In A Human Moment

Miscellany from the 19th century

Second Annual Book Awards


Astrological Birth Control: Fertility Awareness and the Politics of Non-Hormonal Contraception

Breach of promise: the case of Lily Briggs, the jilted shopgirl

Criminal Historian

Edvard_Munch_-_The_Kiss_-_Google_Art_ProjectIn 1900, Lily Weston Briggs, a Derby shop assistant, became known as the “jilted shopgirl” in the press, after she brought a case alleging breach of promise against a local coppersmith.

Lily and the coppersmith, one Philip James Maskery, who worked in business in Derby with his father, had been courting. He was 27 years old at the time; she was 25.

Philip had proposed to Lily, and she had accepted. However, there was difficulty in setting a date for the wedding, with Philip apparently postponing the event. Eventually, he admitted to Lily that he was “keeping company with another woman”.

Reluctant to give up his status as a bit of a lothario, Philip then insisted that he DID want to marry Lily. She forgave him, but then later “saw him in a theatre with yet another sweetheart.”

Somewhat lacking in chivalry, Philip then told Lily that he wanted to…

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The Perfect Corpse: Death, Virginity and the Bishop in Medieval Europe

Crafty Women and Artful Misses: Femininity, Feminism and Female Crafts in the Nineteenth-Century Novel

The Victorianist: BAVS Postgraduates

Clare Walker Gore is a postgraduate student at Selwyn College, Cambridge. She has recently submitted her PhD thesis, which explores disability in the Victorian novel. When she isn’t making grand plans for her next project on life-writing and disability in the nineteenth century, she is mostly to be found knitting and novel-reading. You can find her page here and on twitter here.

I suspect that my twin passions for Victorian novels and feminine crafts can both be traced back to Joan Aiken’s fabulous neo-Victorian children’s thriller, The Wolves of WilloughbyChase. I first read it at about seven, and was utterly enthralled. Among the many words and phrases for which I demanded explanation, or stored up for later use in my own literary endeavours –posset, pelisse, fowling-piece – one in particular stands out in my memory. Perhaps strangely, it is the catalogue of feminine…

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Transgender Victorians: Do clothes make the Man?


I’m in the last few weeks of my phd atm, so there’s not a lot that makes me raise my head above the parapet, but ‘Fanny and Stella, the pioneer transvestites who fought Victorian anti-gay laws‘ out on the Guardian yesterday was, apparently, enough.

The article opens with ‘In prudish Victorian England’ and a collective sigh from every 19thC and/or sex historian was heard across the internet. The Victorians, especially those of the 1870s, were not prudes. This is the time of Annie Besant and her publication of a sex and contraceptive guide for the masses, sexologist Richard Kraft von Ebbing (who is to blame for far more problems than he should be celebrated for) coined the term sadism, and sex manuals and guides were published throughout the century – give my 9 Books That Will Change Your 19thC Sex Lifea go, if you want more…

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The man whose wife had sex with the lodgers

Criminal Historian

adulteryIn 1900, a Pimlico hairdresser and waiter sought a divorce from his wife, on the grounds of adultery.

His wife seems to have been a busy woman – she and her husband rented out their spare rooms to lodgers, and she was accused of sleeping not just with one but with all three of them.

The husband, Ephraim Riseley, had married Emily Elizabeth Murkett at St John’s in Fitzrovia on 9 May 1886. Ephraim, a coachman’s son, was 23; his bride, the daughter of a carpenter, was 24; both were originally from Huntingdonshire.

They moved into a house at 15 Glasgow Terrace in Pimlico, and had two children, Edwin Ephraim, born in February 1889, and May Emily, born in August 1891.

Ephraim had been working as a footman and butler since his marriage, but wanted to invest for his and his family’s future – so he took over a…

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Social Subversion and Monarchic Mistrust: The Use of Mesmerism in The Notting Hill Mystery

The Victorianist: BAVS Postgraduates

Sam Saunders is an MRes student at Liverpool John Moores University, studying female characters and their various depictions in archetypal character-roles in Victorian detective fiction. He completed his undergraduate degree at Bangor University, where his third year dissertation explored the evolution of the use of medievalism as social commentary in literature over the nineteenth and twentieth century. His general research interests lie in nineteenth century-crime, detective and sensation fiction, the Victorian novel and print culture.

The Notting Hill Mystery, called ‘the first detective novel’ and authored by the pseudonymous Charles Felix, was originally published between 1862 and 1863 as an eight-part serial in the magazine Once a Week. [1] It remains relatively obscure in the face of more recognisable crime-fiction works, such as those by Wilkie Collins and (later) Arthur Conan Doyle, however, due to recent republication from The British Library, awareness of its importance as a precursor to the…

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The Sex Institute on Euston Road

Bringing a Murderer to Life

Criminal Historian

Broadside of Robert Blakesley's execution, 1841 Broadside of Robert Blakesley’s execution, 1841

Look at a criminal broadside from the 19th century. There are the drawings – generic depictions of people hanging, of gaols, of crowds, together with more personalised portraits of the murderer, or the victim.

There is the text – the melodramatic, overly detailed, story of the crime, the penitence of the murderer before he or she is dropped into oblivion.

These are the forerunner of the tabloid newspaper; designed to be bought, read, thrown away.

But now they are in museums, sold in auctions, a historical artefact. The individuals that are written about in these broadsides are somehow lost to us in the present. They are abstract, viewed from a historical distance, fictionalised by their broadside-producing contemporaries.

I own a broadside – and admit to being fascinated by the stories they tell and how they tell them. But can I build a picture of real…

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