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Slave to Love: The strange fetishized romance between a Victorian Gentleman and a Servant

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Servant and Master: Hannah Cullwick and Arthur Munby.
 
Arthur Munby was a lawyer, civil servant, flâneur, and minor poet. Hannah Cullwick was a maid of all work—the lowliest of all servants. When they met each other by chance on Oxford Street, London in 1854, the pair began an obsessive and fetishistic relationship that lasted for over fifty years—until Hannah’s death in 1909.

Munby was a middle-class gentleman. He was therefore expected to perform his role as a gentleman by the class codes of Victorian society. Munby was respectable and seemingly decent but he had a dark secret—he was a voyeur who was deeply aroused by the appearance of grimy working-class women. He loved their hard, masculine shape. Their muscles, their scars, and deformities. He had one particular obsession for poor women who had lost their noses through accident or by disease. Munby photographed many of these women claiming it was part of his “studies” into working-class life.

Hannah was of yeoman stock. She started work as a servant girl at the age of fourteen. Her father had run several businesses which had failed. This meant Hannah was sent away to work as a drudge. But Hannah had a fetish for work. The dirtier, nastier, more degrading, the more she enjoyed it. She often stripped naked to clean out chimneys, sitting on a rafter high up in the chimney surrounded by and covered in hot smoldering soot.

It seemed this pair were somehow destined to meet.

There were two important events that pushed Hannah towards her relationship with Munby. She often read fortunes using tea leaves for her fellow servants. One day she saw the face of her future suitor—a respectable, bearded gentleman. It seemed highly unlikely that Hannah would ever enjoy a relationship with such a man, but she felt it might one day happen. The second event was when she attended a performance of the theatrical spectacle The Death of Sardanapalus. Based on the celebrated poem by Lord Byron, The Death of Sardanapalus tells the story of the love of a slave Myrrha for the weak king Sardanapalus:

Master, I am your slave! Man, I have loved!—
Loved you, I know not by what fatal weakness,
Although a Greek, and a born a foe to Monarchs—
A slave, and hating fetters—an Ionian,
And, therefore, when I love a stranger, more
Degraded by that passion than by chains!
Still I have loved you…

Hannah identified totally with Myrrha—who although a slave was free in her love.

On May 26th, 1854, Munby stopped Hannah on the street and quizzed her about her work as a servant. Hannah recognized Munby as the face she had seen foretold in her tea leaves. It was literally a love at first sight. Munby asked Hannah to write to him describing in exact detail every aspect of her work. Munby expressed an interested in the more degrading, demeaning, and physically dirty details—how Hannah’s skin would be smeared with soot and grime, how the work exhausted her.

Hannah wrote Munby every week. She also kept a diary, which she read to him when they met. Together they played out roles. She called Munby “Massa” and wore a dog’s collar to show she was his slave. He measured her biceps (fourteen inches) and hands (four inches) and allowed himself to be carried by her around his home as if he were a child or baby. Hannah also had a fetish for cleaning Munby’s shoes with her tongue—claiming she could tell where “Massa” had been by the taste of the soil on his soles.

Munby photographed Hannah in her various roles—as a maid, blacked-up as a chimney sweep, dressed as a man, and as a middle-class lady in a fine dress. Munby’s love for Hannah led to his proposing marriage. Hannah was at first against this suggestion as she felt it would finish her sense of empowerment over Munby. Eventually, she relented and the couple married in secret in 1873.

But Hannah was stifled by their marriage and the pleasure she had once found in being a servant, a slave to Munby was gone. She left their home and returned to work as a servant in the north of England. However, their secret, obsessive relationship continued well into old age with secret meetings and a flurry of letters sent between the two.

During one of their last meetings, Hannah prostrated herself in front of Munby and licked his boots clean. Munby was embarrassed and pulled Hannah up to kiss the “sweetness of her lips—her country lips which [had] the velvet touch.” Though they unquestionably loved each other, it seems unlikely that their relationship was ever consummated. Their sexual pleasure appears to have been solely derived from their role-playing and the strange power games of master and servant.

As Munby was a respectable middle-class man, and Hannah a lowly servant, their taboo relationship and their marriage remained secret throughout their lives. Hannah died exhausted and senile in 1909, Munby died the following year. At the reading of his will, the full story and extent of their love for each other was revealed. A box containing hundreds of photographs, letters, and diaries between husband and wife was offered to the British Museum who refused it on moral grounds. This box was then given to Trinity College, Cambridge, under the proviso it was not to be opened until 1950.
 
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Hannah cleaning boots.
 
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Hannah blacked-up from cleaning the soot from chimneys.
 
More photographs of Hannah Cullwick plus a short film, after the jump…
 

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Posted by Paul Gallagher
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06.13.2017
09:54 am
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Young, Black and Victorian: Wonderful photographs of Victorian women of color
03.09.2015
02:29 pm
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Here are some photographs of Victorian women of color that date from 1860 to 1901. Unfortunately, a lot of these photographs have no names attached to the women posed in the photographs.

I’d love to know the stories behind each photo. What each woman’s life was like. Sadly, we’ll probably never know.

According to the website Downtown LA Life:

Photos of Women of Color from this era are hard to come by, especially “family” photographs.
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A couple of these photos were taken when there was still slavery in the United States.


 

 

Aida Overton Walker
 

 
More after the jump…
 

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Posted by Tara McGinley
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03.09.2015
02:29 pm
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Keep it prim and proper in the bedroom with this Victorian era sex guide
02.16.2015
11:13 am
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A while back I found some excerpts from the 1712 physician-penned sex manual, The Mysteries of Conjugal Love Revealed, a hilarious little tome of outdated bedroom advice (though with a surprisingly decent take on anatomy). One would hope vast scientific (and socially progressive) improvements would be made in 150 years, but this 1861 Victorian sex manual, The Book of Nature; Containing Information for Young People Who Think of Getting Married, on the Philosophy of Procreation and Sexual Intercourse; Showing How to Prevent Conception and to Avoid Child-Bearing. Also, Rules for Management During Labour and Child-birth (yes, that is the entire title), proves otherwise—those Victorians, man! Here are some choice highlights!

The proper time for sexual indulgence is an important consideration, inasmuch as carelessness in this respect may tend to dyspepsia, indigestion, and other affections of the stomach. Persons who are predisposed to such diseases should never have sexual intercourse just before eating, nor very soon after a full meal. Its peculiar effect on the stomach is calculated to weaken digestion, particularly on the part of the male; and many a miserable dyspeptic might trace his unhappiness to imprudent acts of sexual intercourse. From two to three hours after or before eating a full meal, is the proper time for this business.

Burgers in bed may be poor sexual etiquette (depending on the situation—one wouldn’t want to refuse a dish from one’s host), but I’m fairly sure medical science has since given us the go ahead on that one.
 

 

Coition, or sexual union, may be compared to a fit of epilepsy, or to an electrical shock.

Either you’re doing it very right, or you’re doing it very wrong, but I’m intrigued by your description, so go on…

When a man is performing this act, if his thoughts wander, the product will be feeble, and if his wife become pregnant the offspring will be inferior. This fact is applied to the offspring of great geniuses, who are supposed to be thinking of something else when they beget their children, and hence their descendants are often much below them in intellect. In further confirmation of this theory, history informs us that some of the greatest men the world ever saw were bastards—children begotten with vigor, and when the minds of the parents are supposed to have been absorbed in the one idea of a loving sexual embrace.

As a bastard myself, I’m moved to concur, but my commitment to the truth supersedes my ego in this particular situation and I must correct you, sir—I don’t think a man’s wandering mind makes his kid stupid. We live in a busy, modern world, yet it’s not entirely inhabited by idiot distraction-babies.

Amorous females generally breed female children, while those of a colder temperament breed boys. When both are moderate in their desires, children of both sexes are produced. When the female is unnaturally amorous, (and such cases frequently occur,) she seldom becomes impregnated at all. The following mode of influencing the sex of the child, some physiologists assert, is really effective, and it looks reasonable.

 

 
I assume boys were considered prefereable at his point, so this line apparently encourages frigidity? Are they trying to sneakily trick horny newlyweds into making babies by promising them they’re too lusty to have children (ha!)? Is this an earnest misconception? So many questions!

The causes of a non-development of the Penis are various. Sometimes a general torpor of the Testes retards its growth. Disease or excess will frequently make it wither and decrease in size; and many a youth by early masturbation prevents the full development of the organ.

Sorry dude, they’re still gonna do it. You can tell them self-love causes instant death, they are still gonna do it.

You can find the entirety of the text here.
 
Via The Paris Review

Posted by Amber Frost
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02.16.2015
11:13 am
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Dead Creepy: Family portraits with deceased relatives

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Whenever a relative died when I was a child, we would gather around their body, sometimes laid out on a table, a coffin or slowly cooling under the bed sheets, and say five decades of the rosary for the repose of their soul. I attended at least half a dozen funerals before I was twelve: my father’s side of the family were descended from fertile Irish-Scottish Catholics. The dead always looked more peaceful before they were wheeled off to a funeral home, where make-up was applied, cheeks rouged and lipstick smoothed around mouth. These applications usually gave the deceased the appearance of an eerie ventriloquist’s doll, waiting to yap their mouths and roll their eyes. Death was just a common part of life. But now the relationship between the living and the dying and the dead has become once removed, with the undertakers and funeral homes taking control of those once natural rituals that connected us all together.

In Victorian times, it was common for grieving families to be photographed with the deceased. It was a way of commemorating the dead loved one. With high child mortality rates, most of these portraits were of parents and children. The images are often moving, even heartbreaking, and there are some that may seem bizarre to modern tastes.
 
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More portraits of the living and the dead, after the jump….
 

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Posted by Paul Gallagher
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10.30.2014
12:45 pm
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I’d kill for that dress: Gorgeously gothy mourning attire from 1815-1915
10.23.2014
09:21 am
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Evening dress suitable for late mourning, from around 1861
 
The Metropolitan Museum of Art recently announced a breathtaking new exhibit, “Death Becomes Her: A Century of Mourning Attire”—upper-class women’s widow couture, if you will. The clothing ranges from 1815 to 1915, when the death of a husband was met with strict social expectations among the English (and sometimes American) elite. During the Victorian era, a widow was expected to observe a year and a day of “full mourning,” during which she would refrain from “society” activities, veiled and wearing simple black dresses. After that, there was a nine-month period where she could drop the veil and incorporate small adornments, like jewelry or a trimmed hem. Then came “half-mourning,” where she could add grey, purple or a little white—this lasted three to six more months.

If a woman did not observe proper mourning etiquette (especially if she was still young and pretty), she would usually be considered not only gauche, but downright libidinous. Additionally, if the mourning attire was too flashy, she could also be judged as advertising her new singledom—scandalous! Widowers on the other hand, were just expected to wear dark clothes for an unofficial amount of time, and they could remarry in as little as a few months without fear of judgement.

If you can’t make it to the Met, you’re in luck! Almost all of their archives are searchable online, and I have compiled an exhibit for you right here. I even added some pieces that aren’t on display, including a dress worn by Queen Victoria herself. Kind of makes you long for the days when people died from a seasonal flu, huh?
 

1870, with veil
 

1880, not on view
 
More after the jump…

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Posted by Amber Frost
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10.23.2014
09:21 am
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Fanny and Stella: The two Victorian gentlemen who shocked England
06.18.2014
10:52 am
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Victorian England is sometimes thought as a stuffy, sexually oppressive, puritanical world, where one did one’s duty, where children were seen and not heard, and table legs were covered to prevent any lustful thoughts. But in truth, Victorian England was a world full of hypocrisy, where sex, poverty and crime were rampant.

The great parliamentarian and Liberal politician William Gladstone was notorious for his visits to brothels where he claimed he was attempting to “rescue” fallen women. Gladstone had been an habitue of London’s bordellos since he was in his twenties with his visits to prostitutes creating feelings of guilt and remorse which he expunged by flogging himself. When Gladstone became the British Prime Minister, he was known to have invited prostitutes back to number 10 Downing Street for a cup of tea and a reading of some uplifting passage from the Bible. Happily married and a father of eight children, Gladstone kept visiting brothels until he was 82 years of age, but by then he was just watching the young girls at work.

Though it was the Protestant work ethic that was outwardly promoted, Victorian Britain was obsessed with sex. In a survey of prostitution made in 1838, James Beard Talbot noted that there were 219 brothels in Edinburgh, 770 in Liverpool, 308 in Manchester, 175 in Leeds and 194 in Norwich. In London there were 5,000 brothels. To give an idea of scale, there were only 2,150 schools, churches and charitable institutions in the great metropolis at the time. If all Europeans are supposedly related by bloodline to Charlemagne, perhaps it could be argued that most Brits alive today are related to a Victorian prostitute.

Of course not all Victorians relied on prostitutes for sexual pleasure, some, as Nigel Cawthorne describes in his book The Sex Secrets of Old England, achieved considerable gratification through the use of dildos (or “dil-dols”).

Advanced varieties were on the market in Victorian England. There were double-ended dildos that could be used by two women at the same time. Others had two prongs that penetrated vagina and anus simultaneously. Another had an attachment for the chin. There was also an astonishing amount of literature advising young ladies on the correct usage.

Those who couldn’t afford a dildo were encouraged to carve a penis-shape out of a candle, but not to use a carrot (because of its hardness) or an eau-de-cologne bottle (because of the damage it could inflict). Bananas (if available) were okay.

Queen Victoria could just about believe that homosexual men existed, but didn’t believe there could ever be lesbians, as “Women do not do such things.” Of course, there was considerable sapphic sex in the olde queen’s day and long before, with women living together as couples. The most famous was John Ferren and Deborah Nolan, two women who married in 1747 and lived disguised as man and wife until Nolan died, and husband Ferren was revealed to be a woman. Many other women disguised themselves as boys and successfully served in the British army and navy, for example Hannah Snell (1723-92), Phoebe Hessel (1713-1821) and Mary Anne Talbot (1778-1808), who went from drummer boy to powder monkey.

But in Victorian times, one of the most infamous cases was that of “Miss Fanny Park” and “Miss Stella Boulton,” whose arrest and trial became one of the era’s most shocking episodes.
 
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Misses Park and Boulton had been seen attending the Strand Theater in London, where they flirted with the men in the balcony. This pair of seemingly attractive Victorian women were in fact two men, Thomas Ernest Boulton (Fanny) and Frederick William Park (Stella).

From an early age, Boulton had identified as female and was encouraged to wear dresses. He formed a friendship with Park and the two became a theatrical double act, touring as Stella Clinton (or Mrs Graham) and Fanny Winifred Park to mainly favorable reviews. They also began frequenting houses and theaters while dressed in women’s clothing. A third man, Lord Arthur Clinton, a respected Liberal politician and godson to PM William Gladstone, became a lover/husband to Stella.
 
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Boulton, Park and Clinton (seated).
 
In April 1870, Boulton and Park attended the Strand Theater dressed as men, there they changed their clothes, and re-appeared as the glamorous Fanny and Stella. Their flirtatious behavior attracted considerable male attention, as their biographer Neil McKenna explains Fanny and Stella: The Two Young Men Who Shocked Victorian England:

Fanny and Stella were hard to fathom. They had behaved with such lewdness in their box in the stalls as to leave not the faintest shred of doubt in even the most disinterested observer that they were a pair of hardened and shameless whores. And yet, close up, Stella was revealed as a beautiful, almost aristocratic, young woman who showed flashes of an innate, and most decidedly un-whorelike, dignity and grace.

One newspaper said later that she was ‘charming as a star’, another christened her ‘Stella, Star of the Strand’. And despite all the opprobrium that would later be heaped upon her, despite all the mud that would be slung at her and all the mud that would stick to her, she never lost the mysterious aura of a great and stellar beauty.

Mrs Fanny Graham, too, was clearly a woman of some education and breeding, and was certainly very far removed from your common-or-garden whore. Here in the saloon bar, it seemed harder to reconcile their obvious quality with the ogling, tongue-waggling, chirruping lasciviousness of the stalls. They spent half an hour or so in the refreshment bar.

Before they left, Mrs Fanny Graham, unaware that she was being watched, betook herself to the Ladies’ Retiring Room and asked the attendant there to pin the lace back to the hem of her crinoline where she had trodden on it. At a quarter past ten, Mr Hugh Mundell had been despatched in ringing tones by Mrs Graham to go and call for her carriage and soon afterwards the remainder of the party made a leisurely progress to the foyer and pushed their way through the noise and confusion of an emptying theatre to the waiting conveyance.

Just as the carriage was about to depart, one of the men who had been shadowing them all that evening jumped up and swung himself in through the door.

‘I’m a police officer from Bow Street,’ he said, producing his warrant card, ‘and I have every reason to believe that you are men in female attire and you will have to come to Bow Street with me now.’

These two young ladies were arrested and charged with “conspiring and inciting persons to commit an unnatural offence.”
 
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Clinton was named in the subpoena but it is believed he committed suicide rather than face the scandal, though it has also been suggested that he fled the country to live in exile. Fanny and Stella went to trial in 1871 (along with six others) and after a long, sensational trial, all were eventually found not guilty.

Neil McKenna’s biography on Fanny and Stella is published by Faber & Faber.
 
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Posted by Paul Gallagher
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06.18.2014
10:52 am
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Victorian photo booth
07.08.2011
02:09 pm
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I love these two. It’s such a sweet treat to see a Victorian era photograph with smiles and giggles like this.

(via reddit)

Posted by Tara McGinley
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07.08.2011
02:09 pm
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