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Fanny and Stella: The Young Men Who Shocked Victorian England Paperback – 16 Jan 2014
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RIch and absorbing ... McKenna has done a tremendous job of recreating Victorian London's gay subculture, weaving newspaper reports, police documents and contemporary diaries into a jolly rollicking narrative. It would be an understaement to call it a colourful book ... Fanny and Stella is a cracking read. (The Sunday Times)
Neil McKenna's often jaw-dropping tale... Faced with such terrific material, McKenna could easily have told the story straight (as it were). In the event, he puts in a performance easily as theatrical as his heroines in their pomp. While the basic research can't be faulted, he also gives us the inner thoughts of everybody concerned ... A largely irresistible story, complete with a big courtroom finish that I won't spoil. (Daily Mail)
McKenna does an excellent job of dusting [Fanny and Stella] down for the 21st century, testing the limits of his documentary source material and showing what happens when the biographer allows himself the licence to go inside his subject's head. ... Showy as a feather boa, McKenna's text takes pleasure in its own silly excess. (Kathryn Hughes Guardian)
Uproarious ... McKenna relates their astonishing story with meticulously researched relish ... McKenna captures their arrest with the same joie de vivre as Stella and Fanny lived their tumultuous lives: a blur of petticoats, shrieks and confusion ... It's a wonderful, gripping and moving story, including a pithy epilogue revealing what happened next to the major players. Tim Burton or Baz Luhrmann must make this into a film. (The Times)
McKenna provides what is certainly the definitive account of the Boulton/Park story ... McKenna lays bare a fascinating tapestry of interrelated personal histories. (History Today)
You would need to be a very dull - or prim - dog indeed not to find this a terrifically entertaining story. Neil McKenna has thrown himself into it with unfettered glee. If the opportunity arises to describe an anal fistula - and it does, frequently - he does not shirk it. [McKenna is] a sufficiently crisp, colourful and funny writer. (Evening Standard)
[A] rollicking account of the trial of two middle-class Victorian cross-dressers. (The Sunday Times ~ Must Reads)
[McKenna's] examination of the case is excellent ... It's a book that's worth reading. (Mail on Sunday)
Neil McKenna's lively account of a mid-Victorian scandal. (Literary Review)
Wonderful ... This is a great read. It will be made into a movie as sure as Neil McKenna is the greatest gay biographer of our era. (QX Magazine)
Fanny and Stella, by Neil McKenna, is the gripping story of the trial that shook Victorian England - a tale of cross-dressing, cross-examinations and the invention of camp.See all Product description
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"'We are men,' they mumbled miserably in unison. […] 'And we are very, very sorry.'" These were the words of Frederick William Park and Ernest Boulton, known otherwise as Fanny and Stella, upon their arrest on Thursday 28th April, 1870. Neil McKenna delves into the world of the 'he-she ladies' of late Victorian London as he unravels the case of two men who confused, confounded and captivated those who became part of their story.
McKenna describes a London we might recognise; one of gowns and corsets, the theatre, young people finding their way, and the authorities trying to keep the peace. Fanny and Stella are large, showy characters, beautifully drawn from meticulous research and a clear understanding of the world they inhabited. In thirty fast-paced chapters we are initiated into the (often strong) language, the desires, and the practices of their underground world, in a way that allows us to feel just a little of the shock that our ancestors may have experienced, had the lifestyle of Park and Boulton ever been revealed to them. We learn of the early days of the protagonists; uncommon boys within unremarkable families. Their voices are heard clearly and we, the modern readers, understand them. What shocks us is the way their society views and treats them.
The book is truly one of light and shade. There is strutting pride and naked shame; parents' love and society's censure; sisterly bonding and covert whoring. It is certainly a cleverly woven tale which builds the big characters of Fanny and Stella, without allowing them once to become caracatures. Historical facts are delivered seamlessly within the galloping drama, bringing much of the flavour of 19th century attitudes and laws. We are reminded, for example, that the death penalty for sodomy had been repealed only in recent years, and that punishment was still crushing. Beneath the comical theatre lies fear.
Fanny and Stella's fate is in the hands of the law. Crowds gather to catch a glimpse of these exotic creatures. Can we tell if they are men or women? What are they wearing? What will happen to them? Neil McKenna's account is an unbridled yet exquisitely corseted adventure that will leave you breathless.
Ernest Boulton - Stella - could easily pass for a woman and few people seeing her dressed as a woman could believe that she was actually a man. In fact when she was dressed as a man many people were convinced she was actually a woman. Fanny and Stella - as they are referred to throughout this book - were arrested in 1870 on suspicion of homosexuality and corrupting public morals. However the police seem to have made something of a mess of the case since there wasn't actually a law prohibiting men appearing in public dressed as women - or vice versa. Medical evidence of homosexual activity was difficult to acquire and rarely reliable and unless two men were caught in the act it was virtually impossible to prove conclusively.
The gentleman who was accompanying Fanny and Stella to the theatre at the time of their arrest appeared in court as a prosecution witness but in the end he proved to be much more of a help to the defence as he was aware they were both men even though they were dressed as women. This is a strange story which helps to throw some light on the wilder shores of human behaviour as well as showing that the tabloid press were just as scurrilous then as they are now.
The book, which is based largely on the trial transcript and evidence contains comprehensive notes on the text, illustrations and an index.
McKenna's account of the police conspiracy to secure their prosecution (hopefully for sodomy, which would have been a virtual death sentence by hard labour) was exposed at the trial, as was the collusion of the police surgeon. This is a gripping read, sympathetically written. The narrative goes at a cracking pace and depicts the loyal, steady Fanny and the diva Stella with tenderness and great empathy. A must read.
It was entertaining , funny and interesting ...i had no idea that cross-dressing was so popular in Victorian England...not sure how the author knew what the girls were thinking but an enjoyable read
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The content of this book is fascinating. But the style is very odd.Read more