(Illicit) Sex and the City: Transgressive Female Sexuality and the "Porno Gothic" Genre in George Thompson's <i>City Crimes</i>


  • Zaren Healey White McGill University


American, feminism, female sexuality, free-love, George Thompson, City Crimes, porno-gothic, city mysteries, sensation fiction, flash press, New York City, Boston


Focused on George Thompson’s “porno-gothic” City Crimes (1849), this article rebuts the claim, put forth by Reynolds and Gladman in their introduction to a volume of his work, that Thompson “may have created for woman readers a tantalizing space of sexual imagination.” The editors suggest that Thompson’s depiction of sexually voracious women can be read as provocatively feminist, specifically in its evocation of the free-love movement. This article seeks to undermine that claim by examining how the novel constructs female sexuality as transgressive and deviant, thereby eroding any feminist potential. By showcasing sexually insatiable female characters who seek lovers and kill their husbands in order to preserve their sexual freedom, and who ultimately suffer violent and ignominious deaths, City Crimes fuses female sexual appetite and fulfillment with criminality. As a result, Thompson’s portrayal of women is not only unsympathetic but misogynist, and reflects the nineteenth-century gendered double standard.

Author Biography

Zaren Healey White, McGill University

Zaren Healey White has recently completed her Master of Arts in English at McGill University, during which she received a SSHRC Joseph-Armand Bombardier CGS Master’s scholarship. Her major research paper, “‘A Morbid and Depraved Appetite’: Criminal Female Sexuality and the Porno-Gothic in George Thompson’s Venus in Boston and City Crimes” is a continuation of the work she completed at Memorial during a year of part-time graduate studies. Zaren completed her Bachelor of Art (Honours) in English with a minor in Women’s Studies at Memorial in 2010. At convocation, she was recognized with the Chancellor’s Undergraduate Award and the George M. Story Convocation Medal in Arts. Her research interests are in nineteenth-century British and American literature, particularly around gender, sexuality, and transgression. She is also interested in depictions of food, appetite, and consumption.