Sex in history, by Gordan Rattray Taylor

But in addition to active homosexuality, there was a striking trend towards a general effeminacy. To evaluate it correctly, it is necessary to remember that the trend was quite a general one; men of unimpeachable masculinity were adopting fashions of such a feminine character that tracts like Satan’s Harvest Home could ask why they did not put on petticoats and have done with it. Walpole could send a muff as a present to George Montague in 1764. Men made use of cosmetics, which perhaps seems the less astonishing when one reads some of the advertisements addressed to them today.

The period is a difficult one to analyse. In many respects it shows signs of matrism: the dislike of authority, the tolerance of homosexuality and the liberal attitude to sexual indulgence all speak for this. But in other respects it departs from the usual matrist pattern, and nowhere more so than in the attitude to women. The relationship of men to women— and this emerges just as clearly in a woman’s novel like Evelina, as it does in a man’s, like Roderick Random— was basically one of enmity. Men sought to use women as instruments for their convenience. Women accepted men as filthy creatures, whom one could unfortunately not do without.

In these circumstances the status of women bore a somewhat contradictory appearance. Intellectually, they enjoyed considerable freedom. It became possible for them to meet to discuss intellectual matters, as did the members of the Blue Stocking movement. Women begin to emerge as writers: as early as the Restoration we have a woman playwright and novelist in Mrs. Behn, and a poetess in Katharine Phillips, while towards the end of the century women writers became common. Freedom of expression, which had probably been general in the beau monde, began to affect wider circles: thus in Bage’s novel, “Mount Henneth“, we find one of the women characters starting a discussion of copulation after noticing a horse engaged in leaping a mare, and the conversation proceeds upon a scientific and philosophical plane in quite the Aldous Huxley manner. Scatological taboos were equally relaxed: neither sex felt embarrassment about excretion and in France we hear of men accompanying ladies to the closet and continuing their conversation while the natural functions were being performed. (3). (In country districts the two- or three-seat privy was still not uncommon a generation ago.)

In these circumstances, it is not surprising that the courtesan should reappear: for the woman of wit who was unwilling to marry it was almost the only possible solution and not a wholly unattractive one. Any list of them would have to include, in addition to Fanny Murray, Mrs. Abington, Mrs. Errington, and the illegitimate daughter of Lord Tyrawley — Mrs. Anna Bellamy — who became the friend of Garrick and Lord Chesterfield. Perhaps the gayest and most high spirited was the enchanting Kitty Fisher, whose unmercenary character has been made known to generations of children through the lampoon which became a nursery rhyme. Lucy Locket, whose fame is conjoined with hers, was a barmaid at the Cock, in Fleet Street; she discarded one of her lovers when she had run through all his money. Kitty Fisher, as the rhyme delicately hints, thought it enough that he was attractive in appearance. It is true that Kitty Fisher stuck firmly to the rule that her fee was a hundred guineas, but this was less from purely mercenary reasons than from commercial principle. Once, when the Duke of York gave her only a £50 note, having no more on him, she ate it on her bread and butter for breakfast. (6).