Part of the curiosity of the Victorian era was the tension between social affect and reality,
most particularly in views women of the time. Or perhaps the curiosity is the tension between two realities.
As Reynolds depicted in The Mysteries of London, the stereotypical "modesty" or anxiety about any acknowledgment of sex between the two genders
was the preserve of "private" females, i.e. those who were ensconced within a wealthy home.
Part of this long-enduring stereotype of Victorian prudery was the inclination to cover table "limbs"
to prevent immodest thoughts. Ankle boots were necessary in case a crinoline accidentally exposed an ankle. This fetishization of "limbs" is also represented in the London Lowlife Collection.
The Upside Down Lady. London Novelty Stores 11 x 7.5 cm.
With widescale railroads and a postal stamp service, combined with cheaper printing techniques,
depictions of female "limbs" could be had simply by perusing
a seller's catalogue.
Novelty sellers advertised in newspapers,
penny magazines and chapbooks.
The Upside Down Lady" was one such novelty.
Oftentimes Victorian pornography
required the viewer to obscure a portion of the drawing in order to "trick"
The owner of the "Upside Down Lady card would have to cover her face to achieve the desired effect.
(click on the image to view upside down.)
Detail. The Legs of
the Actresses--But Whose?
London Novelty Stores. 28.5 x 45 cm.
The disembodied legs in this lithograph lead the eye across the page as
though in search of a code to decipher the various positions of the limbs. The headless bodies
exemplify an object-subject relation; perhaps that is the code explicit in the drawings.
Early burlesque shows included popular "leg shows." At this time, "actress"
was often a euphemism for "prostitute," since the two professions often went hand-in-hand.
The synecdoche of this drawing reiterates this understanding among purveyors of pornography.
The Dramatist's Last Leg. 47 x 29 cm.
The poster at right also reinforces the link between actress
Although the director is parodied in a "casting couch" moment the actress plays to his and the
The caricaturist could both mock such objectification and indulge in it at the same time by including an actress in the background who
is not blessed with the rounded hips and fleshy calves that signified desirability to the Victorians.
The aging actress is a stand in for
the proper if not the real attitude toward females.