Sunday, December 9, 2012


This class has taught me that there is an interconnection between all fields in the humanities and if one looks closely enough, the connections will show themselves. Using art to shed light on another issue like a psychological one is valuable because it adds a visual element. It is easier to find "truth" when one is exploring an issue from many sides and different disciplines.

I have learned that in order to have a well-researched paper, one must start researching very early on. Also, it is important to broaden or shorten one's scope depending on the topic. Since there was little to no information about my topic, I broadened my research to include general essays on Victorian life, books about Victorian fashion and anything I could find about sexuality in this time. Towards the end of my research I finally came across an article that confirmed tattooing was pervasive. From there, I was left with many more topics to research and search for but I didn't have time. I also learned that the USC library does not have a lot of information about tattoos in general. I felt that a lot of the evidence I was searching for lives in England.

I have learned that collaborating is a very useful process but online, a lot of that diminishes. It is much more valuable to talk to my classmates in person. I found talking in groups of three was the most helpful because one had the chance to hear two different opinions and suggestions but not too many as to overwhelm.

In the future, I would like to learn more about the underbelly of the victorian society. I am extremely fascinated by it. I was just reading Generation of Swine by Hunter S. Thompson and he mentions these clubs of aristocratic men who would rape, murder, and beat people up for sport. Just like Clockwork Orange but it actually happened and it was the wealthiest of men who participated. I am very interested in this deviance and the connection between having loads of money and cruelty.

As far as writing goes, I hope that my papers in the future will be better written and I will be able to have a unique perspective and continue to find topics that are unique.

Royal Tattoos

One of the most interesting things I found out while researching was that many members of the high aristocracy and royalty had tattoos. Lady Churchill (Winston Churchill's mother) had a tattoo. She had a tattoo of a snake eating its own tail on her wrist which was a symbol of eternity.  Supposedly, she had a special diamond bracelet crafted to cover it up when she had to. She got the tattoo got a tattoo, like “many other Londoners, in honor of the coronation of King Edward VII whose reign ushered in a new opulence and signaled the end of Victorian conservatism."

During the reign of Victoria, women were not even allowed to wear facial makeup. Although it is rumored that the Queen herself had a tattoo of a Bengal tiger fighting a python.

Another interesting thing I found while researching is that body piercings may have also been pervasive at this time with members of the aristocracy. It is  rumored that Lady Churchill also had her nipples pierced!

And there is the other rumor that Prince Albert had a penis piercing which is called the Prince Albert today. There is no real evidence that he had this piercing but there are some supposed reasonings behind it. Apparently he got the piercing because the fashionable pants of the time were very tight and it was inappropriate to show the outline of his penis so he got a piercing that would allow him to tuck it away in some manner.

It is very difficult to find evidence for the piercings but if they had tattoos, it doesn't seem so far-fetched!

A Symbol of the Elite

The upper classes were obsessed with maintaining their status and individuality. This meant they must be different from the other classes and "better" in more than one way. They used to be able to easily claim that status by their opulent clothes so when one is walking down the street everyone knows your class. Another symbol was to have a tiny waist which was seen as a "natural sign of superior class status." But, with the increase in industrialization  it was becoming easier and easier for women of lower classes to access corsets that were made just as well. If you saw them side by side one could see a difference but since clothes were covering the corsets, it was possible for lower class women to achieve the same tiny waists.

Tattooing arose as a way for the wealthy to differentiate themselves from the other classes. One could instantly see the difference between a tattoo done by the famed Professor Riley and some other tattooist  Thus, if someone was to pose as a member of a higher class at a party and tattoo showing ensued which often did, the impostor would be found out.

The aristocracy was grasping for something they could claim as solely their own, and tattooing fit that bill. Everyone’s tattoo collection could be uniquely one’s own. Although all of one’s friends might have tattoos, they are all one-of-a-kind. One had the choice of choosing animals, flowers, crests, automobiles, or their husband’s initials. This gave aristocratic women a feeling of freedom and individuality that was becoming harder to achieve in the modern age.

The Sexual Aspect

Now that I have explored this topic, more and more information about the Victorian era and its secrets seem to be popping up. I explored one reason for Victorian aristocratic women getting tattoos in my paper and that was to "slum it." Apparently, they got a thrill out of doing something usually reserved for the lower classes. Their male counterparts would go down dark alleys into flogging brothels where prostitues would whip them for sexual pleasure. Upper class women of course were not allowed in these parts. It got me thinking that if these women had sexually "deviant" husbands, they would have trouble competing sexually with these prostitutes. The wives would desire to be pleasing to their husbands and maybe that is why they hopped on the tattoo trend so quickly. It certainly would spice things up in the bedroom to have your wife tattooed completely.

 It also crossed my mind that maybe the act of tattooing was a sexual one in more ways than one.

 1) Pleasure/Pain Dichotomy
 - When one get a tattoo, the pain is often turned into pleasure and actually can feel good. Also, after one gets a tattoo, one feels "high" from the experience. Similar to the feeling one gets after sex.

 2) Involving a 3rd party in the sexual act
 - What if these woman's husbands coerced them into getting a tattoo in front of them for their viewing pleasure. To see another man inflicting pain on their wife could be an erotic experience for some. This boils down to the fact that tattooing actually fit in very well with the underground darkly sexual Victorian society
"Flogging School"

Sunday, November 25, 2012

1898: 100,000 People Tattooed in London

I have finally found evidence that this trend not only existed but was in fact extremely wide spread. Harmsworth claims that in 1898 there were over 100,000 tattooed. It also confirms that the trend started among the royals of the world.

It also says that there were about 20 tattoo artists in London, but one in particular did the best work and was most famous. His name was Professor Riley.

This article leads me to believe that since the trend was so widespread and this Professor Riley so well known, aristocratic women most likely went to him to be tattooed. Also, it seems as the trend grew, it became more and more acceptable and thus it was not such a far-fetched idea that women would be allowed to participate.

Harmsworth magazine also claims that the best tattoo artists in London were rivaling their Asian counterparts and were in fact very skilled.

Some examples of tattoos below:

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Why do people get tattoos?

To uncover why upper class Victorian women would get tattoos, I thought I would start at why anyone gets a tattoo.

According to academic psychological resources, the reasons are as follows:

“Reclaim body” fantasy“Perfect body” fantasyOften if one is unsatisfied with results of previous modification, might seek out changes that are more extreme or riskyS&M

There are many more reasons, but I chose the ones I thought would relate to upper class Victorian Women.

1) Victorian women would have been interested in "reclaiming" their body for themselves because they were seen as property and objects belonging to men. Tattooing offered them a way to take control of what they put on their body.

2) Obsession is an understatement when one is talking about how Victorian women treated the idea of a "perfect body." They would undergo daily pain of the corset, bustle, crinoline, etc, to look like the ideal they were bombarded with on a daily basis through magazines, advertisement, and simply conversation. The tattoo was another way to complete their perfectly trendy appearance.

3) If one could not get their waist down to the ideal 17-18 inches, one could feel dissatisfied with all the work they have done to their body. Tattooing was a sure way that their modification would be successful.

4) The entire Victorian society was based around women being submissive to men. In many accounts, women go so used to this, they even began to like it. They started to enjoy the pain caused by their corset. Many even practiced "tight-lacing" with their husband. Where he would pull the corset so tight as to restrict breathing, causing an erotic pleasure. Tattoos are synonymous with this pleasure/pain dichotomy. The pain of the tattoo makes one experience pleasure similar to that of sex or drug use.

The more I look into this topic, the less shocking this trend becomes and the more it makes sense.