My Website

Monday, 4 October 2021

Part of a concealed tradition

When I read the article The great sperm heist: ‘They were playing with people’s lives’ in The Guardian recently it was a shocking story but one that did not entirely surprise me. The activities of Dr Boyd fitted in to a broader story of doctors in or around Harley Street, or generally in the supper reaches of discreet private practice, providing services in the sexual/reproductive areas which most medics shied away from, but which could be extremely remunerative. 

Boyd himself cropped up in the notes I had made from the archives of the British Sexology Society (held in the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas in Austin). He seems to have been quite active in the Society during the 30s, which presumably provided him with connections and a certain amount of publicity. He gave lectures to the Society, and from its correspondence it appears that they gave enquirers referrals to him, both generally in the field of 'genito-urinary complaints', and more specifically, on  'the "Steinach" operation'. The Steinach operation was intended as a male rejuvenation operation and was, in fact, that performed on the poet WB Yeats by Dr Norman Haire

Haire was a particularly obvious example of a doctor who was committed to an agenda of sexual reforms, while providing somewhat shady services to desperate individuals, and also doing financially well out of this. While the expurgation of his papers by his executors means that little direct information survives, it is still possible to trace evidence of his activities. Although he was by no means popular with other members of the birth control movement of the interwar years, they nonetheless were prepared to refer women seeking abortions to him. His friend Ethel Mannin complained that although he was prepared to fit the long-term intra-uterine contraceptive the Gräfenberg ring, he charged so steeply for this it would be cheaper to travel to Berlin and be fitted by Gräfenberg in person. He would also perform sterilisations.

It had been recognised in the profession for decades that there had been some doctors prepared to perform abortions (even though illegal) as a reumerative practice, well before the allusion in AJ Cronin's 1936 novel The Citadel to a fashionable Harley Street society doctor making a good deal of his income from 'curettage'. There is a particularly good account of how this was working immediately before the 1967 Abortion Act in Paul Ferris's 1966 The Nameless, in which he indicates that the request to be paid in cash was not only to preserve discretion for the patients but a handy tax evasion device for the medics involved.

In an area which was already considered part of an ethically murky fringe, a 'twilight zone' where people were desperate and desirous of discretion, it's perhaps not altogether amazing that the practices of doctors providing AID turn out to have been dubious.


Tuesday, 21 September 2021

What I've been up to during my blog hiatus

Wasn't as busily publishing academically as in some previous years, but haven't been entirely inactive.

Open Conspirators Seek Similar: The Inspiration of H.G. Wells’s Utopian Dreams: in The Wellsian, 40, 2017 (from my keynote at: Anticipations: H. G. Wells, Science Fiction and Radical Visions, H.G. Wells Conference Centre, Woking, 8-10 July 2016); and now The Wellsian is finally online (we think he would have approved), my earlier piece in the  special 'Ann Veronica' issue, Vol 34, 2011 An Ambiguous Idol: H. G. Wells Inspiring and Infuriating Women is now also available.

This one, which was being given in various forms over a period of years in assorted venues, was finally published: ‘"Sons of Belial": Contaminated/Contaminating Victorian Male Bodies', in Andrew Mangham and Daniel Lea (eds), The Male Body in Medicine and Literature (2018.

This was in the pipeline for a considerable while, but it was part of this huge project covering a vast period: 'Movements to separate sex and reproduction', in N. Hopwood, R. Flemming and L. Kassell, Reproduction from Antiquity to the Present Day (Cambridge University Press, 2018.

'The Bedborough Case, 1898: "A Curious Gonfalon Round Which to Fight"', in David Nash, Anne-Marie Kilday (eds), Fair and Unfair Trials in the British Isles, 1800-1940: Microhistories of Justice and Injustice (Bloomsbury, 2020)  - on the prosecution of Havelock Ellis' Sexual Inversion.

Entries for Dr Norman Haire (2020), and for Eden and Cedar Paul (2018), in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.

Provided a Foreword, to Jessica Borge, Protective Practices: A History of the London Rubber Company and the Condom Business (McGill-Queens UP, 2020).

Assorted reviews, including this essay review, 'Abortion in the Contemporary United States' Journal of Women's History, Volume 32, Number 4, Winter 2020.(And I thought that was depressing...)

A contribution to the Layers of London project on the 1820 satirical print of Lady Strachan and Lady Warwick, 'Love a la mode, or Two Dear Friends' - an episode I'd still like to find out more about.

Women’s rights to sexual pleasure: an essay commissioned in connection with an exhibition that didn't in fact get used, now added to my website.

Also added to my website, the text of my George Hay Memorial Lecture of the Science Fiction Foundation, at Eastercon 2012,  Invisible Women: The Scientists People Don't See.

My website in general continues to get updated and I draw particular attention to the ongoing updates to Victorian Sex Factoids and Literary Abortion

Hoping to start posting here again, if only with the odd weird thing I've encountered as a side-issue in other researches.