Shelved Dolls: Evelyn Nesbit – The Victorian Courtney Stodden?

Evelyn’s mother found nothing unusual about this, and went out of town, leaving Stanford White a key to their home and instructions to take care of Evelyn.

Standford White invited her over for one of his parties – nothing unusual, he’d done that a lot in the past – but when she arrived, she found no one else was there. Stanford said that the other couple had to cancel at the last minute, but it was fine, they would dine by themselves. He gave Evelyn champagne. Normally he limited her to one glass, so Evelyn was surprised when he let her drink as many as she wanted.  She then tried on a yellow kimono, imitating one of her famous “kimono poses” (kimonos, and any kind of Asian artifact, were absurdly popular around the turn of the century. There was one in particular where she simply fell asleep on a bearskin rug which had become very well known, and which you can see above).

Then she found the room was spinning. Later, at the trial, Evelyn said that Stanford had drugged her. However, later still in life, she claimed that it was simply the effect of too much champagne.

She woke up “practically naked” in Stanford’s bed next to him and immediately rushed home. Evelyn claimed in her memoir only that she “entered that room a virgin.”

Stanford was deeply apologetic, and more horrified when he found her at home the next day staring forlornly out the window. He said she’d prefer it if she would scream. He then tried to mollify her, assuring that everyone did this, it was just that no one talked about it, in a speech that will always, always, always make me think that Standford White is Sarah Michelle Gellar’s character in Cruel Intentions. Specifically, Evelyn claimed he said that “everybody was bad … [and] evil was the basis of life.” He also promised Evelyn that he’d always take care of her, which, he seemed to try to do.

Later in life, Evelyn would say he was a “benevolent vampire” though she also remarked that he was the only true love of her life. She claimed she regarded him as “Father. Lover. Protector. Seducer.”

This always strikes me as sounding much like the conflicted series of emotions many women experience after sexual assault, but, again, the situation has been portrayed by many different people in many different ways.

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    • Lana Kane

      Excellent post. A great read. Evelyns story is quite remarkable and stuff like this happened at that time…..but Courtney?? Wow. Her mom is an epic failure and Courtney is not really beautiful as a person inside or out….plus its not Victorian America. It’s 2012 where women CAN become doctors and lawyers!

    • Starofthemag

      “But how, exactly, did the work for Evelyn herself?”

      Great writing but you missed this at the bottom of page 1.
      It should read “…did that work for…”

      This message is brought to you in part by Efforts in Homework Avoidance, which is also the title of everything in my life today.

      • Jennifer Wright

        Thank you, team. If I had 40 Million dollars, I would hire a damn copyeditor.

    • Ashley Cardiff


    • Larissa

      I LOVE this series. If you made it into a book, i’d buy it for damn sure. Just sayin!

      • Amy


    • Nikki

      WOW! Awesome post! I’m not sure how this may relate to Courtney’s future, hopefully a better one than poor Evelyn’s. Only time will tell…

    • Ewa

      Great read, and – let me repeat – a very interesting series.

    • Alison

      I want more Shelved Dolls! The women you chose and the stories you tell are just so fascinating. Quit doing everything else and just write about interesting/tragic women from days gone by…I’ll be thrilled.

    • Marissa

      Wow. She kinda looks like Margaret Schroeder from Boardwalk Empire.

    • Alle C

      I LOVE THIS STORY SO MUCH, and this is such a fantastic article. Well done! Mustaches off to you!

    • Ellen W.

      I didn’t know about the chorus girls!! I mean, I knew Thaw was odd and not that nice but I had NO IDEA about how horrible he was.

      Team Evelyn indeed.

    • Anna

      Great post, but I wish the whole Courtney Stodden thing was left out. I mean that’s ridiculous. Courtney Stodden isn’t one of the “great beauties” out there . Comparing the two is just irritating.

    • Chelsea

      That is one beautiful woman!!! I need to see that movie about her life, especially since they involved her in the production.

      OH and that small cabin would be a bit over $46,000 today. Still not a lot of money in terms of a home for a family.

    • Cheryl (carol, cristal) Tunt

      This was a great article and an excellent read. I really just wanted to know more and more. On a psychological level, it was fascinating to read about this poor girl obviously suffering from Stockholm Syndrome and PTSD (after the rape and again after the beatings) and that she overcome all of this in the end… I want to see more interesting, historical articles like this!

    • Kj

      “A disguised Napoleon revealing himself to a near-sighted veteran on Elba could not have made the revelation with greater aplomb.”

      Is this meant to be the turn of the century version of an alliterative tweet? I knew they had higher standards then, but …seriously

    • andrea

      holy cow these staples ads are irritating.

    • xoxoxoBruce

      The newspaper you show says he was shot in the back, not in the face. But good story all in all. Kudos.

      • Jennifer Wright

        That’s actually quite interesting – many of the newspapers reported the story inaccurately because they were, understandably rushing to turn it in before their competition. I think that headline might be a symptom of that. Most of the biographies (listed at the end) agree that Stanford was shot in the face, though the complete NY Times report from the period says that he was shot in the temple ( which seems closer to face than “back of head” but I suppose it’s fair to say simple that he was certainly shot in the head.

    • michael curtis

      “She’s often regarded as something of the Courtney Stodden of the Victorian age…”

      WTF?? Since when?

    • Liana

      Great read Jennifer! Did she have any children and did she find any more love after all this?

    • andyarnette

      Evelyn said she was about 8 when her father died.
      I had to look-up Courtney Stodden to see who she was. In no way could anyone make that comparison. Evelyn never even wore lipstick, except on stage? She new nothing of sex, never posed without her mother and never did anything to compromise her image…she had no desire to ever marry but was bullied into it. Oh and she was asleep in the famous ‘Butterfly photo’ so hardly posing?