This week’s blog post is doing double duty. It is serving as an important part of my continuing series on Victorian pornography as well as giving insight into my more specific research interests. This post is adapted from a paper I presented recently, so recently, in fact, that I have not yet had the time to put in all the proper citations and whatnot. This will be done shortly, but I thought it was more important to just get the post up first because it isn’t incomprehensible without them, just a little frustrating if you want to look at the source material (and who does? Am I right?)
The Historical and the Literary Jack Saul
Jack Saul is not necessarily a familiar name in Victorian literary studies, though one aim of this paper is to make the case for Saul to be considered in conversations alongside other such Victorian figures as Oscar Wilde and George Ives, who are both retroactively credited as gay rights pioneers. Saul ‘lived’ (and I say lived in scare quotes for reasons that will become obvious soon enough) in the pages of two pornographic texts published in the early 1880s, The Sins of the Cities of the Plain which purported to be a memoir of his recollections as a Mary Ann (a derogatory Victorian term for a male who dressed as a female and usually offered his/her services as a prostitute), and its 1883 sequel Letters from Laura and Eveline, which makes no explicit mention of Saul but his Mary Ann persona, Eveline, is carried over from Sins. The issue with these depictions of Saul is that,revealing as they are, there is no good proof that one person called Jack Saul wrote or was the inspiration for either of these books. Sins represents the first appearance of Saul’s name in the period. As such, Saul does not have the cultural cachet of a writer such as Wilde or Ives because the historical Saul, in addition to being a putative author, was an unabashed ‘professional sodomite’ ostensibly from Dublin working the streets and brothels of London as a ‘gay man’, the contemporary term for prostitute that has nothing to do with sexuality, though our modern sensibilities cannot help but read it as such. In fact, the term ‘gay lady/woman’ was widely used to describe female prostitutes, but I don’t know of any instance of its beingg used to describe a male one. His stock-in-trade was escorting men — sometimes important and titled men — in Victorian London and I will argue that his name, through both literary and cultural avenues, became something of a byword for homosexuality in the period. The name entered the public consciousness through the libel trial that came about as a result of the Cleveland Street Scandal of 1889 at which a man calling himself Jack Saul turned witness for the prosecution and his theatrical performance on the stand shocked sensibilities with its unapologetic self-incrimination. Saul’s outspoken testimony, and the subsequent failure of prosecuting Saul for any of it, is something that scholars are still trying to wrap their heads around. What this paper aims to do, then, is examine three phases of Jack Saul: Saul the author, Saul the professional sodomite, and Saul the early gay rights activist. Keep in mind, however, that Jack Saul is a slippery figure that does not lend himself to being positively identified, even if he was in the business of oversharing.
Saul the Author
I am going to begin with Jack Saul the author. The Sins of the Cities of the Plain is the clandestinely published 1881 memoir with the subtitle Confessions of a Mary Ann. The ‘Mary Ann’, a derogatory term for a man dressed in female attire, in question is, of course, Jack Saul. While the book is classified as a memoir, its subject matter is of a decidedly lewd nature in comparison to mainstream memoirs, for this is a memoir recounting the erotic experiences of Jack Saul, commissioned by a wealthy client, that uses the memoir genre as a way of differentiating itself from a more straightforward pornographic text and ostensibly offering its readers an exclusive look at London’s homosexual underground. The book begins with the patron’s, one Mr. Cambon, recounting his meeting an “effeminate but very good-looking young fellow…dressed in tight-fitting clothes” who was “favoured by nature by a very extraordinary development of the male appendages” whom he subsequently hires for sex. The fellow in question introduces himself, after some ritualistic courting, as “Saul, Jack Saul, sir of Lisle Street, Leicester Square” who was “ready for a lark with a free gentleman at any time”. After some description of a few of their multiple sexual encounters, which are reminiscent of the surfeit of pornographic text available at the time, Cambon wishes not to “pall his readers” with “repetition of [their] numerous orgies of lust” but instead opts to “content [him]self” with presenting Saul’s memoirs that he has commissioned Saul to write at a rate of 5 pounds per week for “thirty or forty pages per week, tolerably well written” beginning with a section entitled “Early Development of Pederastic Ideas in His Youthful Mind.” The narrative is, straight away, framed in such a way as to distance itself from the constraints of the pornographic genre that were evident in so many texts but, at the same time, the memoir sections ultimately end up by falling into the common tropes of repetition, overwrought description of body parts and functions, as well as a picaresque assortment of lascivious scenes. In this way, then, begins Saul’s memoir: first person accounts of every kind of sexual experience, from boyhood through adulthood; gay, straight, and other; amateur to professional. The memoir takes the shape of so much Victorian pornography, with its flagellation scenes and repetitive descriptions of copulation. There are also other standard scenes including early experiences with a cousin, first homosexual encounters at boarding school, and, later, descriptions of soldiers and others in the sex trade Saul became part of. There are also unique scenarios that fall outside the scope of expected or canonical sexual encounters, among these are a scene of bestiality and instances of hermaphrodism and gender inversion, as well as miscegenation, and the abrupt end which is followed by essays in defense of ‘Arses Preferred Cunts’, ‘Sodomy’, and, surprisingly, ‘Tribadism’ that make no claim to have been written by Saul and seemingly appear out of nowhere and out of sync with the rest of the narrative. It isn’t until the 1893 novel Teleny that we get a proper homosexaul, albeit pornographic, bildungsroman with a proper narrative and denouement. The difference, of course, is that the memoir genre Sins is part of offers its readers a supposedly more authentic experience if they believe that the subject is a real person. In other notable erotic memoirs, John Cleland’s 1749 Fanny Hill, it is either clear that the subject is not an actual person or there is little indication that the memoirs are, in fact, true. The latter would be the case with Sins except that the name Jack Saul keeps appearing outside the pages of pornography.
Sins’ publication in 1881 is significant in the Saul timeline. By any published accounts it is the first time that Saul’s name appears anywhere, but if the memoir holds any truth, Saul had been involved in a notorious scandal ten years prior in London’s West End. Just before a chapter entitled “Some Frolics with Boulton and Park”, Saul recounts a key scene in the 1870 Boulton and Park cross-dressing scandal in which the two defendants, Ernest Boulton and Frederick Park — Stella and Fanny, respectively — were accused of ‘conspiracy to commit the felony’ of (sodomy) with MP Lord Arthur Clinton. In the Boulton and Park court trial, it could not be proved that the felony had taken place and many of the details were deemed too shocking to be published in the papers, but Saul’s recollection recounts the scene with Lord Arthur in great detail in a behind-the-scenes or, rather, through-the-keyhole perspective, giving every last detail of the affair. Among the final scenes of the book we find Saul ‘frolicking’ with Boulton and Park and this narrative is continued in a pornographic epistolary novel published two years later, in 1883, billed as “An Appendix to the Sins of the Cities” entitled Letters from Laura and Eveline. Laura and Eveline being the names used by Ernest Boulton and Jack Saul, respectively, in Sins. There is no evidence that anyone named Jack Saul was involved in the Boulton and Park affair or that the accused knew anyone of that name. The reason the inclusion of the Boulton and Park material in Sins is significant is because, outside of literature, Saul became involved in two other significant sex scandals involving homosexuals and important men within a decade of its publishing. I now want to turn to a brief history of Saul’s professional involvement with scandal.
Saul the Professional Sodomite
Little is known about John (Jack) Saul except that he was supposedly a male prostitute in London originally from Ireland known as ‘Dublin Jack’ and that he was admittedly involved in at least two scandals involving male homosexuality and prostitution in the late nineteenth century. The first such case was the Dublin Castle Scandal of 1884 which involved “rumours of a homosexual ‘ring’ in Dublin Castle, the centre of power of the [English] colonial administration [in Ireland]” (Hanafin 413) brought about by two Irish Nationalist Members of Parliament who ran a libellous story in the militant nationalist journal United Ireland (Hyde, Love 128) accusing other officials of indecent acts. Because of the accusations made by the members, Saul was brought to Dublin from London to testify蜉 for the Crown in the libel case that ensued against United Ireland. The allegations of the scandal came to involve high-ranking individuals from the Irish Parliament but “none of the evidence was published either in the Irish or English newspapers, and…all court records were destroyed in the Irish civil war” (Hyde, Love 132) so no record of the allegations or Saul’s testimony survives蜉 except in brief allusions from his future testimony in the second, and much more widely reported, scandal five years later in London’s West End at a male brothel located at 19 Cleveland Street. It became known in the British media as the West End Scandal and is better known historically as the Cleveland Street Scandal. Like its Dublin Castle precursor, the Cleveland Street Scandal involved various high-ranking gentlemen caught up in male prostitution and Saul turned witness for the Crown testifying in a libel suit brought about by one of the alleged clients, Earl of Euston, against a newspaper that accused him of having patronized the brothel. This time, however, the testimony has been largely preserved and Saul is on record as admitting to living the “same kind of immoral life in London as he had previously done in Dublin” (Hyde, Cleveland 146). The Earl of Euston won his libel suit even though Saul, an avowed prostitute at Cleveland Street and other bawdy houses, admitted to being party to a number of incriminating acts with the Earl. Saul’s openness in testifying to these acts left him open for prosecution, though he was never charged, much less prosecuted, to the chagrin of Henry Labouchere, of the Labouchere Amendment that convicted Wilde. It is entirely plausible that Saul’s admissions were so shocking and new that lawmakers were simply overwhelmed or felt that Saul, the common prostitute, would not make a good example of the new Criminal Law Amendment Act. This was, of course, left to the prosecution of Wilde five years later.
Although the details of Saul’s life in London’s underground homosexual world are scarce and largely gleaned from his testimony in the Cleveland Street Scandal court case, the existence of Saul’s supposed memoir Sins of the Cities of the Plain may be where at least two of the Saul personas converge: on the one hand, John Saul is a notorious male prostitute who escapes criminal punishment in two separate scandals even though he unabashedly implicates himself as a sexual deviant and criminal under the law; conversely, there is the literary Jack Saul whose memoirs of a long career as a male prostitute or MaryAnn蜉 are documented in the memoir. There are a number of details in the novel that suggest these two personages might be, if not one and the same, at least based on the same person or somebody with a similar background. The novel should not be read as a statement of fact in any case, though it can be read as a text which illuminates a parallel history of late Victorian London that includes all manner of perversion, criminality, and implication of real life persons in scenes, whether fictionalized or based on behind-closed-doors fact, that would render the Dublin Castle and Cleveland Street scandals all but non-events in the history of homosexuality in Britain. I will consider Jack Saul’s recollections as they are presented in the novel – that is, commissioned by a wealthy patron of Saul’s full range of services – within the context they were written and question for whom they were collected and distributed to, seeing as the initial print run of the privately printed 1881 edition was limited to two hundred and fifty. The scenarios described in Sins indicate a London that has secrets kept by many men, both powerful and lowly, capable of being shared only within certain spaces. Cleveland Street and other scandals of the period seem to reflect the type of communities prevalent in the novel. The book’s clandestine publication and limited distribution suggest a mirroring of the events and audience for such a work. This literature, while not a wholly trustworthy historical source as such, provides at least a glimpse into the culture of a subversive underground community engaged in the “crime not fit to be named among Christians” (Kaplan 293), a definition which suggests an entirely different project focusing on the Christian themes and allusions throughout Saul’s entire existence, but I will save that for another time.
Saul the Activist
Jack Saul the activist is the culmination of the previous two Sauls, the author and the professional sodomite. We cannot say for certain who Saul was, whether he was a literary invention or someone whose life was so eventful that it really was the subject of an erotic memoir, or some combination of the two. Where Saul as activist begins is in the way the name continually reappears throughout the late nineteenth century. If we assume for a moment that Jack Saul was a character created by an anonymous writer who penned Sins of the Cities of the Plain, then the use of that name by someone in later criminal trials is telling. In this case, the name would have carried some weight in terms of the codification of London’s underground homosexual community, with Jack Saul becoming a byword for homosexual activity and scandal. If that is the case, there very well could have been many men using the name for various purposes, chiefly as a means of identifying who was trustworthy and in on the shared secret men who love other men were forced to keep until only recently.
The other option, of course, is that Jack Saul was actually a prostitute from Dublin who was involved in the Boulton and Park, Dublin Castle, and Cleveland Street affairs, as per his testimony in his memoir and on the witness stand. He was not a literary creation, but instead a real person who inspired a memoir based on his lascivious life spent cultivating his professional sexual prowess to such an extent that late in his career (internal evidence from Sins and the police report for the Cleveland Street affair put Saul’s age in 1889 at approximately 38) he decided that he had little to lose in freely admitting to having lived an “immoral life” and, by flouting the authorities and sexual mores, became a symbol of the struggle homosexuals had faced and would continue to do. In this way, we can point to Saul the individual as an early gay rights activist.
Because things are never as simple as we might like them to be, it is, in my opinion, more likely that Saul is some combination of the previously mentioned options. Saul acts effectively as a bridge between the world of the written word and the physicality of London’s homosexual communities. The memoir, Sins, works as a cipher for London’s homosexual community, for which the name Jack Saul may have been one small part of the shared secrets of a select group of publishers, writers, male prostitutes, consumers, and others. It describes in detail goings on in London’s homosexual underground and can be used as something of a geographical companion to the ‘sins’ of London which is, of course, a stand in for the book’s biblical reference to Sodom and Gomorrah. The totality of Jack Saul, from author to activist, and the complication of pinning down a character that ought to be easily pinned down on account of his openness in sharing his life’s work, make his name one deserving of further study for clues into parallel histories of print culture, sexuality, and crime in Victorian England.