as opposed to reflecting on the intelligently stimulating.

Temperly draws a metaphor that women all want to be “Mary”s and not “Martha”s, meaning that women are neglecting their duties as woman to idly sit and think. Temperly is complaining that women are no longer doing their supposed duties around the house. Miss Du Prel views the issue in reverse. She believes that too many women are being confined to their household duties which is making them idle and no women can pursue over means of work.

Miss Du Prel tries to get Temperly to think of the situation from a woman’s perspective. By doing this, she is also blurring the lines of gender because she is asking a man to view himself in a woman’s position. She is trying to get Temperly to understand the plight of woman, that people who do not identify with them are being allowed to dictate what their rights are, and she wants him to understand that this is not fair. Temperly brings the conversation to Victorian ideals however by suggesting that women should trust men’s “able judgement” (Caird 78). Temperly also uses “nature” as then reason why women are subject to men.

By questioning her “female duties,” Miss Du Prel is allowing there to be a dialog discussing the queering of the Victorian gender binary. She is questioning the expectations placed on women and suggesting that they could do other work as well. Miss Du Prel is challenging the “norm” through her questioning of the accepted social gender roles.