Fanny & Stella
Neil McKenna

Fanny & Stella

When the police arrested two young men dressed as women outside the Strand Theatre in April, 1870, a scandal erupted that would not go away. The two young men who called themselves Fanny and Stella lived in a world that was unimaginable to most Victorians: a wildly promiscuous world of sex and drugs, of dukes and diplomats, of drag balls and drag brothels, of theatrical triumphs and disasters, of disease, death and suicide. Fanny and Stella were put on trial while the world looked on.

Now, for the first time, Neil McKenna recounts the stranger-than-fiction story of Fanny and Stella. Using material never before published, Neil McKenna weaves a magical and entertaining account of the extraordinary lives and scandalous trials of Fanny and Stella.

Book Details:

  • Author: Neil McKenna
  • Published Year: 2012
  • Rights Sold
    • UK: Faber

Neil McKenna

Neil McKenna is an award-winning writer and journalist who has written for the Independent, the Independent on Sunday, the Observer, the Guardian, the New Statesman and Channel 4 Television.Neil's bestselling biography The Secret Life of Oscar Wilde was published by Century in 2003 and by Basic Books in the United State, won widespread and glowing reviews on both sides of the Atlantic and was nominated for several awards. Previously, Neil wrote two ground-breaking books – On the Margins and The Silent Epidemic – about men who have sex with men and the Aids epidemic in the develo...
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Book Reviews

  • "You would need to be a very dull — or prim — dog indeed not to find this a terrifically entertaining story. Neil McKenna has thrown himself into it with unfettered glee. If the opportunity arises to describe an anal fistula — and it does, frequently — he does not shirk it. Every so often the campness threatens to tilt out of control, but he’s a sufficiently crisp, colourful and funny writer for it not to matter ."
    Evening Standard
  • "  Rich and absorbing ... McKenna has done a tremendous job of recreating Victorian London's gay subculture, weaving newspaper reports, police documents and contemporary diaries into a jolly rollicking narrative. It would be an understatement to call it a colourful book ... Fanny and Stella is a cracking read."
    Sunday Times
  • "  McKenna provides what is certainly the definitive account of the Boulton/Park story ... McKenna lays bare a fascinating tapestry of interrelated personal histories."
    History Today
  • "And, although McKenna scrupulously uses the sources when he's got them, at those points where the archive runs out he allows his imagination to take over. Using free indirect speech he ventriloquises Stella and Fanny's inner worlds, creating a camp stream of consciousness in which the two young men think and function as lascivious women. He does the same thing, quite brilliantly too, with Boulton's mother, whose Christian name, Mary Ann, was ironically the slang name for a male prostitute. Rummaging in Mrs Boulton's muddled mind, McKenna creates a wonderful sense of how a fond and foolish mother might simultaneously know and not know what her son was up to....Boulton and Park have long been one of the star turns of deviant Victorian sexuality, along with Arthur Munby and James Miranda Barry . McKenna does an excellent job of dusting them down for the 21st century, testing the limits of his documentary source material and showing what happens when the biographer allows himself the licence to go inside his subject's head.His writing has much of the performative element that characterised Stella and Fanny's appearances on the streets of London and in provincial halls. Showy as a feather boa, McKenna's text takes pleasure in its own silly excess. There are drawers galore, plenty of back passages and chapter titles such as Monstrous Erections, which turns out to refer to the size of his heroines' wigs.Purists and puritans may balk at the book, both its tone and its way of proceeding. But everyone else will have a ball."
    Guardian
  • "...lively account of a mid-Victorian scandal."
    Literary Review
  • "Neil McKenna’s often jaw-dropping tale... Faced with such terrific material, McKenna could easily have told the story straight (as it were). In the event, he puts in a performance easily as theatrical as his heroines in their pomp. While the basic research can’t be faulted, he also gives us the inner thoughts of everybody concerned.... The result is still a largely irresistible story, complete with a big courtroom finish that I won’t spoil. "
    Daily Mail
  • "  Boulton and Park have been brought to life again in a riveting new book...McKenna does a masterful job of recreating the lives of Fanny and Stella...Like his investigative Wilde biography, which broke new ground in unraveling the blackmail of a closeted prime minister by the marquis of Queensbury that was behind the persecution of Wilde, Neil McKenna once again shows himself adept at meticulous research. He delivers a brilliant dissection of the plotting by authorities that led to the trial of Fanny and Stella....With his polished sense of narrative, McKenna’s new book is a page-turner, rendered in felicitous, witty prose that makes the tragicomic lives of the two cross-dressers an unforgettable tale. In telling it, he provides a panoramic picture of a stratum of underworld queer English life in pre-Wilde days that is an important contribution to gay historiography."
    Gay City News
  • "...this gripping and novelistic history...the characters and their world are evoked so vividly. There is a wonderful sense of occasion in McKenna’s conjuring of the book’s many set pieces: the drama of the arrest, the erotic excitement of Stella’s arrivals at balls, the dignified pathos of her mother’s appearance in the witness box. And in its flamboyant theatricality the book is very much in keeping with the story and its times."
    Daily Telegraph
  • "Subtitled ‘The Young Men Who Shocked Victorian England’, Neil McKenna’s account of 19th-century female impersonators Stella Boulton and Fanny Park takes the reader on a glorious jaunt to a Victorian demi-monde, with chapters entitled Monstrous Erections (their wigs) and The Slap-Bum Polka. Beyond the wit and flair with which he recreates the lives of Victorian drag artistes and their circle, it’s a fascinating slice of social history....Allying fictional techniques to his documentary research, McKenna conjures the grubby glamour and camp excesses of Fanny and Stella’s lives. He has a lot of fun with his subject while remaining sympathetic to those involved."
    Metro
  • "...a most extraordinary tale through which author Neil McKenna paints a picture of a society that was a long, long way from the home life of our own dear Queen."
    Express
  • "vividly  chronicles the scandal and its aftermaths."
    Spectator
  • "If you thought Oscar Wilde’s “feasting with panthers” was the only significant Victorian gay sex scandal, Neil McKenna provides an uproarious corrective in Fanny & Stella.... McKenna relates their astonishing story with meticulously researched relish... It’s a wonderful, gripping and moving story, including a pithy epilogue revealing what happened next to the major players. Tim Burton or Baz Luhrmann must make this into a film."
    The Times
  • "Thoroughly delightful."
    Lambda Literary Review
  • "Mind-boggling."
    The Lady
  • "Moving … fascinating."
    Robert Elms, BBC Radio London
  • "Neil McKenna could scarcely have chosen a subject better suited to his style. Deploying an extravagant wardrobe-full of voices and costumes, he practically writes in drag."
    Financial Times
  • "McKenna has developed the knack of writing in a Victorian style that makes us believe that the leading players in the drama are speaking to us today … this is a great read. It will be made into a movie as sure as Neil McKenna is the greatest gay biographer of our era."
    QX Magazine
  • "McKenna’s style paints as thickly as his subjects, as full of flamboyant hyperbole and extravagant flourishes as the camp young fellows it portrays."
    Terry Eagleton, London Review of Books
  • "  McKenna’s rich and absorbing book describes one of the most extraordinary legal dramas of the Victorian age: the trial of Ernest Boulton and Frederick Park for sodomy.... McKenna has done a tremendous job of re-creating Victorian London’s gay subculture, weaving newspaper reports, police documents and contemporary diaries into a jolly and rollicking narrative. "
    Dominic Sandbrook Sunday Times