Unfit for polite conversation

While the letters in the Tissot collection are very detailed, revealing the minutiae of daily life, including awkward experiences and events, other sources are remarkably quiet. A brief foray through the records available at www.oldbaileyonline.org, the fully searchable database of Old Bailey trial records from 1674 to 1913, demonstrates that some bodily experiences and activities are presumed to be too much to handle. Such activities are, therefore, obscured, though the language used still manages to make these activities clear to the reader.

Thus, we hear about ‘abominable crimes’ or ‘gross indecency’ or ‘unnatural offences’ or ‘b-g-y’ or ‘b—st—y’ or ‘entertaining Evil’ …. or other similar euphemisms. Details of crimes of a sexual nature (and here it must be noted that many of these activities are no longer classified as crimes in the UK or in Canada), it seems, were not usually seen fit to for public consumption.

Nevertheless, there are, today, still many forbidden stories, and many of these stories have to do with bodies and how we use them. Which stories do we tell? Which stories can we tell? What do we hide? What are the limits of life writing? Which elements of an embodied life matter?


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