Victorian era

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Queen Victoria.

The Victorian era is the time period of England’s Queen Victoria's reign, 1837-1901, i.e. the mid and late 19th century. It is considered the height of the British industrial revolution and the apex of the British Empire.

The Victorian era was preceded by the Regency Period (1811 - 1820) and succeeded by the Edwardian era (1901 - 1910).

Connotations and contradictionsEdit

Victorian Chair, drawing by Spankart (2007).

The term Victorian has acquired a range of connotations, including that of a particularly strict set of moral standards stemming from a conservative outlook which are often applied hypocritically. Other connotations are prudery, sexual repression (often leading to unhealthy or violent acts of sublimation), low tolerance of crime, contempt for the lower classes and minorities, and a strong social ethic, often based on a rigid interpretation of Christian values.

However, hidden behind the carefully maintained facade of Victorian morality and self-restraint was a strong surge of sexual experimentation that encompassed a wide range of practices. In particular, the Victorians had a fascination with corporal punishment and erotic sadomasochism in art and literature which ranged from pseudo-scholarly tomes on the history of flagellation to graphic pornography.

The English viceEdit

Bordello fantasy of a man birching three prostitutes (c. 1890).

This obsession became known as The English Vice and led to the creation of private whipping clubs and London's flagellatory brothels which featured elegant whipping and birching facilities for sadists as well as masochists. (The famous S&M brothel of Theresa Berkley, dating back to the 1820s, was one such club known for catering to the aristocrasy.)

The sex-and-birching novel "Frank" and I (1902) describes brothels in London and Paris that featured tableaux vivants where prostitutes would dress up in costumes and perform whipping scenarios from other times and places for the amusement of their clients.

It was an era when parents firmly believed in the maxim, "Spare the rod and spoil the child." Another popular saying of the time was, "A woman, a dog, and a walnut tree, the more you beat them, the better they'll be." Domestic violence was widespread, but contrary to common belief, there was no "Rule of Thumb" which made it legal for a man to spank or beat his wife with a stick provided it was no thicker than his thumb.

Art in the Victorian eraEdit

Le Brenn et sa part de butin by Paul Jamin (1893); in France, Academic Classicism was far more sensual and suggestive than the art being done in England.
The Knight Errant (1870) by Sir John Everett Millais.
A sensuous interpretation of Andromeda by French painter Paul Gustave Dore (1869).

Queen Victoria and Prince Albert held firmly to the naive and virtuous belief that all art should educate and uplift its viewers. To this end they rewarded artists who produced works of meticulous naturalism that depicted English life in an idealized, often sentimental, manner. Scenes from contemporary life, anecdotes of home and hearth, moral preachments, and narrative-packed literary and historical compostions, often on an epic scale, were the order of the day.

Overt sensuality, common in French art at the time, was frowned upon. However, several academic sculptors and painters such as Dutch-born Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema, John William Godward, William Etty and Frederick Lord Leighton, gained popularity by portraying nude and seminude figures in exotic scenes from mythology, classical antiquity, and the decadent Roman Empire. Painters of this school churned out hundreds of highly detailed idealized figure studies of Greek and Egyptian slaves, Roman baths, Turkish harems, and the like.

Depictions of the fair damsel in distress (bound in various states of undress), including religious martrys and romantic figures from history and literature was another frequently exploited theme. For example, the myth of Andromeda, chained naked to a rock as a sacrifice to a sea monster, was a favorite subject among painters who jumped at the chance to eroticize the bondage and noble suffering of the voluptuous nude figure.

It was generally accepted that the ability to effectively render the nude proved one's ability as a respectable artist. However, there was also much debate concerning nudity in art as a possible threat to morality. The opposition argued that a beautifully rendered figure transcended sexual urges. Galleries accepted paintings with nudes provided they emulated the non-erotic, statuesque detachment of Greek sculpture and were placed in a historical or mythological setting. Contemporary realistic-looking nudes that suggested sexuality would be considered vulgar and rejected.

The Knight ErrantEdit

The much-criticized The Knight Errant (1870) by Sir John Everett Millais is representative of this debate. The moonlit scene depicts an act of medieval chivalry as a knight rescues a humiliated maiden who has been robbed, stripped naked, and tied to a tree by bandits seen fleeing in the background. The tree, a Silver Birch, was commonly identified with the female gender in the nineteenth century and was sometimes referred to as "Lady Birch". Birch twigs were also traditionally used in flagellation punishments (i.e., birching).

Millais's only nude figure study was an attempt to revive the early-Victorian tradition begun by William Etty. Nevertheless, his naturalistic treatment of the nude figure and the ambiguity of the subject caused consternation among critics who thought the woman too life-like — and assumptions were made about her probable loose morals.

Conservative art critics of the Victorian era were quick to pounce on any work with nude figures they considered unhealthy-looking or displaying passionate excitement of any kind. To them, women in art were expected to represent a properly virginal nobility and aloof restraint. The critics disliked Millais's composition mainly because the woman's head and torso were originally turned towards the Knight, establishing eye contact. The many negative reviews compelled Millais to cut out the head and chest of the female figure from his canvas and re-work these parts to show the woman turning modestly away.

The advent of modernismEdit

Meanwhile in France, popular neoclassical artists such as J.L. Gerome, William-Adolphe Bouguereau, Paul Jamin, and Gustave Dore were painting highly detailed, brazenly sensuous life-like nudes as goddesses, damsels, nymphs, satyrs, and bathers from the idealized world of the past. However, these painters would eventually be eclipsed by a new generation of French artists (Gustave Courbet, Edouard Manet, Edgar Degas, et al.) who would shock the art world with their "unhealthy" contemporary nudes, including prostitutes and barmaids, taken from modern life.

The rigid and repressive Victorian ideal began to crumble in the last decade of the century as a new Aesthetic movement emerged in England. James McNeill Whistler, an American expatriate living in London, along with the Pre-Raphaelites, Aubrey Beardsley, Oscar Wilde — in conjunction with the French Impressionists and others — ushered in a new spirit of "Art for Art's Sake" modernism. This new wave shunned anectodal and moralizing subjects in favor of contemporary art devoted to the direct perception of beauty as an end in itself.

Erotic literatureEdit

Historical, possibly literary, depiction of a shackled Greco-Roman slave (c. 1890).

Among the best known works of popular fiction that portray life in the Victorian era are the novels of Thomas Hardy and Charles Dickens (1812-1870), such as Oliver Twist and David Copperfield. Several of Dickens' books contain references to the corporal punishment of children, which he was against.

There were also a great many underground spanking novels devoted to flagellation erotica by "Anonymous" or penned under pseudonyms. These books were mainly written by hacks, however, some contained borrowings from established literary models, such as Dickens. Some of these novels were published in England, while many more were printed in Paris where the censorship laws were less stringent.

The primary London publishers were William Dugdale (1800-1868), John Camden Hotten (1832-1873), William Lazenby (died c. 1888), George Cannon, Ward & Downey, and Golden Birch House. In Scotland there was author and publisher James Glass Bertram (1824-1892).

To avoid legal prosecution, these books were discreetly sold through private subscription. The tone of most of these books — including those disguised as scholarly historical studies — reveal a secret Victorian obsession with sexual excitement associated with giving or receiving severe whippings, birchings, and canings, as well as various forms of dominance and humiliation.

Style and subtextEdit

The social stratification within these stories is also revealing. Most were written (or rewritten) to appeal to the educated ranks of the upper middle class. The heroes and heroines are all taken from the wealthy, aristocratic realm of society, while the well-punished victims are generally servants and other members of the lower classes. This is because most erotic books at this time were lavishly produced in limited editions for discriminating clients who could afford them. Pornography was a vice of the well-to-do, not the general public.

Some of the anonymous authors of these stories amused themselves by including elements of social satire. In particular, The Confessions of Georgina (1893) and Birch in the Boudoir (1905) take delight in mocking the hypocrisy and perversity of Victorian morality. Other tales such as The Convent School, or Early Experiences of A Young Flagellant (1876) take aim at religious institutions. And countless novels exposed cruel and perverse practices at public and private schools and prisons. The post-Victorian Esclaves Modernes (Modern Slaves) from 1910 by Jean de Virgans is quite unique. It lampoons racism in an outrageous tale of power exchange with aristocratic white women whipped and abused by African natives.

Following in the wake of the popular 1870 Austrian novel Venus in Furs, some authors also began to explore the subject of male sexual slavery or femdom as well as pony play, enema punishment, and other exotic torments. This includes tales of men forced into cross-dressing petticoat punishment, and dressage training (humans turned into cart-pulling pony slaves).

Selected novelsEdit

Illustration from The Romance of Chastisement by St. George H. Stock.
  • The Pleasures of Cruelty, being a sequel to the reading of Justine et Juliette by the Marquis de Sade (ca. 1880) by Anonymous. A extract entitled The Sultan's Reverie was first published in 1880 in the erotic magazine The Pearl.
  • First Training (ca. 1890) by Anonymous. The sexual and disciplinary coming-of-age of a young English lady and her brother, sister, and relatives.
  • The Yellow Room (1891) by Anonymous (generally attributed to M. Le Compte Du Bouleau, aka Stanislas Matthew de Rhodes). – Novella about an eighteen-year-old girl educated and disciplined by her stern aunt and uncle. Reprinted along with another Victorian novella, Letters to a Lady Friend, in Whipped into Shape: Two Classic Erotic Novellas by Renaissance E Books Inc. (2004).
  • The Confessions of Georgina (1893) by Julian Robinson (aka Stanislas Matthew de Rhodès) – a tale of bondage and domination that satirizes the hypocrisy of Victorian morality.
  • The Lustful Turk, or Lascivious Scenes from a Harem by Anonymous. (First published in 1828, but not widely known until it was reprinted by William Dugdale in 1893). An erotic novel of sex and sadism that consists largely of a series of letters written by its heroine, Emily Barlow, after being abducted by Moorish pirates and held prisoner in an Algerian harem. The 1968 sexploitation film The Lustful Turk is based on the novel.
Birching illustration from The Convent School by Rosa Coote (1876).
  • Beatrice (1895) by Anonymous. Punishment erotica published by Charles Carrington.
  • The Memoirs of Dolly Morton (1899) by Anonymous (generally attributed to Jean de Villiot, aka Hugues Rebell). Edited and published in London and Paris by Charles Carrington.
  • Nell in Bridewell by Wilhelm Reinhard (original title: Lenchen im Zuchthause), first English translation published in 1900 by The Society of British Bibliophiles (Charles Carrington) in Paris. This influential book tells the story of a young woman who experienced the horrors and indignities of a 19th century House of Correction in Germany.

Fetish photographyEdit

A maid whips her mistress in a whimsical power exchange fantasy (c. 1900, note Art Nouveau poster).

Beginning in the 1850s, the new invention of the photograph was quickly exploited by the purveyors of pornography. In addition to the expected photographs of sex and nudity, images of erotic fetishes such as corporal punishment, bondage, enema humiliation, and various forms of sadomasochism grew with remarkable rapidity over the ensuing decades.

The majority of this material was produced by anonymous photographers in Paris (the notoriously naughty French postcards), Berlin, New York, and other major cities. Most likely, there were some still unknown London photographers dabbling in erotica as well.

Popular themesEdit

Fetish photography mirrored the subject matter found in the underground novels of the period. Some photos may have even been created as book illustrations.

Here, elegant ladies whipped each other with birches and naughty schoolgirls got caned by their teachers. There were many domestic scenes set in comfortable homes where careless maids, delinquent daughters, and misbehaving wives were soundly thrashed for their misdeeds.

For those who preferred something stronger, one could also purchase photos of lusty gentlemen flogging prostitutes in brothels, female inmates receiving judicial prison beatings, and shackled slave girls in ancient Rome falling under the lash or the rod.

Humor and satireEdit

There were also humorous vignettes and fantasy scenarios that mocked their own class-conscious society, institutions, and historical events. A world where maids punish their mistresses, aristocratic men grovel as slaves to cruel dominatrices, and nuns and priests cavort in an orgy of erotic flagellation.

Parenting and education in the Victorian eraEdit

Parenting and education in the Victorian era was very strict by today's standards and infamous for its use of corporal punishment, along with other punishment methods that were designed to maximize the humiliation and shame of the juvenile delinquent.

It included methods such as caning, birching, strapping, tawsing, switching, slippering, spanking, and corner time. Other, more 'exotic' forms of punishment that were allegedly (probably only occasionally) used in the Victorian era included punishment enemas and figging.

Historical spanking videosEdit

A stern matron birching two young ladies. (c. 1900).
A typical French birching photo with elegant trappings (c. 1890).

The late Victorian era – the 1880s to the 1900s – has provided the setting for many erotic corporal punishment videos that recreate the style and character of that period.

Although none of the many films listed below from Lupus Pictures take place in England, they faithfully replicate that time in Europe with the aid of elaborate sets, elegant costumes, an authentic props.

Lupus Pictures

  • The Christmas Quiet
  • The Curse of Sir Frederick - photos
  • From the Headmaster's Study: The Anarchy, photos
  • From the Headmaster's Study: A Note for Absence, photos
  • From the Headmaster's Study: The Globus
  • From the Headmaster's Study: Immodesty
  • From the Headmaster's Study: The Inspection
  • From the Headmaster's Study: Katecheta
  • From the Headmaster's Study: The Nightmare
  • From the Headmaster's Study: Pater Familias
  • From the Headmaster's Study: The Peacock Lady
  • From the Headmaster's Study: Unbridled Youth
  • A Garden Party
  • The Girl Next Door
  • The Governess
  • The Legend of Lenny the Tough
  • Love Hurts
  • My Unfair Lady (a parody of My Fair Lady)
  • Soul of Honour
  • Two Faces of Truth


See alsoEdit


  This page uses content from Wikipedia. The original article was at Victorian era. The list of authors can be seen in the page history. As with Spanking Art, the text of Wikipedia is available under a copyleft license, the Creative Commons Attribution Sharealike license.
  This page uses content from Wikipedia. The original article was at Victorian morality. The list of authors can be seen in the page history. As with Spanking Art, the text of Wikipedia is available under a copyleft license, the Creative Commons Attribution Sharealike license.