Gender in Victorian Britain – Lecture notes for Oct. 21, 2014

History 364-0-01: Gender and Sexuality in Victorian Britain; Northwestern University, Fall 2014

The British Empire

  • Expansion
    • The territory started small, but spreaded to modern-day Canada, Australia, India, and parts of Africa in 1886
    • This is a global empire – the expansion is all across the world and spread out (this is where the phrase “the sun never sets on the British Empire” phrase comes from)
    • Athena represents Britannia and represents British power
    • Empires are a place where goods can be sold – it provides a market; they also provide raw goods for manufacturing, which can be purchased from the empire and brought back elsewhere
    • The United Kingdom is about the size of Michigan, but the Empire was able to provide Britain’s power due to its expansion
  • India
    • The Empire starts to expand past the presidency towns in 1756-1805
    • By 1805, Britain still isn’t the paramount power and isn’t the dominant force
    • In 1805-1858, the expansion furthers such that there are no longer any regional powers challenging British authority
    • The British Raj (1858-1947) expands past India
    • The mutiny is a traumatic event for British authority because they assumed they had a natural ability to rule India, through liberal imperialism
      • They believed that by spreading their beliefs (i.e. about religion and culture), the inhabitants would become just as civilized as they were
      • This caused a shift where religion and culture were not imposed on the Indian people
    • India is considered the jewel in the crown of the British empire
    • After Queen Victoria was named Empress of India, she was seen less as a powerful person from a foreign area, and more seen as someone who was accepting and involved in the new culture
  • “Victorians Uncovered,” India
    • In Indian culture, things happened in public that would only be permitted behind closed doors in Britain
    • The Victorians tried to bring their culture to India and try to spread it to the Indians
    • Women were told they should run their household as the British run the empire
    • Sensuality was a trait that high Victorians thoroughly disapproved
    • Women who committed adultery would lose their status and would be enough for divorce; the idea of introducing an illegitimate child into the family to receive inheritances was unforgivable
    • Women were held at higher standards; adultery was enough for divorce, while men had to commit both adultery as well as abuse
    • It was rare to see someone embrace interracial marriage; to encourage this, gold coins were provided for those who had interracial babies
    • Wellesley refused to accept interracial relationships
    • Interracial relationships of sexual nature had to be kept behind closed doors; although the rules had changed, the desires remained the same
    • The Mutiny occurred when Indians felt their beliefs were being violated by being forced to have beef and pork fat touch their mouths
    • There was a siege that lasted for months, the most notable of which lasted two months and 2,000 people died; news of this reached Britain and the press overplayed the magnitude of the siege by claiming much more people had died
    • It was agreed to let the British surrender and escape through a river, but instead, the men were killed as they tried to leave, and the women and children were captured and slaughtered
    • The Victorian woman was iconized as a violated angel
    • A proposal was brought up that said Indian judges should be equals to their English co-workers; if passed, it would allow Indian judges to try British people
    • The British wrote to the press and tried to prove that the Indians were not capable because they were not delicate and overall did not possess the appropriate traits
    • James Hume, the government prosecutor, caught his wife committing adultery with an Indian man, and nearly beat her to death; he was advised to place the blame on the Indian man
    • The media framed this as an Indian servant attempting to rape an English woman, and the case was blown out of proportion
    • The British claimed that the Indian demons were preying on the innocent angels
    • The judge and jury saw the Indian man as guilty because the victim lied and did not talk of their affair; this case was used as evidence by people stating that Indian judges (and Indian people in general) were incapable
    • The truth was revealed only two years later by a letter written by a cousin, but it was not revealed until they were dead and the letter was discovered in their private documents


Gender in Victorian Britain – Discussion notes for Oct. 16, 2014

History 364-0-01: Gender and Sexuality in Victorian Britain; Northwestern University, Fall 2014

Sex and Murder

  1. What was it about the Ripper murders that so captivated the Victorian public?
  2. What motivated Stead to devote so much energy and print to the Ripper murders? Did he have any agenda(s) ancillary to the capture of the murderer?
  3. Did the Pall Mall Gazette coverage of the murders promote public hysteria? How?
  4. What are some common social themes between the Ripper murders, “Modern Tribute,” and Jekyll & Hyde? What was the relationship between fiction and reality during the time of the Ripper murders?
  5. How did the Contagious Diseases Act and the Criminal Law Amendment Act influence the coverage of the Ripper murders? Did they play any role in the murders themselves?
  6. According to Showalter’s arguments, what ideas and social forces made the Ripper murders possible? Does she believe that these have changed? Do you agree?
  7. It was asserted that “no true Englishman could commit such savage crimes” as the Ripper murders. In what ways were notions of race central to contemporary ideas about the Ripper murders?
  8. How would you characterized contemporary attitudes about the victims of the murders? Do you think the coverage of the murders in the Pall Mall Gazette was appropriately sympathetic?
  9. Why did some Victorians, including Stead, see the Ripper murders as part of a broader social, political, and moral crisis? Do you agree with their analyses?
  10. Why are “Ripperology” and “Ripperature” still active fields?


Gender in Victorian Britain – Lecture notes for Oct. 14, 2014

History 364-0-01: Gender and Sexuality in Victorian Britain; Northwestern University, Fall 2014

  • Population of prostitutes
    • 3 million people in London, 55,000 prostitutes in London
    • Police would’ve given a lower number of prostitutes because they base their statistics off arrests, and arrests were low
    • Britain does not have a state-controlled brothel system like other European capitals do
  • Legislation
    • 1839 Vagrancy Act: criminalized loitering for the purposes of prostitution or solicitation
      • The Vagrancy Act was aimed at the public, in public spaces
      • It’s not the actual act of prostitution that is illegal, it is “loitering for the purposes of”
      • This meant the prostitutes would be prosecuted, but the ones looking for and using prostitutes would not – it was always the woman who was criminalized
    • 1864, 1867, 1869 Contagious Diseases Acts
      • There was a high number of diseases in military men
      • Any woman who was suspected (social profiling) of being a prostitute could be picked up by the police and subjected to a forcible full pelvic exam (with a speculum, opening the vaginal cavity) by an army doctor
      • Army doctors were not used to inspecting working-class women, they usually only inspected military men
      • If the woman was found to have a sexually transmitted disease, she was held in a locked hospital for three months while she underwent treatment
      • It was working-class women and girls who were constantly paying the price of prostitution
    • Repealed in 1886 by Josephine Butler and the Social Purity Movement
      • This happens one year after the Criminal Law Amendment Act
  • Prostitutes
    • Asking young girls when and how they had fallen
      • Most girls say they had fallen at age 16, because it was a respectable answer – this answer was given both before and after the Criminal Law Amendment Act (few girls say they had fallen earlier)
      • They either said they had fallen to a boyfriend of the same class (and they may have fallen into prostitution after this)
      • Or, to the man of the house to which they were a servant
      • Girls often charged one pound per encounter – this was a lot of money for a working-class girl in the east end of London (one pound was subsistence wage)
    • Older prostitutes
      • As the girls got older, the amount they charged slipped down to about 4-8 pence and were “fourpenny knee tremblers,” the lowest of the low
      • Knee-trembling sex was commercial, fast, rough sex done while standing up; fourpenny knee tremblers didn’t have a place to which to take the men because they didn’t have a permanent room or bed
      • Jack the Ripper’s victims were fourpenny knee tremblers
      • “Doss money” is the money needed to purchase a cheap, temporary bed in a doss house for one night
      • The Ripper’s victims were in their 40s with no permanent man in their life and no permanent place to stay – these are the kinds of women who were out on the streets very late at night
    • Pimps/bullies
      • Working class girls felt they needed a man as a front to make it look like they were more reputable
  • Prostitution (Handout)
    • Fall-out of the Criminal Law Amendment Act, 1885
      • The Act outlawed brothel-keeping and the procurement of women for prostitution
      • Brothel-keepers and their agents could now be imprisoned or fined (both clauses of the Act were opposed by W.T. Stead and Josephine Butler)
        • Landlords were now reluctant to rent their houses or rooms to women living alone or collectively with a small group of women
        • Working-class prostitutes now felt compelled to include at least one man in the household. These men were referred to as “bullies,” and they provided some protection and cover
        • This undermined the personal and economic independence that working-class prostitutes had enjoyed prior to 1885
    • Fall-out of the Whitechapel (“Ripper”) Murders
      • The social purity movement moved against prostitution and urged even greater regulation and police powers (opposed by Stead and Butler)
      • Some of the worst slums in Whitechapel were cleared, and old “common lodging houses” or “doss houses” were destroyed. New housing for respectable Jewish immigrants (usually skilled artisans) was built, but the extreme poor were forced onto the streets. Many of these were older women
      • Male working-class vigilance committees were set up to patrol the streets of the East End and protect women. The result was that working-class women were increasingly confined to the home