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Victorianism

Anti-victorianism

Behind the facade of staidness there was another sort of Victorianism—a kind of anti-Victorianism. Here, stifling mores were replaced by more adventurous and plural sexualities. Liaisons outside marriage, such as Dickens's longstanding affair with the actress Nelly Ternan, were common. William Gladstone's (1809–1898) self-flagellation—a habit the four-time prime minister shared with the bohemian Algernon Swinburne (1837–1909)—was his punishment for the sexual feelings (though there are no known sexual acts) aroused by his attempts to rescue London's prostitutes. Pornographic pictures and texts were readily available in the nineteenth century. Peep shows were commonplace and provided titillation to a broad spectrum of male society. As Simon Winchester's The Surgeon of Crowthorne (1999) demonstrates, William Chester Minor (1834–1920), the American military doctor, murderer, and prolific contributor to the Oxford English Dictionary, aggressively pursued a sex life that utterly contradicted the conventional image of his age. Obsessed with sex and a regular user of prostitutes—prior to his incarceration in 1872 in the new Broadmoor Criminal Lunatic Asylum for murdering a man in London—Minor harbored such a strong sense of self-loathing that he cut off his own penis. Homosexuality may have scandalized Victorian sensibilities, but it was not invisible. Literary works with a homosexual theme, such as Teleny (1883), were produced; Oscar Wilde's (1854–1900) trial and imprisonment reminded Victorians that homosexuality and pedophilia were part of their worlds; while the artist and aesthete Aubrey Beardsley (1872–1898) helped to create a self-image of sexual radicalism, including an unfinished pornographic novel, Under the Hill (1894). Not long after, in 1899, Lord Longford was recorded for posterity in Hansard with a telling contribution to a parliamentary debate: "Of course I have seen people recover from homosexualism. A boy at Eton assaulted my elder brother in the bath there and was later expelled for repeating the offence on another boy. Later he became a pillar of society and captained the county cricket team" (Sweet, p. 190).

Symbolic photograph of guardian angels watching over children. British, c. 1860s. Religion in Victorian Britain was marked by a loss of faith in the Church of England. The period saw the creation of several new religions, a branching out of Christianity, and a growing rise of agnosticism. © HULTON-DEUTSCH COLLECTION/CORBIS

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Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Verbena Family (Verbenaceae) - Tropical Hardwoods In The Verbena Family to WelfarismVictorianism - Early Victorianism, Values And Beliefs, Anti-victorianism, Victorianism And Progress, Victorianism Beyond Britain