New Character Art: Annabell Simmons (and Clara)

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Here's one of those things where I went and explored Victorian sexuality. I'm just fascinated by it. These two are one of my forays into the subject.

Annabell and Clara are lesbians in a time period that doesn't really even have a word to describe them. There's a lot of scholarly work out there regarding Victorians and homosexuality due to the existence of Oscar Wilde - the fact is that gays and lesbians existed and had a presence, and that presence threatened the Victorian ideal of hearth and home. I'll cite Jan Marsh, since she explains this better than I do:

Although heterosexuality was held to be both normal and natural throughout the period, the later years also witnessed a visible increase in homosexuality, mainly in men and especially but not exclusively in the intelligentsia. While largely clandestine owing to laws prohibiting 'indecency' in public (the artist Simeon Solomon was one of those so prosecuted), private male homosexual acts were not explicitly and severely legislated against until 1885, when gay sex behind closed doors was made a criminal offence. This led, most notoriously, to the imprisonment in 1896 of Oscar Wilde, playwright and poseur.
Reasons for the emergence of a distinctly gay subculture within 1890s' Decadence movement include the promotion of 'Greek' or Platonic relationships by some university dons; the extended bachelorhood that resulted from prescriptions of financial prudence and sexual continence; and a counter-cultural defiance of orthodox moral teaching, which gave added allure to the forbidden and deviant. The supremely Decadent drawings of Aubrey Beardsley (1872-98) vividly evoke the atmosphere of this moment.
At the very end of the century, questions of sexual identity were also subject to speculative and would-be scientific investigation, dubbed sexology (1902). Writers such as Havelock Ellis (1859-1939) attempted a detailed classification of 'normal' and 'perverse' sexual practices. This led to the identification of a 'third' or 'intermediate' sex, for which Ellis used the term 'sexual inversion'. Writer and social reformer Edward Carpenter (1844-1929), who lived with a younger male partner, adapted the word 'Uranian' (1899) to denote male and female homosexuality, and around the same time, Lesbian and Sapphic came into use as terms for female relationships. Apocryphally, these were also due to be criminalised in the 1885 legislation, until Queen Victoria declared them impossible, whereupon the clause was omitted - a joke that serves to underline a common, and commonly welcomed, ignorance, at a time when lurid, fictionalised lesbianism was often figured as an especially repulsive/seductive French vice.
Today, the best-known lesbian relationship in Victorian Britain has become that of Anne Lister of Shibden in west Yorkshire and her partner, with its distinctly erotic as well as romantic elements. Other couples include poets Katherine Bradley and her niece Edith Cooper, who wrote collaboratively from the 1880s under the name Michael Field, and the Irish writers Edith Somerville and Violet Martin. In the Victorian period itself, American actress Charlotte Cushman and French painter Rosa Bonheur were well known for their openly 'masculine' independence and demeanour.
This was basically the best attempt I could make to tackle this subject. I know it's also a sort of parody of Fingersmith, too, which is an extremely popular book series/television program regarding Victorian lesbians, but I was a lot more interested in exploring Victorians with regards to homosexuality...well, that and keeping Basil single for longer. (Go ahead, fujoshi types, slash him with Dustin. I know you're going to do it.)


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