Lesbian relationships in the Victorian Era
Women of the Victorian era often developed
what polite society referred to as "romantic friendships". Actually,
polite society never really referred to it at all. Beyond unseemly was any
talk of a sexual nature. The skirting of any conversation on romantic
friendships was an indication of the morels of the day. A population of
many more women than men, plus a law passed in 1885 that made it illegal
for two men to have sex but never touched on the subject of two women.
With these facts of life, women tended to engage themselves in
relationships with other women, often progressing to a live-in situation.
Of course, society whispered behind handkerchiefs and fans. Yet vocally,
the pair was referred to as "companions".
Many women through the age became independent
for the first time as an accepted state of affairs. They worked as school
teachers and clerk, nurses and nannies. Collecting a pay envelope and
living apart from any man. Women like George Eliot strolled around in
men's trousers, tailored for her figure. Smoking cigarettes and discussing
the craft of writing at corner cafes. Living a masculine existence with
female accoutrements. A tough road even by today's standards.
The overwhelming fear by society of women's'
independence shone through largely in its editorials and cartoons. Many
focused around how men were "heads of their household" and catering to the
man in smoking jacket and cigar with wife on her knees putting his
slippers on. The illustrations and cartoons of Victorian society had hints
of sexuality running through them. Often, a woman is, as previously
described, in a position similar to that of giving oral sex. Another shows
a woman on all fours scrubbing the kitchen floor, her husband standing
directly behind her with a riding crop and a copy of the marriage vows in
his other hand. Sound suggestive?
The acceptance and fascination of the
romantic friendships is visible in artists such as Leighton and others.
The images express an innocence with something more behind the eyes. A
touch or kiss is shown with definite signs of the erotic undertones of
man's oft admitted fantasy of two women together. Victorian men had it all
around them. The closeness and bonding of two good female friends. And yet
he could not involve himself even if the three did get along in
conversation and interests.
The resulting suffragette movement for
women's rights and independence has moved the romantic friendships of
Queen Victoria's time into the files of heroine history. These women
sought what they were after and used the ignorance of societal niceties to
express their love.
Copyright - 2003