The Victorian Freak Show Essay

The Victorian Freak Show Essay

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The Victorian freak show in Britain exhibited bearded ladies to dwarfs entertaining all classes of Victorian society. Furthermore, it encouraged the public to gaze at the ‘otherness ’ and to evaluate their meaning in relation to Victorian values and hierarchy. As Leslie Fielder argues the freak brings to life our most secret inner fears, ‘the freak challenges the conventional boundaries between man and female between human and animal’ . This essay will explore and analyze the treatment of racial freaks in nineteenth century British freaks shows, to demonstrate how they reflected a number of social, political and economical factors. Additionally, it will focus on women especially, because the foreign female promoted the idealization of the British female body. This will be demonstrated by using case studies of three female freaks Julia Pastrna, Krao and the Hottentot Venus because of their popularity within the Victorian era. I will argue, that social factors had the most significant impact on the treatment of female racial freaks in reflecting Britain’s relationship with its colonies.

The burgeoning field of the history of freaks and freak shows has lead to an increased focus by scholars surrounding this topic. Freak shows must be placed in their social, political and economical context in order to be understood within historiographical ideas surrounding imperialism and gender. There are three distinct categories, when looking at the historiographicall debate. Firstly, the social construction of freaks. Secondly, the idea of racial freaks reflecting popular professional debates and finally to emphasize the freaks culture in order to make them mean something in society.

Robert Bogdan argues that social construction was the ...


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... Therefore, making it the most reflective factor of Britain’s anxieties in regards to foreign women, again reflecting Britain’s unstable relationship with its colonies at this time.
Julia Pastrna was born in Mexico; she compelled her audience with her hairy appearance and her deviation from female gender norms. She was displayed in a number of London shows in 1857 and then after her death her embalmed figure in 1860 was still being exhibited on travelling tours between 1862-64. Figure one shows her embalmed body. This image brings up a number of social issues for people who would view her exhibit in relation to women at this time . Firstly, her protruding hair and masculine features revealed she deviated from social norms. Lillian Craton suggests that she ‘straddled boundaries between man and women, even human and animal’ seen in her being deemed the ‘bear woman’.

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