Tuzzy-muzzy! Does it matter if Mary Shelley was bisexual? 

By Dr Fern Riddell

Mary Shelley is a queen. Daughter of modern feminism’s founder, Mary Wollstonecraft, and the radical thinker William Godwin, this rebellious woman wrote one of the earliest and most influential gothic horror novels: Frankenstein. Published in 1818, when Shelley was just 20 years old, it remains a work of genius that can still horrify readers with the depths of man’s depravity and pursuit of knowledge at all costs. It is also a novel that places love, and the desire for love in its absence, at the heart of life. For this, and many other reasons, Shelley has become an idol for those whose souls search for belonging in dark times.

She’s also someone who I thought couldn’t really become any cooler. After all, this is the woman said to have married her lover, Percy Bysshe Shelley, after losing her virginity to him at the graveside of her mother. And then, after he drowned in a storm in 1822, carried his calcified heart – the only thing to survive his cremation – with her, wrapped in a silk shroud, until her death in 1851. (It was found in her desk, wrapped in the pages of one of his last poems.) But this week, Fiona Sampson, author of In Search of Mary Shelley, taught me something new: Shelley was bisexual.

Writing to her close friend Edward Trelawny in 1835, Shelley recalled the years of loneliness and longing that followed Percy’s death, saying: “I was so ready to give myself away – and being afraid of men, I was apt to get tousy-mousy for women.” Reading this as a historian of sexual culture, I recognised this as sexual slang – but did this allude to masturbation, or actual relationships?

When I tweeted the quote above, revelations flooded in thick and fast. Jonathon Green, one of our most important historical lexicographers, was able to tell me that “tuzzy-muzzy” as slang for the vagina dates back to 1642. There are also stories of Shelley having a love affair with Jane Williams not long after Percy’s death. She was also instrumental in procuring fake passports for two friends, Isabel Robinson and Mary Diana Dods, to flee to Paris and live there disguised as man and wife.

It wasn’t unusual for women to live or travel together at this time, so they didn’t need to disguise themselves. Rather, there may have been more at play here in terms of sexual and gender identities than you might expect to find in 19th-century history. Which is why it matters that we recognise that Shelley, by her own admission, was bisexual.

As soon as I sent out my tweet, amongst the celebration and excitement that others shared came a consistent push back. Some people saw the acknowledgement of Shelley’s bisexual life as crude and unnecessary, something that detracts from her achievements as a writer.

We know that a socially conditioned, deep and destructive self-loathing is still often suffered by those who grow up knowing that to be gay, queer, trans, bisexual, or anything other than heterosexual, has historically been seen as evil and wrong. What I have found time and again in the archives, is incredible evidence of queer lives being lived throughout the centuries. In the 1880s, science and medicine perfected pathologising sexuality and defined anything outside heterosexuality as a mental disease. But before this, sex, love and identity were very much individual choices. Shelley’s admission that she turned to women for sexual gratification shows us that to her, and many like her, sexuality did not fit the binary boundaries we have projected on to those in the past – and ourselves today. Acknowledging Shelley’s sexuality is very important for bi-visibility, something we still struggle with. But bi-history is everywhere, and now it has a new icon. Long may she reign.

 Dr Fern Riddell is a historian specialising in sex, suffrage and culture in the Victorian and Edwardian eras.

Source: Does it matter if Mary Shelley was bisexual? | Books | The Guardian

‘The Lost King’ Review: Sally Hawkins Stands Out as Amateur Historian Seeking the Truth

The search for the truth about Richard III gives Hawkins another excellent showcase for her talents.

Philippa Longley (Sally Hawkins) is having a difficult time in her life. She’s been overlooked for an exciting position at her job, she suffers from chronic fatigue, and she and her ex-husband John (Steve Coogan) are trying to raise their children together as they deal with their separation. After she sees a particularly affecting performance of Richard III, Philippa becomes fascinated by the title character, and the questionable legacy of the man—believing his past to be more fiction than fact. In Richard III, Philippa sees a bit of herself, another misunderstood person who deserves defending. In order to find out the truth about Richard III and his past, Philippa decides to try and find his remains that have long been lost to rumor.

On this journey, Philippa is often visited by Richard III (Harry Lloyd), who waits outside her home, quietly waiting for her assistance in finding his remains. It’s a bit of magical realism injected into this story of a person who followed her beliefs, as opposed to the “truths” that people tried to push on her. Philippa’s quest is largely influenced by her belief that Richard III is buried in a car park, and while Philippa certainly does her research on this matter, it’s her faith that she’s right that seems to guide her journey in The Lost King.

Directed by Stephen Frears (Dangerous LiaisonsHigh Fidelity) and written by Coogan and Jeff PopeThe Lost King often feels like this trio’s last collaboration, Philomena, which also found a woman (often assisted by Coogan) attempting to find the truth out about a sordid past. Like PhilomenaThe Lost King is about an underdog trying to take on the establishment, and how that challenge can often feel like fighting against a brick wall.

Philippa finds herself meeting with a group called the Richard III Society, who similarly wants to find out the truth about the departed king, stating that Shakespeare’s play was simply more attractive than the truth. As The Lost King goes on, it seems as though the same could be said about The Lost King itself. This is a decent underdog story that often works thanks to reliable performances, but it’s hard to imagine that the real story isn’t far more interesting than the one that we’re being presented. It’s as if Coogan and Pope almost don’t feel confidence that the original story is interesting on its own, instead, inserting in ghost kings to add a little something to this story of a woman trying to find a buried king.

Like so many of Frears’ films, The Lost King works because of the compelling cast on hand. Hawkins is naturally great as Philippa, a woman who has been passed over far too many times, and doesn’t want the same fate to continue for Richard III. Hawkins brings a vulnerability to the role, and yet a power and determination that sees her through this quest. The Lost King works not because of Frears, Pope or Coogan, but because Hawkins can bring a great amount of compassion and care to this character who just want to make things right—even if it’s for a long-dead royal.

Coogan is also quite good here, and the dynamic between him and Hawkins is also a welcome addition, as John becomes wary of Philippa at first, then slowly becomes warily supporting in her journey. Coogan’s arc is lovely, and some of the finest moments in The Lost King rely on watching these two eventually get closer together in a way they haven’t been in years. If we take anything from The Lost King, it’s that Coogan and Hawkins should certainly play off each other in more films

Like Frears’ most recent films, Florence Foster Jenkins and Victoria & AbdulThe Lost King is slightly meandering for the first half, building to a rousing payoff in the final act for these characters. While the journey to find King Richard III’s bones might drag at times, the third act manages to make for an excellent dénouement—even though it largely focuses on an excavation crew digging holes in a parking lot. Say what you will about Frears’ films, he knows how to win over an audience in the final act.

But it’s in the excitement of the film’s final third where the weight of the rest of the film can be felt. As Philippa seemingly gets closer to her goal, there’s a rousing joy to the end of this journey, especially when she comes face-to-face with the men along the way that have held her back. The real power and heft of this narrative all feels pushed to the backend of the film, which in hindsight, makes the first two acts feel fairly unremarkable by comparison.

Like Frears’ most recent films, Florence Foster Jenkins and Victoria & AbdulThe Lost King is slightly meandering for the first half, building to a rousing payoff in the final act for these characters. While the journey to find King Richard III’s bones might drag at times, the third act manages to make for an excellent dénouement—even though it largely focuses on an excavation crew digging holes in a parking lot. Say what you will about Frears’ films, he knows how to win over an audience in the final act.

But it’s in the excitement of the film’s final third where the weight of the rest of the film can be felt. As Philippa seemingly gets closer to her goal, there’s a rousing joy to the end of this journey, especially when she comes face-to-face with the men along the way that have held her back. The real power and heft of this narrative all feels pushed to the backend of the film, which in hindsight, makes the first two acts feel fairly unremarkable by comparison.

Source: ‘The Lost King’ Review: Sally Hawkins Stands Out as Amateur Historian Seeking the Truth | TIFF 2022

Valentine’s Day “As You Like It”

Just in time for Valentine’s Day, we’re sharing some of Shakespeare’s delightful romantic comedy, “As You Like It,” directed by Gaye Taylor Upchurch and produced by Folger Theatre in association with the Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival. Cast member Antoinette Robinson introduces this scene, in which Rosalind (disguised as a shepherd boy named Ganymede) helps to tutor Orlando in the ways of courtship—while pretending to be his beloved, Rosalind. This lovely bit of wit and wordplay features Lindsay Alexandra Carter as Rosalind and Lorenzo Roberts as Orlando. For more on this production, visit https://bit.ly/3tRaVza