Queen Victoria, the Empress of India, the Grandmother of Europe, the namesake of the period, was a renowned ‘freak’ fancier. Indeed, the royal household was a revolving door for ‘dwarfs’, ‘giants’, ‘Siamese Twins’, ‘Aztec Children’ and ‘exotic freaks’. They all went from the boards of the freak show to Her Majesty’s Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle. Victoria’s husband, children and royal household—in fact, the whole of European royalty— enjoyed these private freak shows. Summoned by royal command, freak performers would often leave with little gifts presented by Her Majesty; more significantly, their audience with the monarch made their careers and helped popularise the freak show—at a time when ‘normality’ and ‘abnormality’ were being defined.
Queen Victoria’s Freaks is the story of the numerous freak performers who met Queen Victoria; equally, it is a tale about the Queen who loved to stare. For the first time ever, using unseen and newly discovered archive, this book penetrates these intimate relationships and shows the stern-faced monarch in a new light. Crucially, this book resurrects the triumphant and tragic lives of the freak performers who met Victoria. By telling their stories, this book humanises the often-inhumane freak show and, in the process, charts the rise and decline of the freak show across the nineteenth century. Queen Victoria’s Freaks goes into the heart of Victorian freakishness: a world that permeated culture, reflected culture, defined culture and, surprisingly, a world still with us today.
John Woolf was born in 1988 and read History at Downing College, Cambridge where he was awarded two scholarships before gaining a fully-funded PhD at Goldsmiths, University of London. His doctorate explored nineteenth-century ‘freak shows’ and was awarded in August 2016.
During his time as a PhD scholar, John worked in radio and TV; namely, as a Development Researcher with What Larks Productions, established by the comic Jo Brand, and as a Researcher on The Real Tom Thumb: History’s Smallest Superstar (90-minute single-film, BBC4), presented by Lord Michael Grade. 'This d...
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