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Women of the Victorian era often developed what polite society referred to as "romantic friendships". Actually, polite society never really referred to it at all. Beyond unseemly was any talk of a sexual nature. The skirting of any conversation on romantic friendships was an indication of the morels of the day. A population of many more women than men, plus a law passed in 1885 that made it illegal for two men to have sex but never touched on the subject of two women. With these facts of life, women tended to engage themselves in relationships with other women, often progressing to a live-in situation. Of course, society whispered behind handkerchiefs and fans. Yet vocally, the pair was referred to as "companions".
Many women through the age became independent for the first time as an accepted state of affairs. They worked as school teachers and clerk, nurses and nannies. Collecting a pay envelope and living apart from any man. Women like George Eliot strolled around in men's trousers, tailored for her figure. Smoking cigarettes and discussing the craft of writing at corner cafes. Living a masculine existence with female accoutrements. A tough road even by today's standards.
The overwhelming fear by society of women's' independence shone through largely in its editorials and cartoons. Many focused around how men were "heads of their household" and catering to the man in smoking jacket and cigar with wife on her knees putting his slippers on. The illustrations and cartoons of Victorian society had hints of sexuality running through them. Often, a woman is, as previously described, in a position similar to that of giving oral sex. Another shows a woman on all fours scrubbing the kitchen floor, her husband standing directly behind her with a riding crop and a copy of the marriage vows in his other hand. Sound suggestive?
The acceptance and fascination of the romantic friendships is visible in artists such as Leighton and others. The images express an innocence with something more behind the eyes. A touch or kiss is shown with definite signs of the erotic undertones of man's oft admitted fantasy of two women together. Victorian men had it all around them. The closeness and bonding of two good female friends. And yet he could not involve himself even if the three did get along in conversation and interests.
The resulting suffragette movement for women's rights and independence has moved the romantic friendships of Queen Victoria's time into the files of heroine history. These women sought what they were after and used the ignorance of societal niceties to express their love.