Author(s): Neil McKenna
28th April 1870. Fanny and Stella, 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, 'Boulton and Park' 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.
The gripping story of the trial that shook Victorian England - a tale of cross-dressing, cross-examinations and the invention of camp.
Praise for The Secret Life of Oscar Wilde: 'A groundbreaking new biography ... An entertaining and fascinating (sometimes jaw-dropping) insight into Victorian homosexual practices.' Observer 'A superb new portrait of the secret life of one of the 19th century's most tragic and beguiling figures.' Washington Post 'Intriguing and entertaining ... McKenna makes an impassioned case for re-gaying Wilde.' The Times McKenna provides what is certainly the definitive account of the Boulton/Park story ... McKenna lays bare a fascinating tapestry of interrelated personal histories. History Today 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 rollicking narrative. It would be an understaement to call it a colourful book ... Fanny and Srella is a cracking read. The Sunday Times 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. [McKenna is] a sufficiently crisp, colourful and funny writer. Evening Standard Neil McKenna uses the meticulous court records from the two trials, together with the associated evidence - letters, mainly, between the accused and their confederates - to reconstruct the story of how Boulton and Park got to be Stella and Fanny ... McKenna plunges us into a world of lush longing ... quite brilliantly ... McKenna does an excellent job of dusting [Fanny and Stella] down for the 21st century, testing the limits of his documentary source material and showing what happens when the biographer allows himself the licence to go inside his subject's head. His writing has much of the performative element that characterised Stella and Fanny's appearances on the streets of London and in provincial halls. Showy as a feather boa, McKenna's text takes pleasure in its own silly excess ... Purists and puritans may balk at the book, both its tone and its way of proceeding. But everyone else will have a ball. -- Kathryn Hughes Guardian [A] rollicking account of the trial of two middle-class Victorian cross-dressers. The Sunday Times ~ Must Reads [McKenna's] examination of the case is excellent ... It's a book that's worth reading. Mail on Sunday Neil McKenna's lively account of a mid-Victorian scandal. Literary Review Wonderful ... This is a great read. It will be made into a movie as sure as Neil McKenna is the greatest gay biographer of our era. QX Magazine Neil McKenna's often jaw-dropping tale... Faced with such terrific material, McKenna could easily have told the story straight (as it were). In the event, he puts in a performance easily as theatrical as his heroines in their pomp. While the basic research can't be faulted, he also gives us the inner thoughts of everybody concerned ... A largely irresistible story, complete with a big courtroom finish that I won't spoil. Daily Mail The extraordinary story of two cross-dressing young men. -- ~ Book of the Month Eastern Daily Press McKenna gives a vivid and well-researched account of the events which unfoldedand the Victorian drag underworld which the yong men inhabited. maturetimes.co.uk A Fascinating slice of social history ... McKenna conjures the grubby glamour and camp excesses of Fanny and Stella's lives. He has a lot of fun with his subject while remaining sypathetic to those involved. Metro A great read. We Love This Book McKenna does a masterful job of recreating the lives of Fanny and Stella ... McKenna once again shows himself adept at meticulous research. He delivers a brilliant dissection of the plotting by authorities that led to the trial of Fanny and Stella. With his polished sense of narrative, McKenna's new book is a page-turner, rendered in felicitous, witty prose that makes the tragicomic lives of the two cross-dressers an unforgettable tale. In telling it, he provides a panoramic picture of a stratum of underworld queer English life in pre-Wilde days that is an important contribution to gay historiography ... This fascinating account richly merits a place on your bookshelf. Gay City News Neil McKenna has immersed himself in their world of Slap-Bum Polka, frocks, cold cream, glycerine and tweezered eyebrows. Telegraph Gripping and novelistic history ... McKenna has unearthed plentiful evidence. Sunday Telegraph A most extraordinary tale through which author Neil McKenna paints a picture of a society that was a long, long way from the home life of our own dear Queen ... A fascinating reminder that Victorian society was nowhere near as respectable as it liked to believe. Sunday Express Uproarious ... McKenna relates their astonishing story with meticulously researched relish ... McKenna captures their arrest with the same joie de vivre as Stella and Fanny lived their tumultuous lives: a blur of petticoats, shrieks and confusion ... It's a wonderful, gripping and moving story, including a pithy epilogue revealing what happened next to the major players. Tim Burton or Baz Luhrmann must make this into a film. The Times The story is entertainingly told by Neil McKenna, the outstanding biographer of Oscar WIlde. Jewish Telegraph McKenna's book is massively entertaining with the necessary double entendres, lascivious and perhaps excessive narrative to keep us happy, as he brings back to life this extraordinary tragicomic expose of the back streets of 19th century London. Sunderland Echo Very seductive. McKenna is rightly confident of the appeal of his funny, dramatic and secretly quite significant story. Financial Times Both a fun and well-researched history. BBC History Magazine [McKenna] writes in technicolour ... McKenna has pulled it off again. Islington Tribune Full of dash and colour. TLS
Award-winning journalist and former deputy editor of Elle Decoration, McKenna has also worked as an editor for Channel 4. Working extensively in the gay press he is known for initiating the campaign for gay law reform in the Isle of Man and leading the fight against Clause 25. He is the author of two ground-breaking books about male homosexuality and Aids in the developing world: On the Margins (1996) and The Silent Epidemic (1998). His debut biography, The Secret Life of Oscar Wilde, was published in 2003 to wide acclaim.