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What the butler saw

26 April 2011

The late 1800s were paradoxical times. While the Victorians would prudishly drape the piano legs to prevent any unbecoming thoughts, sordid affairs were commonplace and many newspaper scandals shocked late 19th century society.

An indiscreet butler in the household of Sir Charles Dilke could give a lewd account of his master’s sexual appetites. Irish peace talks were scuppered as a result of Charles Stewart Parnell’s affair with Mrs O’Shea, and it was reported that Soho brothel keeper, Mrs Theresa Berkley, made £10,000 in eight years from a certain sado-masochistic flogging machine known

as the ‘Berkley horse’. Oscar Wilde was imprisoned for homosexuality, and even the innocent story of Alice in Wonderland was inspired by the Rev Charles Dodgson’s paedophilic attraction to Alice Liddell – to whom he proposed marriage when she was aged 11.

In the 1860s, prostitution had become a major social problem because it caused widespread venereal and contag...

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