In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

141 Reviews Sodom on theThames: Sex,Love and Scandal inWildeTimes by Morris B. Kaplan; pp. 314. Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 2005. $42.60 cloth. Sodom on theThames revisits three well-known late nineteenth-century scandals in London: the case of cross-dressers Ernest Boulton and Frederick Park, also known as Fanny and Stella (1870–71); the exposure of the Cleveland Street male brothel (1889–90); and the trials of Oscar Wilde (1895). In addition it looks at the relationships that lay behindWilliam Johnson’s resignation from Eton in 1871 and at how they endured well beyond that date. These dramatic episodes (they are nicely flagged as such with a list of dramatis personae at the start of each section) are framed by two very different texts from the period—John Addington Symonds’s frank but earnest Memoirs (written between 1889 and 1893) and the pornographic novel Sins of the Cities of the Plain (1881).These serve as points of reference throughout, allowing Kaplan to illustrate the intersection of urban possibility and homoerotic fantasy in his case studies and also to draw out the ways in which men tried differently to understand and validate their loves and desires. At face value this project may not appear particularly new—the case studies and texts are now fairly familiar—and yet Kaplan’s attention to detail and skillful story telling yield fresh insights. His characters gain shape and substance, and we begin to see more clearly than before how the particularities of class, family, and desire play out in an individual’s lives and loves. I have never before been affected by Lord Arthur Somerset’s devastating exile as a result of the Cleveland Street scandal, and neither have I distinguished him particularly from Lord Euston, the other aristocratic figure embroiled in the scandal.They were both to me simply privileged aristocrats. Fanny and Stella had likewise been almost interchangeable in my mind, but here their differences emerge clearly. Kaplan has the ability to pull out an apparently incidental detail and make it count. He points, for example, to the subdued manner of the pair in court one morning, and we suddenly see beyond the exuberant campery of the tale and glimpse the distress and pressure these two men must have been under— especially after the death of Stella’s lover, Lord Arthur Clinton. The story of Fanny and Stella also opens out questions of just how these two men understood themselves—specifically, how they understood themselves differently from Johnson, who resigned from Eton in the same year as the trial over his “boy love,” and from Symonds, who was struggling around this time to comprehend the electrifying effect queer urban graffiti and solicitous guardsmen had upon him.“Even today,” Kaplan concludes,“it is not easy to say whether Boulton and Park acted on homosexual desires or whether they are better understood as expressing a transgendered refusal of normative masculinity” (266). It is an important point; Fanny and Stella and others like them have tended to be subsumed in the history of homosexuality and the emergence of a homosexual “type” (too often seen as singular). victorian review • Volume 33 Number 1 142 Such explicit critical insights come late in Sodom on the Thames. “The heart of this book,” writes Kaplan, “is its characters and their stories. I have allowed them to speak for themselves as much as possible” (6). This sidelining of analysis is a canny strategy. Unfolding each story with such care means that by the end, the conclusions seem self-evident; I found myself simply nodding as the key findings were laid out in the epilogue. The approach could easily have backfired: focusing so tightly on these cases might have suggested a banal and transhistorical individualism. Kaplan, however, is careful to keep a keen eye on the social, cultural, and material circumstances of these men’s lives, and also to resist conflating the past with the present. He thus describes what he sees as a “broader erotic life” at play in his period. He notes, for example, how the 1992 reworking of Sins of the City of the Plain writes out its original “polymorphous pansexuality and gender fuck” (223...

pdf

Additional Information

ISSN
1923-3280
Print ISSN
0848-1512
Pages
pp. 141-143
Launched on MUSE
2015-10-07
Open Access
No
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.