Thursday, December 1, 2011

Ruminations on Hannah Cullwick

Happy December, everybody! Isn't life fantastic?

I've been reading this fabulous book, At Home: A Short History of Private Life. The book is awesome, but it's taking me forever to read it (months!) because it gives short descriptions of all of these fascinating topics, which then causes me to research each one more in-depth. It's really a great book. In it, Bill Bryson mentions Hannah Cullwick (1833-1909), a woman diarist and servant who wound up secretly married to a higher-class gentleman.

Hannah was a kinkster, you guys. No lie.  
She would have probably been a blogger if she had the tech. Check out the chain around her neck, the strap on her wrist. Did I mention that this is a topless photo of a woman taken before the turn of the 20th century, and not for public consumption, but for private perusal? If you do a google image search for her, you'll find other images. There was an independent film done about her writings as well. It's all very interesting and sheds a completely different light on what life was like at that time - for me, anyway. You think of people being prim and proper and, well, Victorian. These guys were living the life - before easy birth control. It's amazing! 
Have any of you heard of her?  

From wikipedia: 
Cullwick proudly referred to herself as Munby's "drudge and slave", and called him "Massa", an example of a Master/slave relationship. For much of her life, she wore a leather strap around her right wrist and a locking chain around her neck, to which Munby had a key. She wrote letters almost daily to him, describing her long hours of work in great detail. She would arrange to visit him "in my dirt", showing the results of a full day of cleaning and other domestic work. She had a particular interest in boots, cleaning hundreds each year, sometimes by licking them. She once told Munby she could tell where her "Massa" had been by how his boots tasted.

Despite her display of subservience and loyalty, Cullwick remained independent. She stood up for herself if she thought the terms of her relationship with Munby were being violated. She entered marriage with Munby reluctantly, seeing it as dependency and boredom. They were secretly married in 1873, after which she moved to his lodgings, where she lived as his servant, though she sometimes played the role of his wife. She also retained her own surname and insisted that Munby continue to pay her wages, and she had her own savings. She left him far more often than he did her, and in 1877 she returned to working as a servant in Shropshire. Munby was a regular visitor from 1882 until her death.
Her diaries reveal that the erotic games with Munby often included infantilism and ageplay, with Cullwick carrying Munby in her arms and holding him on her lap.

Cullwick appeared in Munby's photographs in many different roles: a farm girl, a kitchen drudge, a chimney sweep with blackface, a well-dressed lady (though with her hands, unmistakably those of a working woman, prominently displayed), a Magdalen, and even a man. Her ability to take different roles delighted Munby.
Kink isn't new, not a bit, we just have a stronger grasp on how many people are practicing kink due to our fabulous wealth of information. Bill Bryson doesn't mention the M/s aspect of this relationship, merely using the diary itself as a window into the world of servants of that era - but Hannah Cullwick hardly seems to be a "typical" servant, now does she? He does mention how even getting a bath seems to be a major accomplishment for her, as she often sleeps "in my dirt," but I'm not entirely sure that's not a kink itself. The diaries were apparently written for her "massa," at his request, too.

What kind of examinations do you think our blogs will get, a hundred+ years from now? Will they just fade from existence, be deleted on a whim, or relegated to the background noise of ten million self-publishers? I'm making some effort to preserve mine. There may be a lot more windows into existence now than there were then, but private life is still quite hidden, mysterious, and fascinating.


  1. It is interesting to see that it's really true that "there's nothing new under the sun".


  2. Oh, this is interesting. I've never heard of her, so thank you for pointing it out. I'll add it to my long list of research topics. :/

  3. Thanks for the comments, guys.

    Kitty: Isn't it just? You think you know about the world, and click, you learn something else you never thought you would.

    BlackberryTasteIc: This book has given me an enormous list, indeed. :)

  4. This is fascinating! Not surprising in one way, because I don't think people have really changed much, but that the diaries exist is amazing!

    How cool - thanks for posting about it!


  5. aisha: The more things change, the more they stay the same? :)

    Pleased to be of service!

  6. Thanks for bringing up the Munby/Cullwick relationship. I'm surprised they aren't better known in the kink community.

    If you look at the lower right corner of that picture of her, you can see Munby's foot. He was standing over her when the picture was taken.

    1. That would make sense, she'd be looking up at someone. I was surprised there wasn't more about this as a kink thing too. :)


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