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4.2 out of 5 stars
4.2 out of 5 stars
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I enjoyed reading this book though the style of writing left something to be desired I felt with some misplaced apostrophes and some very purple prose. Though the purple prose did in a way fit the subject matter. The book shows a different side to Victorian society with men dressing up as women and appearing in public. In the case of Fanny and Stella they also dressed as women to act in theatrical performances.

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.
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on 27 July 2017
thought about buying this book for ages .. and was glad i did .. being a transvestite myself i had a special interest in the subject..
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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on 5 April 2017
This is an extraordinary and detailed and moving account of two wonderful and very brave transvestites who attracted enormous fame in mid-Victorian times and performed all over the country. The story is told in beautiful language and with great scholarship. A fascinating and moving story.
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on 16 March 2014
The history in the book was really good, however it did wonder a lot in places I felt which I struggled with.
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on 7 February 2013
I'm just half way through Fanny and Stella but I'm enjoying it so much I don't want it to end. It's a laugh-out-loud funny book with a huge heart. You cannot help but adore Fanny and Stella for their audacious behaviour, their outrageous courage and their fearless take on life. Yet theirs is also a sad story of people who weren't accepted for that they were and dared to outwit society with their costumes and trickery. Neil McKenna has written a gem of a book and is a must-read for gay men and women and everyone in between. It's lyrical and beautifully written yet it also manages to be a page-turner. Buy it, read it and you will be taken on a wonderful trip back to Victorian London and a world of outrageous (in the nicest possible way) behaviour you'd never have thought possible.
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on 12 February 2013
This is an extraordinary book - spirited, funny, vivid, highly readable; trying to describe it makes me feel a bit like one of the more bamboozled characters who encounter Fanny and Stella, aka Frederick Park and Ernest Boulton, in their daily and nightly adventures. Using Fanny and Stella's arrest and trial as the central pillar of the narrative, the book manages not only to tell to tell the story of their early lives and relationship, but to portray a huge cast of characters - family, friends, clients, lovestruck admirers, police, doctors, lawyers, landladies -, to explore sexual and social mores of the time and to bring a period of Victorian society vividly to life. There's a terrific amount of research in here, worn lightly; there's also a steady sympathy for human experience. As some other reviewers have said, it's unflinching in its account of the various police and medical ordeals Fanny and Stella were put through; more unusually for non-fiction, it also imagines its way into their emotions and thoughts, as well as those of many secondary characters. As a read, it's great company, brimming with stories and unexpected facts, by turns flamboyant, steely, reflective, funny, and quite often all of them at once.
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on 4 February 2013
I enjoyed Fanny & Stella immensely for it's drama, comedy, humanity and shocking revelations about sexual behaviour in mid-Victorian London. Neil McKenna has done a superb job in bringing out the flighty, sympathetic characters of the two leading ladies and their circle of friends. We think of those times as being inhibited. Well, for many, it was non-stop shenanigans which would have made today's Soho look bland. At times I laughed out loud.
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on 20 May 2014
I was given this book by a friend of mine for my birthday and I've never received a better book. I was gripped from the start by the story of these two she-he ladies. Not only were they confident enough to 'lark' about in London theatres, they quickly collected a retinue of young male admirers.

The treatment poor Fanny and Stella received from the police, courts and in a sinister twist, possibly the government makes for a Victorian tale of intrigue, suspense and high jinks.

Neil McKenna's writing style is absolutely peerless. I just couldn't put the book down. His use of syntax and grammar are as slick and sophisticated as a drag queen's sashay; and then wham; a stylish adjective or scene switch and the whole story takes on another diverting aspect.

Although the book is about two men who love to dress as women they indeed defy classification (were they transgender, transexual, drag queens?), such labels and options were not available to people at that time. This makes their fidelity to their roles all the more admirable, especially in the face of the law.

This book is for those who love social history, gay, straight or indifferent. The book shouldn't be classified by a demographic as it a great work in its own right, and any lover of literature will simply swoon at the rich textures of Neil's writing.

I strongly advise you to buy both his current books, this one and 'The Secret Life of Oscar Wilde'. If you thought you knew about the founders of LGBT identity then think again. Neil McKenna is startlingly insightful of the human condition and deserves high praise indeed.
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on 23 February 2013
As a tale of Victorian England and a sensitive portrayal of the principle characters, the author succeeds admirably. My only criticism is it is a little short on the court drama and perhaps too little is made of the obvious reluctance of the Attorney General to bring the case to court. Perhaps there was too little evidence to develop a convincing case of a rift between him and the Prime Minister, but the seed of doubt was sown anyway.
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on 1 September 2013
I did manage to finish the book, but I have to admit to gritting my teeth to get through to the end. The story in itself is fascinating, and an insight into a time long past. In parts I felt some elements of the story were told, retold, and then retold again. Where other elements of the story where completely missing. Spoiler alert: Why did the Crown persist so long in it's prosecution? What were the motives of the Police in instigating their surveillance long before the arrests? Who were the prime movers and what were their motives in pursuing this to the bitter end? Still regardless of that it made for an interesting read. Not sure it's one I'll be passing on to my Mum any day soon though.
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