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Cross-Dressing and the Novel: Women Warriors and Domestic Femininity Catherine Craft-Fairchild During the eighteenth century the phenomenon of female crossdressing captured the public imagination: factual accounts of women's adventures in men's clothing appeared in newspapers, chapbooks , and memoirs, while ballads, plays, and novels offered fictional renderings. Those narratives that commemorated real-life transvestism typically portrayed labouring-class women who cross-dressed in order to secure some of the economic and social advantages accorded to men. Ballads singing the praise of female soldiers and sailors also concerned themselves with the vicissitudes of lower-class life. By contrast, plays and novels depicted cross-dressing as either a whimsical or a vicious activity of the well-to-do, often undertaken to advance various sexual or political intrigues. Novelistic renderings of female transvestism differed from dramatic ones in the degree to which they blamed and punished the cross-dressed figure. While writers in each of the various genres united in denouncing the predatory "female husband," only the novelists condemned more "benign" forms of cross-dressing. Historians following Ian Watt have argued that realism is one of the hallmarks of the novel; however, in their portrayal of transvestite women, eighteenth-century fictions departed markedly from fact. Recent theorists insist upon the importance of intertextuality, claiming that literary texts do not exist as organically unified wholes, but only exist in relation to all other texts; yet the early novelists do not seem to have taken their models of female cross-dressing from theatrical performance. Neither drawn EIGHTEENTH-CENTURY FICTION, Volume 10, Number 2, January 1998 172 EIGHTEENTH-CENTURY FICTION from the life nor lifted from the drama, eighteenth-century novelistic depictions of cross-dressing must have served purposes other than those of verisimilitude. My sense, as this essay will bear out, is that the transformation of the cross-dressed woman signals the early novel's commitment to portraying, and thereby constructing, a domestic ideal. F The most numerous accounts of female transvestism during this period are found in what Dianne Dugaw has called "Anglo-American Female Warrior ballads"—ballads, in other words, that celebrate the adventures of women who went to war as soldiers or sailors. Dugaw has catalogued and discussed 120 of these ballads that, she notes, tend "to be an interrelated and coherent body of songs ... with a prototypical internal structure."1 Typically, the ballads concern themselves with the heroine's disguised pursuit of a sweetheart in the military, her activities on land or sea, tests of her bravery during battle, contretemps involving her manly gallantry with the ladies when on leave, and her eventual reunion with and marriage to her lover.2 Whether influenced by the ballads, or influencing them, real-life accounts often take on a similar shape. The chapbook rendering of The Surprising Life and Adventures of maria knowles (c. 1810) by William Fairbank, for example, contains exactly the same plot elements as the standard warrior woman ballad. Another biographical work, the anonymously written Life and Adventures of Mrs. Christian Davies (1740) emphasizes that Kit Davies enlisted in the army to search for a husband forcibly taken into service. In one of the most famous factual, or perhaps semi-factual, narratives, The Female Soldier; Or, The Surprising Life and Adventures of Hannah Snell (1750), the missing husband, whom the heroine pursues over land and sea, has voluntarily absconded.3 Newspapers of the period also abound with stories of women romantically en cavalier. In "Extraordinary Circumstance," The Times records the adventures of a young woman who fell in love with the captain of a merchant vessel: "The attachment was mutual. The captain was, however , obliged to sail for America, and thither, after having waited in 1 Dianne Dugaw, Warrior Women and Popular Balladry, 1650-1850 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989), p. 91. 2 Dugaw, pp. 92-93. 3 See The Life and Adventures of Mrs. Christian Davies, Commonly Called Mother Ross, ed. Sir John Fortescue (London: Peter Davies, 1928); and The Female Soldier; Or, The Surprising Life and Adventures of Hannah Snell, intro. Dianne Dugaw (Los Angeles: William Andrews Clark Memorial Library, 1989). CROSS-DRESSING AND THE NOVEL 173 vain for his return or intelligence about him, she...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1911-0243
Print ISSN
0840-6286
Pages
pp. 171-202
Launched on MUSE
2011-07-06
Open Access
No
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