Monday, 27 November 2006


There is a persistent story that when all male homosexual practices were made illegal by the Criminal Law Amendment Act of 1885, lesbianism was not criminalised because Queen Victoria refused to believe that ladies were capable of such disgusting behaviour. To the best of my knowledge and belief, there are no grounds for this story but it is so ben trovato that it is unlikely ever to die. Like the Bible myths, too many people want to believe it.

I think it is improbable because Queen Victoria herself was quite a lot less “Victorian” in her attitudes to sex than many of her subjects and contemporaries. Quirky and autocratic as she was, she had a strong vein of human sympathy which came out with unexpected force on some occasions. I remember reading [I think in Lady Longford’s biography] of her very vocal indignation at what she considered to be the unjust ostracism inflicted on a young German relative by her family when this unfortunate princess had gone a step or two too far with her footman.

I find Queen Victoria – as I also do Karl Marx – a fascinating personality because of the many layers and complexities of her character. Regally self-assured and politically prejudiced as she was, she had an underlying kindness and at times, even during her long and bleak [for her courtiers as well as for her] widowhood, a surprisingly robust humour and sense of the ridiculous. There were occasions when the Queen was amused and laughed heartily.

She probably didn’t know much, if anything at all, about lesbianism but I wonder whether her instinctive response to it would have been punitive. Sexual sophistication [though not a wide range of sexual activity] is fairly rare in her family. George V thought that “men like that” [i.e. homosexuals] shot themselves. Or ought to. It’s interesting that in 1921, when a parliamentary attempt was made to include female “gross indecency” in a new Criminal Law Amendment Bill, the move was defeated in the House of Lords on the ground that to do so would merely draw the public’s attention to vicious practices of which most people were blissfully unaware. [With the implication that many more of them would be tempted to experiment!] Maybe this is the origin of the “Queen Victoria said No” story. Totally illogical, of course, but ‘twas ever thus.


PrinceOfMerkins said...
Queen Vick came from such a repressed family.

zola said...

How refreshing to see one person being understanding to Karl Marx today.
His love with Jenny von Westphalen was rather special and strong.

It was also Marx that wrote :-
"Kant and Fichte like to whirl into heaven
And search there for a distant land,
While mu only aim is to understand completely
What - I found in the street."

anticant said...

Zola, he is one of my great interests, though I was NEVER a Marxist! A near neighbour of mine [and a famous Victorian actor-cousin!] in Hampstead. Have you read Francis Wheen's splendid biography?

The one I really dig is Tussy. So brave, intelligent, warm-hearted and charming. Not long before she killed herself after being ditched by that shit Aveling she wrote: "The saddest thing in life is that we are unable to help each other really and each has to bear their grief alone". Says it all..........

zola said...

I was never a Marxist either and of course nore was Marx himself.
Do you have fond memories of the Royal Court theatre ( Oscar Lewenstein has been missed ? )

anticant said...

Zola - I fear my theatre-going days are long over.

What's your e-mail address?