“Fine,” Mr. Dunworthy said. “Darwin, Disraeli, the Indian question, Alice in Wonderland, Little Nell, Turner, Tennyson, Three Men in a Boat, crinolines, croquet—”
“Penwipers,” I said.
“Penwipers, crocheted antimacassars, hair wreaths, Prince Albert, Flush, frock coats, sexual repression, Ruskin, Fagin, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, George Bernard Shaw, Gladstone, Galsworthy, Gothic Revival, Gilbert and Sullivan, lawn tennis, and parasols. There,” he said to the seraphim. “He’s been prepped.
Connie Willis, To Say Nothing of the Dog (via arrowsforpens)
i ordered this book purely based on this amazing description of how to prepare for time travel.
Men may not have been quite this effusive, but as she alludes to at the end of the paragraph, their friendships were also much more overtly emotional - and put in what we’d today consider “romantic” terminology - in the nineteenth century. This leads to all sorts of confused misreading of texts from that period now: I once went to a talk with Doris Kearns Goodwin about Team of Rivals when she had to explain (rather wearily) to somebody that Lincoln ALMOST CERTAINLY WAS NOT A HOMOSEXUAL just because he wrote very emotional letters to his friends.
The way sex and sexuality functioned in the Victorian era is (obviously) totally fascinating because people were not nearly as clueless as we like to think they were about all of these things, but sex was just never up for discussion. So if you read highbrow novels from the period (the Brontës, George Eliot, etc), they can’t actually explicitly discuss sex, but the authors use language that would have said very clearly to any reader with two brain cells to rub together that sex was happening, or had happened, or whatever. But even though people did know about sex, I think it was very much outside the sphere of friendship - or even romance, hence something like Jane Eyre being considered extremely “coarse” and scandalous - and so it would never have occurred to people that two women or men who were extremely close and overtly affectionate were sexually involved in any way. And there was no sense of certain traits that we would today associate with homosexuality being connected to sexuality at all: so Oscar Wilde, who basically created the stereotype of the flamboyant gay man, was enormously popular everywhere until it came out that he was having sex with a man. Then, all of the sudden, all of the characteristics that people had found charming years before became associated with homosexuality - most queer theorists would say that “homosexuality” as such actually has its genesis as an idea/identity in the direct aftermath of the Wilde trial - and therefore become utterly taboo.
I’m not an expert in this stuff (grad school: probably in my future, sigh), but I think it’s fascinating that one event, even one as significant as the Wilde trial, can have such a massive impact not only on the culture but on the fundamental way people interact with each other. It’s a startlingly fast shift - one that you might argue corresponds in a way with the rapid and radical acceptance of gay people in society in the past twenty years or so (in the developed Western world), although that wasn’t sparked by a single event on the scale of the Wilde trial. Obviously homophobia and prejudice are still very real and pervasive, but when you think about what was broadly considered acceptable public speech/debate in the early- to mid-nineties, even amongst the more liberal half of the population, as compared to now, it’s pretty astonishing.
absolutely. when it comes to the way men behaved with each other in england, the wilde trial was like a switch being flipped. just look at all those holmeses and watsons strolling around arm-in-arm right up until the 1890s hit.