The Victorians and the Blow Up Doll Femme de Voyage


Blogging as a historian can be tricky. Sometimes you want to get into a deep discussion of the theories and issues surrounding the discipline. Other times you just want to run up to people and scream, ‘EEEEEEEW, look at what I’ve FOUND’. Which is what I’m going to do today.

I found this advert for the ‘Femme de Voyage or Artificial Fanny’ in a scrapbook of late Victorian erotica. Now, it’s not the idea I’m objecting to, it’s the wording used. Specifically the idea that ‘the only essential part wanted by a man’ can be fitted ‘into a hat’ for the ease of transportation or concealment. A HAT ladies, FITTED INTO A HAT. If you ever wondered why hats were so important in this period…now you know.

Once I’d managed to stop laughing like a mental person at this idea, I tried to get back into serious historian mode and ask a series of questions. Firstly, is this advert real? From it’s inclusion in the scrapbook, which can be dated to the late nineteenth century, and where it is placed in the collection, the typeface and paper used…I think it is highly likely that the advert is genuine. However, that doesn’t mean that it is meant to be taken seriously, it could easily be a satirical joke, something intended to make its reader laugh.

But what if it’s not? What if it IS the genuine article, did the Victorians actually invent the first blow up dolls? The very act of inflating the device highlights the mechanical and technological inventiveness that this period is renowned for. What material could they have possibly used? How was it inflated? Was the idea patented? Why have I never heard about this before?! Recently a lot of work has been done to bring attention to the Victorians as the birthplace for our modern ideas on sexuality. Rupert Everett and Hugh Dancy in Hysteria, and Michael Fassbender and Keira Knightly in A Dangerous Method, have helped to bring this part of history to the notice of popular audiences. But the idea of blow up dolls bouncing around in the homes of the uptight and virtuous Victorians is a little controversial.

Sex aids have existed since the dawn of time. Countless museums and archives have displayed and debated the role of the phallus in religious and ceremonial activities, as well as for personal use. The female form as a sexual object has been both worshiped and brutalised, but I have never seen anything that was used solely for the purpose of heterosexual men, removing the participation of anyone else. You need to remember; this is the time when masturbation and self-abuse was thought to be highly destructive to the body and soul. Just the fact that the idea for the product existed and was shared, regardless of whether it was actually real, is amazing. A quick Wikipedia search claims that some form of ‘living doll’ has existed since the 1600s, primarily invented to ease the burden of sailors stuck out at sea for long periods of time. But the relationship between the Victorians and this form of sexual aid has not been explored.

Honestly, I am stuck for answers. I think this reflects wider discussion on how female sexuality has been objectified by history for over a millennium, while male sexuality is often hidden and kept secret. Why do we openly discuss the female use of sex toys, but still view any man who has its partner as weaker and less manly? It’s intriguing.

*Original advert has been reproduced to apply with the archives Terms and Conditions.

3 thoughts on “The Victorians and the Blow Up Doll Femme de Voyage

  1. I wish you had shared a date on this historical tidbit!
    I have some US patents that show the Victorians were using inflatable devices for interesting uses, mainly related to dress as that is what I study.

    1857 Inflatable hoop skirt Patent # 17241

    1859 Inflatable Bosom forms Patent # 24033

    1884 Inflatable Dress Forms (both genders) Patent # 301947

    • I wish I could too! but the advert is cut out and pasted into a collection with a wide date range. I’ve been trying to find it in a patent office over here but no luck yet. Thank you for these links they are great – and your research sounds really interesting!! I feel a follow up post is needed!!

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