The Victorian cult of the little girl encouraged the idealisation of female children as the embodiment of purity, yet the conceptualisation of girlhood was fraught. The sexual age of consent for girls remained 12 years old until 1875; and practices which have become taboo in our culture (the photographing of little girls in the nude, or the encouragement of intimate friendships between adult men and young girls) were widely normalised.
This talk will consider how girls themselves perceived sexuality, intimacy and attraction through introducing some of the many girlhood diaries that have hitherto lain neglected in archives. These often startling journals explode many assumptions about nineteenth-century girlhood. They indicate that even young girls could articulate a sense of sexual selfhood. Indeed, for many, a consciousness of politics and civic life was often entangled with these intimate facets of their subjectivity. In a century in which British women gained significant social and political advances such findings raise profound and sometimes troubling questions concerning the complex relationships between gender and political identity in this period.