In 1889 uniformed post boys were found moonlighting in a West End brothel frequented by men of the upper classes. "The Cleveland Street Scandal" erupted and Victorian Britain was gripped by the possibility that the Post Office - a bureaucratic backbone of nation and empire - was inspiring and servicing perverse passions. The alliance between transgressive sex and the Post Office that the scandal illuminated was neither incidental nor singular; there was something queer about the post in the nineteenth century. Postal Pleasures tells the story of queer postal relations, from Post Office reforms initiated in 1840 up to the imperial end of the nineteenth century. It tells this story by analysing literature that expresses the cultural consequences of this peculiar kind of "going postal." Victorian writers abandoned the epistolary novel in favour of postal fiction. The postal network, its uniformed employees and its material trappings - envelopes, postmarks, stamps - were used to signal and circulate sexual intrigue.
For Anthony Trollope, Thomas Hardy, Eliza Lynn Lynton, Henry James, Oscar Wilde, Edward Carpenter, Arthur Conan Doyle, Bram Stoker and others, the idea of an envelope promiscuously jostling its neighbours in a post boy's bag, or the notion that secrets passed through the eyes and fingers of telegraph girls, was more stimulating that the actual contents of correspondence. By the period's end, the postal system had become both an instrument and a metaphor for sexual relations that crossed and double-crossed lines of class, marriage and heterosexuality.