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Fanny and Stella
on 4 March 2013
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.