The Sexuality Of Fanny And Stella To A Modern Audience

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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…show more content…
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 Lord Arthur Clinton indicates that its writer, who signs the letter “Fanny Winifred Park,” not only chose a female identity for herself but saw Stella as her sister and Clinton as her “Sister’s husband” (CITE Fanny and Stella letters). Those who had never met Fanny and Stella before were just as accepting of their presentation as women. In his deposition, Frances Kegan Cox indicates that he, “from the manner Bolton’s hair was done, and from the smallness of his hands & feet, as well as his general manners…formed an opinion he was a woman” (CITE Cox depo) though Boulton never explicitly described his gender or sex. These arguments, which stay true to the primary sources and often quote…show more content…
If modern audiences struggle to grasp the fluidity of Fanny and Stella’s gender presentation, Bartlett argues that this is because Fanny and Stella intentionally straddles the lines of gender to better fit into an unaccepting society. In a city that could and would criminally prosecute people like themselves, Fanny and Stella must have known the social contexts in which their feminine presentations were accepted. Thus, one way to protect themselves in unsafe contexts “was to adopt sufficient tokens of masculine appearance so as to confuse any suspicious members of the public” (Bartlett 138). The primary sources provide evidence of their conscious choices of gender presentation. Letters to Stella from Louis Hurt urge her to “do your best to appear as manly as you can at any rate in force…[and] therefore beg of you to let your Moustache grow at once” (CITE Hurt 3) so as not to offend Hurt’s mother. It seems clear upon examining the circumstances of the trial that the local authorities had been waiting for some time for an excuse to prosecute these deviant individuals (CITE Simon ppt), which supports Bartlett’s assertion that Fanny and Stella tactfully navigated society as to avoid being caught. Though it may take away from an understanding of gender fluidity as a part of their identity, Bartlett explains Fanny and Stella’s ever-changing gender

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