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Queer 1950s pp 41-57 | Cite as

Love ‘Off the Rails’ or ‘Over the Teacups’? Lesbian Desire and Female Sexualities in the 1950s British Popular Press

  • Alison Oram
Chapter
Part of the Genders and Sexualities in History book series (GSX)

Abstract

In 1954, an article headlined ‘Love Off The Rails’ appeared in the mass market Sunday newspaper, The People.1 Framed as giving advice to worried parents, it examined the implications of the recent New Zealand murder case, in which two teenage girls, Juliet Hulme and Pauline Parker, involved in what other press reports described as an ‘unhealthy relationship’ and a ‘wild infatuation… for each other’, were convicted of murdering Parker’s mother because they feared she might separate them.2 The author deployed a range of psychiatric theories of the family and parenting to instruct fearful readers on how to prevent their own daughters ‘develop[ing] unnatural love affairs with members of the same sex’.3 The sensational headline is of the type often linked to 1950s scare-mongering about out-of-control teenagers or the threat of homosexuality. Yet, the discussion moves on to a quieter, more privately-situated vision of same-sex love in asserting that many wives had ‘a homosexual background’, which meant that ‘their real love life is spent over the teacups with their girl friends’.4 This domestic image of housewives chatting at home suggested that lesbianism might also be found in the heart of the apparently normative family and contrasts strongly with the violent disorder evoked by ‘love off the rails’.

Keywords

Married Woman Popular Press Male Homosexuality Girl Friend Family Newspaper 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

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Notes

  1. 5.
    Jeffrey Weeks, The World We Have Won (Abingdon: Routledge, 2007), 50.Google Scholar
  2. 6.
    Matt Cook, ed., A Gay History of Britain: Love and Sex between Men Since the Middle Ages (Oxford: Greenwood World Publishing, 2007), 173–174.Google Scholar
  3. Matt Houlbrook, Queer London: Perils and Pleasures in the Sexual Metropolis 1918–1957 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005).Google Scholar
  4. 7.
    See, however, Rebecca Jennings, Tomboys and Bachelor Girls: a Lesbian History of Post-War Britain 1945–71 (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2007).Google Scholar
  5. Jull Gardiner, Prom the Closet to the Screen: Women at the Gateways Club, 1945–85 (London: Pandora Press, 2003).Google Scholar
  6. Alison Oram, Her Husband Was a Woman! Women’s Gender-Crossing in Modern British Popular Culture (London: Routledge, 2007).Google Scholar
  7. 8.
    See especially Claire Langhamer, ‘Adultery in Post-war England’, History Workshop Journal 62 (2000), 87–115.Google Scholar
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    Lesley Hall, Sex, Gender and Social Change in Britain since 1880 (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2000), 166.Google Scholar
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    Stephen Brooke, ‘Gender and working class identity in Britain during the 1950s’, Journal of Social History, 34.4 (2001), 773–796;CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Jane Lewis, Women in Britain since 1945 (Oxford: Blackwell, 1992), chapter 3.Google Scholar
  14. 11.
    Anthony Giddens, Modernity and Self-Identity: Self and Society in the Late Modern Age (Cambridge: Polity, 1991), 53–55, 74–79.Google Scholar
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    Jane Lewis, The End of Marriage? Individualism and Intimate Relations (Cheltenham: Edward Elgar, 2001). Langhamer, ‘Adultery in Postwar England’. Thane, ‘Family Life and “Normality”’.Google Scholar
  16. 13.
    These are readership, not circulation, figures. Ross McKibbin, Classes and Cultures. England 1918–1951 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998), 503–504.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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    Chris Waters, ‘Disorders of the Mind, Disorders of the Body Social: Peter Wildeblood and the Making of the Modern Homosexual’, in Becky Conekin, Frank Mort and Chris Waters, eds, Moments of Modernity: Reconstructing Britain 1945–64 (London: Rivers Oram, 1999). Houlbrook, Queer London. For a recent assessment see Bingham, Family Newspapers? chapter 5.Google Scholar
  19. 16.
    Oram, Her Husband Was a Woman!, chapter 6. Alison Oram, ‘“A Sudden Orgy of Decadence”: Writing about Sex between Women in the Interwar Popular Press’, in Laura Doan and Jane Garrity, eds, Sapphic Modernities: Sexuality, Women and National Culture (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006). Bingham, Family Newspapers? 197–199.Google Scholar
  20. 19.
    For example, to sentence offenders to psychiatric treatment il appropriate. For homosexual men, see Chris Waters, ‘Havelock Ellis, Sigmund Freud and the State: Discourses of Homosexual Identity in Interwar Britain’, in Lucy Bland and Laura Doan, eds, Sexology in Culture: Labelling Bodies and Desires (Cambridge: Polity Press, 1998), 165–179.Google Scholar
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  22. 20.
    Melanie Bell, Femininity in the Frame: Women and 1950s British Popular Cinema (London: IB Tauris, 2010), 112–121.Google Scholar
  23. 29.
    For changing psychiatric explanations of lesbianism in the postwar period, see Jennings A, Tomboys and Bachelor Girls, especially chapter 1. Also see Alison Oram and Annmarie Turnbull, The Lesbian History Sourcebook: Love and Sex between Women in Britain from 1780–1970 (London: Routledge, 2001), 95–96, 116–128.Google Scholar
  24. 32.
    NoW (1 March 1959), 3. Gail Savage, ‘Erotic Stories and Public Decency: Newspaper Reporting of Divorce Proceedings in England’, The Historical Journal, 41.2 (1998), 511–528. Bingham, Family Newspapers? 133–144.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. 51.
    Andy Medhurst, ‘Every Wart and Pustule: Gilbert Harding and Television Stardom’, in John Corner, ed., Popular Television in Britain: Studies in Cultural History (London: BFI Publishing, 1991), 60–74.Google Scholar
  26. 52.
    Rose Collis, A Trouser-Wearing Character: The Life and Times of Nancy Spain (London: Cassell, 1997), 151. And see Jennings, Tomboys and Bachelor Girls, 94–95.Google Scholar
  27. 53.
    Nancy Spain, Why I’m Not a Millionaire: An Autobiography (London: Hutchinson, 1956), 243.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Heike Bauer and Matt Cook 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Alison Oram

There are no affiliations available

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