Posted by: Laurel | November 10, 2010

Power where I didn’t expect it…

I found this week’s readings to be some of the most fascinating of the semester. When I first read the McClintock chapter on Cullwick and Munby, I felt really hopeless for Hannah Cullwick. I couldn’t imagine how she could really be benefitting from her relationship with Munby. Then McClintock mentioned that even after the two were married, Cullwick retained her last name and kept her own finances. She was able to work outside of the home during the day, then participate in whatever types of role-playing and fetishes Munby had in mind.

Additionally, the “Disordering Bodies” reading cites Munby as running into women who dressed as men in order to work better jobs or earn more money. “Richard Bruce” was a woman who played the part of a man in order to work jobs that were not ordinarily within the female sphere—she was a dockworker and a miner, and she told Munby that she planned to find work as a piano player (again/still dressed as a man).

In another of my courses, we discussed that during this time period, at least in America, women were trying to break out of their traditional roles and build lives for themselves independent of those of their husbands. It’s interesting that in Britain during this era, women were finding ways to break the mold, even if they may have to appear to be subservient or dress as someone they are not. Prior to these readings, it had never occurred to me that someone in Cullwick’s position could be thought of as having power, and I never would have thought that women during this time would have thought to forego their gender identities in order to make the life they wanted.


  1. I agree, it’s definitely heartening that Hannah Cullwick seems to have found her own power in unconventional ways. I was especially interested in the Mavor chapter in which the author talks about Hannah’s OWN sexuality. it’s such a trip to me how completely overlooked that aspect of Munby and Hannah’s relationship was, especially, as Mavor point out, considering that the majority of the material in the Munby collection at Trinity College is either taken of or written by Hannah!

    I really loved the examination and discussion about Hannah’s own fetishes. It’s interesting to me though, that thinking about Munby’s sexualized preoccupation with working women kind of gives me the creeps, whereas thinking about Hannah’s “perversions” is empowering, as you suggested in your post. I suppose that I think of women in this time period as being sexually repressed, and the idea of a woman who owns her sexuality in such an unconventional and dare I say kinky way is totally inspiring.

    I agree that this is some of the most fascinating reading we have done so far!

  2. Yes, I agree it is empowering when a woman owns her sexuality and is not afraid of liking kinky things. It gives her a mysterious, and not surprisingly, masculine aura that is somehow still feminine, but powerfully feminine. It is odd that this is only true of women. It’s not very inspiring when a man owns his sexuality, because he always does. It seems to me Victorian women (and perhaps modern day women to some extent) were unfortunately sexually repressed. Of course, the reason being so men could maintain their sexual dominance.

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