The Erotics of Shaving in Victorian Britain

By Justin Bengry

Beardedness, or alternatively clean-shavenness, has long been an important signifier of manliness, inscribing crucial gender and sexual meanings onto the male body. But fashions in shaving are notoriously unstable, even in the nineteenth century, that idyll for the hirsute among us. Beardedness in nineteenth-century Britain, in fact, only reached its zenith in 1892, while the frequency of clean-shaven faces, lowest in 1886, continued to increase in popularity for the next 80 years. The necessity and expense of daily visits to the local barber, however, prohibited many from indulging in such luxury and before savvy marketers rooted the fear of the five o’clock shadow into men’s minds, a few days’ growth was often acceptable. Indeed, before the advent of the safety razor, many men might have agreed with the proverb: “It is easier to bear a child once a year than to shave every day.” Beardedness, and its intermediate variations, nonetheless had (and continue to have) definite implications for manliness and sexuality.

04 01 1899 p 447

“Little Doors,” Illustrated London News, 1 April 1899, 477.

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Sex and the King: Rumours, Reputation and the Problem of Royal Adultery in Medieval England

By Katherine Harvey

The first few weeks of 2014 have seen a flurry of media reports about the private lives of world leaders both past and present, from Bill Clinton and Tony Blair to François Hollande and Barack Obama. Such fascination with the alleged sexual exploits of political leaders is often assumed to be a modern phenomenon: modern voters like their politicians to be faithful to their wives, but medieval kings could have as many mistresses and bastards as they pleased.

An adulterous couple from a fourteenth-century manuscript. (British Library Royal 6 E VI f. 61)

An adulterous couple from a fourteenth-century manuscript. (British Library: Royal 6 E VI f. 61)

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‘In the manner of a woman’: John/Eleanor Rykener and the Inessentiality of Gender

By Kim Racon

On what was likely a cold Sunday night in Cheapside, London, in December 1394, John Britby passed through the high road, catching the eye of a woman called Eleanor. She was bundled up but still held his attention. He approached her and asked her to have sex with him. Eleanor negotiated a price for her labor. Reaching an agreement, they found their way to a stall in Soper’s Lane and had sex. City of London authorities were nearby, waiting, and soon the pair were arrested and imprisoned.

Plea and Memoranda Roll for the case of Johannes Rykener (London Metropolitan Archives, COL/AC/17/0817)

Plea and Memoranda Roll for the case of John Rykener (London Metropolitan Archives, COL/AC/17/0817) Transcription

The Mayor and Aldermen of the City, as well as John Britby, learned some time later that Eleanor was also John. And John Rykener now had to answer questions over that illud vitium detestabile, nephandum, et ignominiosum—that “detestable, unmentionable, and ignominious vice,” sodomy.

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Love, Lust and Procreation: Debating Sex in Nineteenth-century Medicine?

By Elisabeth Brander


The phrenology head appearing in most of Fowler’s work. Courtesy of the Medical Heritage Library.

Nineteenth-century medical texts are extremely diverse in the topics they cover.  They range from specialized works meant to be used by trained physicians and surgeons, to books of practical home remedies, to treatises on phrenology.  They also offer much more than strictly medical advice – many of the works contain recommendations on how to navigate the complicated waters of love and marriage.

Not surprisingly, one theme that appears in their writings is how to reconcile the tension between physical attraction – necessary for procreation – and the loftier spiritual love which would bring two people together in marriage.  Orson Squire Fowler, who along with his brother Lorenzo, was one of the leading proponents of phrenology during the nineteenth century, had plenty to say about love and sexuality.  His fundamental belief was that love existed to drive procreation:

What inspires and enables gender to create offspring; and those precisely like their parents?  LOVE.  Only for this was it created.  To this alone is it adapted.

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What will .GAY stand for?

By Łukasz Szulc

While the introduction of new internet domains such as .GAY and .LGBT offers the potential for queering internet structure, it also raises important questions which must be taken into account at this moment of redesigning the Domain Name System (DNS). This is also a significant opportunity for historians and other scholars to reflect on the ongoing relationship between LGBTQ communities and the internet, histories of naming and identity, as well as the unique histories of sexualities across regions affected by these new domains.

Logo of dotGAY campaign taken from their website:

Logo of dotGAY initiative.

The internet has long been recognized as a medium with great potential for LGBTQs. Especially in its first years, the internet was considered a laboratory for individuals to explore sexual and gender identities. Later, scholars realized that online and offline worlds are much more interconnected than previously thought and that identity play or switch are in fact exceptional online. Still, the internet does make it easier for many LGBTQs to access LGBTQ-related information and make contact with others, particularly in the process of coming out (Szulc and Dhoest 2013). More recently, we can observe the proliferation of increasingly specialized LGBTQ websites serving the interests of all range of individuals and identity positions.

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