Postal Digressions: Mail and Sexual Scandal

Kate Thomas

in Postal Pleasures

Published in print December 2011 | ISBN: 9780199730919
Published online May 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780199918461 | DOI:
Postal Digressions: Mail and Sexual Scandal

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The 1889 Cleveland Street Scandal turned post boys into rent boys and suggested an institutional likeness between the Post Office and the brothel. Governmental investigations revealed that this was no isolated incident: the Post Office had been aware for sometime that the young boys in their employ regularly turned tricks, and that the specific conditions of postal employment made them desirable and available. This chapter analyses the contents of the Home Office’s files on the Cleveland Street scandal, alongside a range of other legal material to show that in the last quarter of the century, a series of criminal trials – including Oscar Wilde’s – directly connected letter sending and the postal system with homosexuality specifically and sexual impropriety more generally. This chapter focuses on analysis of trials, laws and the literary representations of them, with heavy emphasis on Wilde, arguing that nineteenth-century postal culture reformulated concepts of anonymity, code, and the alias.

Keywords: post office; sex; scandal; prostitution; queer; oscar wilde; homosexuality; law; literature; victorian

Chapter.  16078 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Literary Studies (19th Century)

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