In 1889 uniformed post-boys were discovered moonlighting in a West
End brothel frequented by men of the upper classes. "The Cleveland
Street Scandal" erupted and Victorian Britain faced the possibility
that the Post Office-a bureaucratic backbone of nation and
empire-was inspiring and servicing subversive sexual behavior.
However, the unlikely alliance between sex and the postal service
was not exactly the news the sensational press made it out to be.
Postal Pleasures explores the relationship between illicit
sex and the Royal Mail from reforms initiated in 1840 up to the
imperial end of the nineteenth century. With a combination of
historical details and literary analyses, Kate Thomas illustrates
how the postal network, its uniformed employees, and its material
trappings-envelopes, postmarks, stamps-were used to signal and
circulate sexual intrigue. For many, the idea of an envelope
promiscuously jostling its neighbors in a post boy's bag, or the
notion that secrets passed through the eyes and fingers of
telegraph girls, was more stimulating than the actual contents of
correspondence. Writers like Anthony Trollope, Eliza Lynn Lynton,
Henry James, Oscar Wilde, Arthur Conan Doyle, and others, invoked
the postal system as both an instrument and a metaphor for sexual
relations that crossed and double-crossed lines of class, marriage,
and heterosexuality. Postal Pleasures adds a new dimension
to studies of the era as it uncovers the unlikely linkage between
the Victorian Post Office and the queer networks it inspired.