A Modern Audience, The Case Of Frederick Park And Ernest Boulton, Or Fanny And Stella

A Modern Audience, The Case Of Frederick Park And Ernest Boulton, Or Fanny And Stella

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To a modern audience, the case of Frederick Park and Ernest Boulton, or Fanny and Stella respectively, can seem impossible. These women who not only broke the stereotypical gender and sexuality mold but were unashamed to present themselves as they were to the public, contradicts today’s conception of stringent Victorian sexuality. Published in 1988, Neil Bartlett’s work Who Was That Man? A Present for Mr. Oscar Wilde considers the possibility of Fanny and Stella’s multi-faceted gender presentation for a modern audience. Bartlett takes his examination of the case even further by arguing that these women intentionally blurred the lines of their identities to navigate a society that refused to accept them as they were. Bartlett’s interpretation presents Fanny and Stella’s complicated relationship with gender expression in a manner both somewhat consistent with primary sources from the case and accessible to the skeptical readers of today.
To explain the femininity of Fanny and Stella to a modern audience, Bartlett pays special attention to constructing arguments that draw from source material, presupposing readers’ doubt of the existence of atypical genders and sexualities in the Victorian era. The first two pages concerning Fanny and Stella primarily describe their ‘drag’ style of dress and effeminate behaviors, which could be dismissed as a performance as opposed to an identity. However, Bartlett quickly works to convince readers that “it is important [not to] imagine Fanny and Stella as living only in public” (133) and provides evidence of how their feminine self-identity extends to their personal lives. Support for Bartlett’s interpretation can be found throughout the primary sources of the case. For example, one letter to Lor...


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...of Fanny and Stella’s gender identity, a theme which appears repeatedly throughout the primary sources of the trial. On the other hand, his description of Fanny and Stella as belonging at once to “the separate but overlapping worlds of the actress, the prostitute, and the demi-mondaine” (Bartlett 138) implies a specific sodomitical behavior for which the court could not find sufficient evidence. Bartlett’s embrace of Fanny and Stella’s complex relationship with ideas of gender and sexuality seems fairly inclusive. However, it perhaps reaches too far by giving such weight to the characterization of these women as sodomites. Choices made by Bartlett to convince modern readers of the presence of non-cisgender or heterosexual Victorians seem successful to this end, but may reduce the identities of Fanny and Stella by reshaping them to fit with contemporary sensibilities.

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