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Masculinity:

Page history last edited by PBworks 12 years, 8 months ago

 

 
Commentary
The trial of Ernest Boulton and Frederick William Park, two young men caught in the guise of women in 1870 London, served as a violent challenge to the traditional standards of masculinity in the Victorian period (1837-1901). Even several months before their apprehension, Boulton and Park had dressed elaborately as women in the company of young men and in public. The May 7th, 1870 London Times editorial on the apprehension of Boulton and Park demonstrates the trepidation and fear that resulted from such a public departure from the typical Victorian male’s behavior. The writer of the editorial expresses satisfaction that the government, not the police, will be handling the investigation. It also does not conceal a concern for the effect such a widely-spread scandal will have on the Victorian public:
“A scandal like this does not affect only the offenders themselves. In the present day it is impossible to prevent such a case from being discussed by the public at large, and particularly by people who unite to a strong appetite for the morbid and sensational credulity beyond bounds concerning the malpractices of the classes above them. The extraordinary rumours which arise, and rapidly take form and consistence and become the belief of millions, render it highly inexpedient that any scandal so serious and so public should seem to be hushed up.”
 
The London Times article portrays an explicit fear of influence, as well as the level of threat that the general public felt towards the changing gender roles. The fear that such sensational rumors can translate into new beliefs amongst the public displays a concern that the more people who hear about this scandal, the more people may follow suit. A grave concern is placed toward those of lower social standings who may be influenced by the startling “malpractices of the classes above them". This concern of influence demonstrates that the conflicting image of masculinity in the Boulton and Park scandal could likely arouse a potent curiosity amongst many members of the Victorian public.
 
Indeed, as the article fears, such a sensational scandal presented ideas to the public that in contrast completely undermined the established Victorian idea of masculinity. The idea of masculinity in Victorian terms was defined by a man’s discipline in “breadwinning capacity”, the ability to work to provide for his family, and maintaining authority in the household. More notably, Victorian men were not to be in confusion or fluctuation in regard to their identity as a masculine figure. Martin A. Danahay states "the idea of ‘refusing to be a man’ was even more impossible during the Victorian period than it is now", hence the vehement repulsion reflected in the London Times articles on the Boulton and Park trials (6).
 
Prior to the Boulton and Park scandal, the traditional view of masculinity had already begun to change. In “Characteristics”, Thomas Carlyle states, “the old ideal of Manhood has grown obsolete, and the new is still invisible to us…we grope after it in darkness” (Adams 1). This deterioration of the traditional view of masculinity can be attributed to the replacement of the notion of rank with class structures; this created a social hierarchy that, as a result of its new flexibility between levels, created great ambition and preoccupation (Adams 5). The capability of rising to a new status resulted in the loss of traditional forms of masculinity and produced the “pressures of modernity”. This shift resulted in the search for a new ideal of masculinity, producing masculine self-fashioning and the dandy, a male considered to be solely interested in being recognized for his existence as a visual object, content upon just being seen (Adams 22). Dandies, who placed aestheticism at the forefront of their lives, were in the public sphere before the Boulton and Park trials, causing the scandal to have an immense significance to the already prevalent issue of defining masculinity. The scandal furthered the attack on the old ideal of masculinity and introduced the wider public to the “pressures of modernity” and the loosening traditional ideal of the Victorian man. The anxiety expressed in the May 7th, 1870 Times article is validated by the events that would follow years later, including Oscar Wilde’s trial, the increase of homosexuality in London, and the Criminal Law Amendment of 1885 against gross acts of indecency, as the old Victorian ideal of masculinity deteriorated (Tosh 190).
 
Works Cited
Adams, James E. Dandies and Desert Saints. Ithaca, New York: Cornell UP, 1995.
 
“Dandy.” Oxford English Dictionary Online. 2nd ed. 1989.
 
Danahay, Martin A. Gender At Work in Victorian Culture. Burlington, Virginia: Brock University, 2005.
 
Tosh, John. A Man's Place Masculinity and the Middle-Class Home in Victorian England. New Haven and London: Yale UP, 1999.
 
"Yesterday the Two Young Men Were Appre-." The London Times Issue 26744: col E; pg. 9 (May 07, 1870).
 
 
For further reading, see:
Bivona, Dan, and Roger B. Henkle. The Imagination of Class : Masculinity and the Victorian Urban Poor. Columbus: Ohio State UP, 2006.
 
Lane, Christopher. The Burdens of Intimacy : Psychoanalysis and Victorian Masculinity. Chicago & London: The University of Chicago P, 1999.
 
The Young Men in Women’s Clothes. The London Times Issue 26750: col C; pg. 10 (May 14, 1870).
 
The Young Men in Women’s Clothes.The London Times Issue 26751: col A; pg. 13 (May 16, 1870).
 
Lauren Adam Western Washington University
Siri Alderson Western Washington University
Claude Atcho Western Washington University
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 

 

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