Author of the exceptional The Secret Life of Oscar Wilde, Neil McKenna returns today with another 19th century queer biography, Fanny & Stella [Kindle], his study of two gay young men, Ernest Boulton and Frederick Park, who swanned around Victorian London dressed as women.
The Sunday Times:
"...rich and absorbing... McKenna has done a tremendous job of recreating Victorian London's gay subculture, weaving newspaper reports, police documents and contemporary diaries into a jolly and rollicking narrative... open a page at random, and you find yourself in a world of prostitutes, crossdressers and hermaphrodites...a cracking read."
"You would need to be a very dull — or prim — dog indeed not to find this a terrifically entertaining story. Neil McKenna has thrown himself into it with unfettered glee. If the opportunity arises to describe an anal fistula — and it does, frequently — he does not shirk it. Every so often the campness threatens to tilt out of control, but he’s a sufficiently crisp, colourful and funny writer for it not to matter."
"What makes this book such a startling read is the way that McKenna recreates the affective world of Stella, Fanny and their "sisters", a loose cohort of half a dozen young gay men, some of whom stood trial."
"28th April 1870. The flamboyantly dressed Miss Fanny Park and Miss Stella Boulton are causing a stir in the Strand Theatre. All eyes are riveted upon their lascivious oglings of the gentlemen in the stalls. Moments later they are led away by the police. What followed was a scandal that shocked and titillated Victorian England in equal measure. It turned out that the alluring Miss Fanny Park and Miss Stella Boulton were no ordinary young women. Far from it. In fact, they were young men who liked to dress as women. When the Metropolitan Police launched a secret campaign to bring about their downfall, they were arrested and subjected to a sensational show trial in Westminster Hall. As the trial of 'the Young Men in Women's Clothes' unfolded, Fanny and Stella's extraordinary lives as wives and daughters, actresses and whores were revealed to an incredulous public. With a cast of peers, politicians and prostitutes, drag queens, doctors and detectives, "Fanny and Stella" is a Victorian peepshow, exposing the startling underbelly of nineteenth-century London. By turns tragic and comic, meticulously researched and dazzlingly written, "Fanny and Stella" is an enthralling tour-de-force."