The rude expert's view - Matthew Sweet
Victorian culture was so rich and noisy and complicated that it’s hard to make generalisations, but it was certainly an arena in which the bawdy and the brazen thrived – from smutty music hall songs to printed pornography to a raucous street culture. The nineteenth century was not the era of stuffy restraint in the images bequeathed to us by twentieth-century historians. Victorians were, for instance, very fond of congratulating themselves for being much less prudish than their American cousins.
There is, I think, something distinctly British in the way that smutty humour has been used to communicate political dissent. In the 1830s Holywell Street in London was a place you could go to buy pornography with a radical twist - publications like Paul Pry, for instance, which used sexual imagery to critique and undermine the aristocracy.
If I were allowed a couple of nights out in history, I’d go to the Empire Leicester Square to hear Marie Lloyd. Preferably I’d go on the night that there was a disturbance outside the theatre in which fans of music hall smut clashed with protestors who wanted the stage turns to clean up their material and the prostitutes expelled from the theatre bar. Then I’d nip forward a few decades and catch Frank Randle at Blackpool, sitting in his tin bath and insulting the audience.
Matthew Sweet – Broadcaster and author of ‘Inventing the Victorians’
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