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Tuesday, January 3, 2017 - 06:57

For those who have been waiting for it, the ebook versions of Mother of Souls are now available through non-Bella distributors, including iBooks, Amazon Kindle, and Barnes & Noble among others. (I would remind readers that Bella gets a bigger cut when ebooks are bought directly, but of course the best place to buy a book is always the one where you actually buy it. So I will never quibble as long as you buy!) This seems an opportune time to remind readers that reviews on the major reader-review sites like Amazon and Goodreads really help with visibility. There is, in theory, a "magic number" of 50 Amazon reviews that pushes one over into being part of automatic book promotions, and three years after release Daughter of Mystery is still staring longingly at that number with 47 reviews. Since the theme of today's excerpt is jealousy, I'll confess that I'm jealous of authors who don't have to beg and plead to hit that "magic number". (The fall-off in review numbers for later books makes it likely that none of the other Alpennia books will ever hit it.)

Have you ever had that experience of working intensely with someone on a creative project and then reaching the point where it's time for other people, other skills to be drawn in? It's easy for a proprietary interest in the project to become entangled with the intimacy of the partnership, especially if there's a sense that one's own contributions are being left behind. Taken for granted. Even when they aren't. Serafina has never before known anyone the way she knows Luzie. And she has no practice in disentangling those reactions.

Chapter 26 - Serafina

Serafina recognized the small creature that nestled in the pit of her stomach. It was jealousy. She’d learned to recognize it long before she’d learned to ignore it. Who was she to be jealous of anyone? Just as she had no right to give herself wholly, she had no right to expect the same in return. She’d been the first to urge Luzie to draw others into the plans for Tanfrit. But it had been theirs—just the two of them—for so long. Now here was Jeanne, visiting or summoning Luzie to discuss the business of the performance. There were the regular letters from Maistir Ovimen that left Luzie glowing with a pride that no one else could have given her. And there was Iulien Fulpi.

“I was thinking,” Luzie had said, as they rode back together from the Academy at the end of one of the music days, sharing the fiacre with Doruzi Mailfrit and another of the Poor Scholars. “I was thinking I might ask Iulien to look at the libretto.”

And when Serafina hadn’t responded immediately, Luzie continued, “I know, she’s dreadfully young. But you couldn’t tell that from her poetry. And that’s what we need: poetry. The libretto tells the story well enough, but we both know it isn’t what it might be.”

The lyrics of the two pieces Iulien played for the depictio class had seemed nothing special—perhaps she simply hadn’t an ear for Alpennian verse—but the way they wove into Luzie’s settings… There was a crispness, a definition.

Margerit had acquiesced with only a few rules. “She must be properly chaperoned. She isn’t allowed to be wandering around the city by herself.” With a wry smile, “She’s already sweet-talked me into letting her go down to Urmai by boat in the mornings so she isn’t tied to my schedule. It isn’t that I don’t consider Maisetra Valorin a proper chaperone, but…”

But trips to the Academy were a simple matter of going back and forth from the private dock at Tiporsel House. Evidently it was less thinkable to let a girl like Iuli walk alone through the Nikuleplaiz, even with a maid for company.

“I’ll ask my Aunt Pertinek if she can find time to bring her,” Margerit concluded.

And so Serafina sat on the sofa with Maisetra Pertinek, while Iulien sat beside Luzie on the fortepiano bench and eagerly followed along in the libretto as they worked, part by part, through the score.

“Are you enjoying teaching at Margerit’s school?” Maisetra Pertinek asked.

Serafina pulled her attention away from the music and its effects. It was always hard to remember that most people were blind to the visions.

“I’m not really teaching,” she said. “Just helping at this and that. I’m there as a student.” She was enough ahead of the other students in the philosophy and thaumaturgy classes to be frustrated at their progress. That would improve, Margerit promised, once enough students had learned the basics that they could hold advanced classes. But would she have that long? Every day she expected a letter that Paolo’s duties in Paris were over.

“Oh,” Maisetra Pertinek said. “I had thought from what Margerit said… Well, never mind. What do you know about this opera that Iuli will be helping with?”

What do I know? I was there when the seed was planted. I dug through Margerit’s library to find every scrap of history we might use. I’ve sat by Luzie’s side for months shaping it into being.

“It’s a historic drama. One of your Alpennian philosophers. Did Maisetra Sovitre warn you that it’s to be a surprise and we don’t want it talked about before the performance?”

Maisetra Pertinek looked affronted. “I should hope that I know how to hold my tongue when asked. Margerit can tell you that.”


Yes, that must be true. There were secrets enough at Tiporsel House to practice on.

Major category: 
Mother of Souls
Monday, January 2, 2017 - 09:56

I've written up a new set of tag descriptions. You can find the permanent page with access to the tag-links here. For reasons of internal website structure, this is going to duplicate the content of that tag essay to get it into the blog feed. (Life is complicated.) But you'll now find that permanent page in the LHMP drop-down menu.

The purpose of tags is to make information relatively easy to find. The topics covered under “people/event tags” are historical persons, authors, written works, and other specific events, organizations, or works that are the subject of the research and publications covered by the Project. This essay is intended to explain briefly how the “people/event” tags are being used.

The second purpose is to provide a tag list that the visitor can use to explore the site. The number of tags used in the project, and the organization into four different categories, doesn’t lend itself to a traditional tag-cloud. The Place and Time Period tags each have a single essay. The Event/Person and Misc. Tags will be covered in thematic groups in multiple essays due to the larger number. Due to character restrictions on the attached tags, I've had to link to separate sub-posts to include linked tag-lists. This page brings together all the names and descriptions for this entire Person/Event tag category, but you'll need to click through to explore the linked articles.

I’m planning six essays for the People/Event Tags, each covering a general category with several subcategories.

  • Non-Fiction Sources and General Authors
  • Historic Crossdressing and Passing/Transgender People
  • Historic People Relevant for Emotional, Affectionate, or Sexual Relationships
  • Literary Examples of Crossdressing or Gender Disguise
  • Literary Examples of Emotional, Affectionate, or Sexual Relationships
  • Poetry Expressing Romantic or Sexual Relationships

This present essay covers the third category and includes the following:

  • Passionate Friendships - Women who were known for engaging in passionate friendships with other women, generally when the relationship was not publicly considered to be sexual. This category primarily covers cases where there may not have been a specific partnership or where the women never lived as a couple.
  • Romantic Pairs - Women who were a romantic couple of some type, whether or not the relationship was sexual. (As a rule, if a sexual relationship is documented, such couples will be listed in the "Reputed Lesbian" group instead.) In some cases, only one member of the couple is listed, but she is relevant to the Project because of such a relationship. The nature of these relationships is quite varied.
  • Reputed Lesbian - Historic cases of women who had documented sexual relationships with women, or whose contemporaries are recorded as believing they did. This group is primarily individuals where no one relationship was significant in the historic record or where the overtly sexual nature of the relationships was significant.

Obviously these categories are quite fuzzy at the edges, and I've classified individual people according to what seems the most noteworthy aspect of their lives. Every story is far more complex than a single classification. These are only for the purposes of exploring general themes.

Passionate Friendships (Click here for a sub-post with linked tags)

The concept of passionate or romantic friendship covered a wide range of expressions. Women who enjoyed these relationships might also be in a heterosexual marriage. They might never have the opportunity of having the relationship recognized or respected within their social circles. They might never be able to co-habit or even spend extended time in each other's company. And such intense friendships might not be exclusive--or necessarily reciprocated. Those couples who were able to enjoy a more marriage-like living situation have generally been placed into the "Romantic Pairs" group.

  • Charlotte Cushman - 19th century American actress who enjoyed several passionate friendhips with women.
  • Emily Dickinson - 19th century American poet whose letters and poetry reveal a passionate friendship with the woman who became her sister-in-law.
  • George Elliot - 19th century English author (aka Mary Ann Evans) who was the object of a woman’s passionate friendship.
  • Hildegard of Bingen - 11th century German abbess who had a passionate and possessive friendship with a female protegee. She was a prominent author and composer.
  • Jane Pirie & Marianne Woods - 19th century Scottish schoolmistresses who had a passionate friendship that resulted in a famous libel trial when they were accused of lesbianism. The episode was fictionalized in the Lillian Hellman play The Children’s Hour.
  • Laudomia Forteguerri - 16th century Italian intellectual who composed romantic praise poems to Duchess Margaret of Parma. The passionate friendship between the two women was remarked on positively by their contemporaries.
  • Leonor López de Córdoba - 14-15th c Spanish favorite of Queen Catalina of Castile, with whom she had a stormy and jealous (but not overtly romantic) relationship.
  • Margaret Duchess of Austria/Parma - 16th century daughter of the Charles V, the Holy Roman Emperor, whose passionate friendship with the writer Laudomia Forteguerri was remarked on by contemporaries. Laudomia wrote her romantic poetry.
  • Mary Wollstonecraft - 18th century English feminist and writer. Both her life and her writings included passionate female frienships.
  • Queen Anne of England - 18th century Queen of England who had several passionate friendships with favorite female courtiers that gave rise to rumors of lesbianism.
  • Richardis of Stade - 12th c German abbess with whom Hildegard of Bingen had a passionate and jealous friendship.
  • Saint Radegund - 6th c French saint whose biography includes symbolic homoerotic imagery in her veneration.
  • Sarah Churchill Duchess of Marlborough - 18th century English woman whose passionate friendship with Queen Anne gave rise to rumors of lesbianism.
  • Willa Cather - 19th century American novelist who shared her life with a female romantic partner but whose work, unlike many of her contemporaries, did not represent passionate friendships between women.

Romantic Pairs (Click here for a sub-post with linked tags)

This group covers a wide variety of types of relationships and the term "romantic" is really a misnomer. The unifying factor is the intersection of two lives in a particular bond based on love, desire, or sex, especially if the two lived together to some degree in a marriage-like arrangement.

  • Addie Brown and Rebecca Primus - 19th century African-American women whose correspondence records an erotic friendship that their community considered marriage-like.
  • Alice French aka Octave Thanet - 19th century American novelist who shared her life with Jane Allen Crawford.
  • Amy Poulter/James Howard and Arabella Hunt - 17th century English women who married each other, with Amy passing as the man James Howard.
  • Ane Norton and Alice Pickford - An 18th century English marriage record lists this couple with no comment, although both appear to have female names.
  • Ann Hannah and Margaret Marshall - 18th century American couple charged in court with “cohabitation” using language that typically refers to a case of adultery.
  • Ann Yearsley and Hannah More - 18th century English couple, complicated by the class differential between working-class poet Yearsley and her bluestocking mentor More.
  • Anna Seward & Honora Sneyd - 18th century English devoted romantic friends, though they never had the opportunity to share a home.
  • Bertelmina Wale & Maeyken Joosten/Abraham Joosten - 17th century Dutch couple: Maeyken left a husband and children to court Bertelmina under the name Pieter Verburgh, and they became betrothed and engaged in a sexual relationship, although Maeyken was not living as a man at the time. Maeyken then began wearing male clothing and using the name Abraham Joosten and the two were married, but Maeyken/Abraham was later tried for “sodomy” and exiled.
  • Bettina Brentano-von Arnim & Karoline von Günderode - 19th century German women who enjoyed a romantic friendship. Both women also have publications tagged separately.
  • Catherina Margaretha Linck & Catharina Margaretha Mühlhahn - 18th century German women who married while Linck was passing as a man, though she did not do so consistently.
  • Catherine Talbot and Elizabeth Carter - 18th century English passionate friends who wrote about trying to arrange to spend their lives together.
  • Cornielia Gerrits van Breugel & Elisabeth Boleyn - 18th century (?) Dutch couple. Cornelia and Elisabeth began a sexual relationship as women. Cornelia began living as a man in order for them to marry but then returned to living as a woman.
  • Edith Somerville - 19th century Irish novelist who had a literary and romantic partnership with her cousin Violet Martin, writing together as “Martin Ross”.
  • Eleanor Butler & Sarah Ponsonby (The Ladies of Llangollen) - 18th century Irish women who eloped together and set up house in Llangollen, Wales, where they became an iconic symbol of romantic friendship.
  • Francoise de l’Estage and Catherine de la Maniére - 16th century French women who were tried for [sexually] “corrupting each other.”
  • Gertrude Stein - 20th century American expatriot in Paris whose poetry often alludes to her romantic and sexual partnership with Alice B. Toklas.
  • Hannah Wright and Anne Gaskill - 18th century English women recorded as a couple in a marriage register.
  • Jehanne and Laurence - 15th century French women who engaged in an extended sexual relationship that ended in a case of assault.
  • John Ferren and Deborah Nolan - 18th century English married couple. After the marriage, John was discovered to be a woman.
  • John Mountford and Mary Cooper - 18th century English couple who were refused marriage because the  clergyman suspected “John” was a woman.
  • John Smith and Elizabeth Huthall - 18th century English couple who married despite the clergyman suspecting that “John” was a woman.
  • Madame de Murat & Madame de Nantiat - 17th century France. Extensive court documents describe the violent and jealous sexual relationship these women enjoyed.
  • Marie Corelli - 19th century English novelist who enjoyed a long-term romantic partnership with Bertha Vyver.
  • Mary Barber of Suffolk and Ann Chitting - 16th century(?) English women whose close relationship was commemorated by Barber’s son who buried Chitting alongside Barber, given equal place with her husband.
  • Mary East (Mr. How) - 18th century English woman who lived as a man for most of her life, married to a woman. As they testified that they drew lots for who would “be the man” this does not appear to be a transgender case.
  • Mary Woolley & Jeannette Marks - 19th century American couple who taught at Mt. Holyoke college and whose lives saw romantic friendship shift from praiseworthy to suspect.
  • Michael Field (Katherine Harris Bradley and Edith Cooper) - 19th century English couple who published together under the pen name Michael Field. Their relationship was considered equivalent to a marriage among their friends.
  • Rosa Bonheur - 19th century French artist who had a romantic partnership with Nathalie Micas.
  • Sara Norman & Mary Hammon - 17th century American women who were prosecuted for “lewd behavior each with other upon a bed.”
  • Sarah Ketson (John) and Ann Hutchinson - 18th century English women who unsuccessfully tried to marry, with Ketson passing as a man named John.
  • Sarah Orne Jewett & Annie Fields - 19th century American women who lived in a “Boston marriage”.
  • Trijntje Barents & Hendrickje Lamberts - 18th century (?) Dutch women. The two began a sexual relationship as women, then Hendrickje began living as a man to continue the relationship.

Reputed Lesbians (Click here for a sub-post with linked tags)

This grouping is defined, not necessarily by specific relationships, but by either the fact or rumor that a woman had sexual relationships with other women. There may be some edge cases where one specific relationship was noted in the historic record, but in general I've placed people in this group due to the specifically sexual nature of the evidence.

  • Anne Conway Damer - 18th century English woman who had passionate friendships/partnerships with women that were widely rumored to be sexual.
  • Bathal - 9th century courtesan and Arabic-language poet openly known to enjoy sex with women.
  • Benedetta Carlini - 17th century Italian woman who had sexual relations with a fellow nun in a complex context of religious mania.
  • Bertolina called Guercia - 13th century Italian woman tried (in absentia) for sexual relations with other women.
  • Cecilia Venetiana - 16th century Roman courtesan described by Firenzuola as loving women “lasciviously.”
  • Charlotte Charke - 18th century English actress who specilized in “breeches roles” and cross-dressed regularly in ordinary life as well. She had at least one long-term relationship with a woman that is strongly implied to be sexual. Charke occasionally lived as a man for limited periods, raising the possibility of a transgender identity.
  • Diaries (Anne Lister) - 19th century English woman whose coded diaries detail her romantic and sexual relations with women and a social circle in which covert lesbian relationships were frequent.
  • Elisabeth Wijngraaff - 18th (?) century Dutch woman who began a sexual relationship in prison with a fellow female priosoner and unsuccessfully claimed transgender identity in order to marry her.
  • Greta von Mösskirch - 16th century German woman who was investigated for loving women and pursuing them “as if she were a man.”
  • Isabella de Luna - A 17th century(?) Spanish courtesan in Rome, mentioned by Brantôme as maintaining a female mistress.
  • Julie d’Aubigny, Mademoiselle de Maupin - 18th century French opera singer and swordswoman who had multiple female lovers.
  • Katharina Güldin - 15th century German woman tried for having a sexual relationship with a woman.
  • la Maréchale - 18th century French woman accused or arranging for a woman to be released from prison in exchange for a sexual relationship.
  • Marie Antoinette - 18th century Queen of France who was rumored to engage in lesbian relationships among her court, though political animosity was a major aspect of the rumors.
  • Mary Frith aka Moll Cutpurse - 17th century English woman who openly wore male garments and was reputed to have both female and male lovers.
  • Memoirs of Europe (Delarivier Manley) - Fictionalized memoir (England, 1710) representing the lesbian amours of members of the authors circle.
  • Queen Christina of Sweden - 17th century Queen of Sweden who had a passionate friendship with one of her ladies in waiting, openly cross-dressed on occasion, and after her abdication was rumored in Paris to have lesbian relationships.
  • Sappho - 6th century BCE Greek poet whose work implies erotic relations with women and whose name and home island of Lesbos have become standard references to love between women.
  • Sarah Fielding - 18th century English woman who belonged to a circle of intellectual women suspected of lesbianism.
  • Satan’s Harvest Home - 18th century English polemic tract that includes descriptions of lesbian activity, both in England and in Turkish harems.
  • The True History and Adventures of Catharine Vizzani  / Breve storia della vita di Catterina Vizzani  (Giovanni Battista Bianchi) - 18th century Italian woman who passed as a man to enjoy romantic and sexual relations with women.
  • Wallada - 11th c Spanish-Arabic princess and poet who had female lovers as well as male.
  • Warda - Medieval Arabic poet (cited in a 13th century text) who praised love between women.
Major category: 
Saturday, December 31, 2016 - 13:59

The December episode of the Lesbian Historic Motif Podcast is available. This one explores the relationship between Renaissance poet and scholar Laudomia Forteguerri and Margaret, Duchess of Parma (among other titles), for whom Laudomia wrote a series of sonnets. I'm particularly fond of the two of them because they inspired me to write a short story exploring what their love story might have looked like: "Where My Heart Goes" in the anthology Through the Hourglass. (Alas, I do not recite any of Laudomia's poetry in Italian, but the podcast does include translations of two of the poems.)

The Lesbian Historic Motif Podcast is hosted by the magazine-format podcast The Lesbian Talk Show, which is available through Podbean, iTunes, and Stitcher. If you enjoy any of the podcasts hosted there, I strongly encourage you to subscribe through your favorite podcast service, and to rate and review the show so that others can find it more easily.

Major category: 
Guest Posts
Friday, December 30, 2016 - 12:00

I was dithering between a fairly cursory review and an in-depth analysis, but fortunately Emily Asher-Perrin at has covered almost everything I would have said in the latter. So I'll just mention a few things in addition. (Uh...go read Emily's review. Because otherwise this is going to sound really random.)

The biggest impediment to me enjoying Rogue One was that it slipped across the line from "lots of video-game style violence and visual bombardment, but there's enough character and story there that I'm willing to put up with it" to "ugh, if I'd wanted to play a shoot-em-up video game, that's what I'd have paid my money for." It isn't that I didn't like the bits of story and character it contained--I definitely did. But it slipped over the line into predominantly being a genre that I'm supremely indifferent to.

It feels much the same way as when the Marvel comic book movies eventually moved past the thrill of seeing my childhood superheroes on the big screen and into the territory of being bored by the endless pointless fight sequences and the extremely problematic gender issues. And I stopped bothering to go see them. I still have fond memories of the sheer goofball fun of the first set of Star Wars movies. And I rather hoped that--based on The Force Awakens--we were going to get to recapture that with a bit more diversity of cast.

So let's talk about diversity of cast in Rogue One. It is absolutely delightful to see all the central non-default-white characters. I mean that sincerely. And I love that the on-screen story encourages a reading that two of the guys are more than Just Good Friends. And I love that once again we have a female protagonist. These are all good things. But they should be baseline, not a special treat. (Cue Hamilton song cue: I will never be satisfied.) And the diversity is still doled out in teaspoons. Jyn is the lead, but in an ensemble buddy-flick, having the single female team member be classically beautiful, young, and white suggests that we're still dealing with the notion that she fulfills the role of The Girl, that The Girl is the extent of her function in the script, and that there is only room for one The Girl. While we're talking about gender and race in the same breath (well, ok, while I am)...

It is quite reasonable to postulate that long, long ago in a galaxy far, far away we are not dealing with the same racially-charged political dynamics as the present day. But I found it emotionally jarring to see the sole (named) black woman in the cast--Senator Pamlo--being assigned the role of arguing for appeasement and inaction against the Empire when, in our own socio-political context, black women are so often at the forefront of challenging evil empires. I can only barely imagine what it would feel like to be a black woman watching that movie and thinking, "This? This is the reflection that's being offered me? Fuck this."

I am, of course, slipping into the usual failure mode of the progressive consumer: when offered crumbs, I'm furious at not getting regular full meals, risking the possibility that The Powers That Be will decide there's no percentage in offering even a higher grade of crumbs. And we can circle back to the problem that I'm really not the target audience for a violent action movie. But there are people who are who deserve a higher grade of crumbs.

Major category: 
Thursday, December 29, 2016 - 19:09

To date, in 2016 I have posted 333 separate blog entries (in the early part of the year on Live Journal, and then both on and LJ). My goal was to blog every weekday, and while I missed some calendar days, I clearly over-shot that target in terms of total posts. As I've mentioned in a couple of recent round-up posts, I've been pondering exactly why I've pursued such a rigorous schedule and what I'm getting out of it.

Let me be bluntly honest: I took on such an ambitious schedule in the hopes of building a larger "presence" online. I've been trying to establish my blog (in whichever of its incarntions) as a "happening place" that provided useful information, interesting discussions, and entertaining ideas. It seemed worth a shot, given that I enjoy writing and never seem to run out of ideas. But it's still been a fairly grueling standard to maintain. And I don't think that what I was trying to achieve is actually achievable anymore in today's cyberspace. People don't go to blogs for community or interaction any more. I'll get a bunch of traffic for specific items, but it's tourist traffic.

I don't typically make serious New Year's Resolutions, but I'll make an exception. In 2017, I'm going to stop doing things just to try to impress people who don’t actually care. And one of those things is blogging five days a week.

So what do I plan to do with this blog? The projects that I'm doing for myself. Obviously I'm going to keep working on the Lesbian Historic Motif Project. Because even though other people don't care about the Project, it underpins most of my fiction. And I'm going to keep processing Abiel LaForge's diaries, because it's a family heritage thing. And I'll keep posting the occasional review, though I give myself permission not to review everything. And when I have something new and different to say about my fiction projects, I'll post about that too. But not every week.

In fact, I'm planning to set up something different for news and announcements about the fiction. I've been looking into doing an email newsletter, so if you find that interesting, keep your eyes peeled for further information.

I know this post sounds like a bit of a downer, but it's really just a reassessment. What I was doing wasn't getting the return on investment that I needed to make it worth while to continue at that pace. And that investment was taking time and energy away from things that might produce a better return. Like writing stories.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016 - 06:45

The eternal complaint of the regular correspondent whose letters are not answered is sharpened a bit in Abiel's note to his sister, "If I do not get an answer to this I will send another if I live to the end of the week." He may intend it partly as teasing, but the casualties that get mentioned in his diary entries suggest a certain seriousness.

We are finally informed of the name of Abiel's servant--Mr. Griffis (Griffiths?)--and I'm trying to work out what further information this reference might provide. I'm hesitant here to jump to conclusions about how Abiel would or would not refer to people. I had previously guessed--based on the implication that the man wsa a civilian--that he might be black. But I don't know enough about standard social practices to know whether Abiel referring to him as "Mr." is meaningful evidence on this point.

In a "Doh!" moment, it finally hit me that the "?"s appearing in places where one might expect numbers are not an indication that my mother couldn't interpret the number, but represent the failure of fraction symbols to survive file format changes. So at some point I need to go back through all the material, searching on question marks, and cross-check against the printed version.

There defintely are more readability problems starting to occur, no doubt in part to the harsh conditions that the loose papers were carried in before being mailed (as opposed to the bound book of the previous diary entries).

I have given myself permission to break the months up into multiple entries, depending on my available time to work on the material. So this post only covers the first third of the month.

The Diary and Letters of Abiel Teple LaForge 1842-1878

Transcribed, edited, and annotated by Phyllis G. Jones (his great-granddaughter)

Copyright © 1993, Phyllis G. Jones, All rights reserved

July 1864


  • Diary: July 1, 1864 - The bi-monthly muster roll
  • Diary: July 2, 1864 - He loses and finds his gold pen
  • Letter: July 3, 1864 - He complains of no letters, dreams of being home
  • Diary: July 4, 1864 - A letter from home, celebrating the Fourth with a couple of shots
  • Diary: July 5, 1864
  • Diary: July 6, 1864 - Ordered to W. Va to cover Hunter's retreat
  • Diary: July 8, 1864 - By boat, train, and foot to South Mountain
  • Diary: July 9, 1864 - Around the Monocacy Bridge

DIARY Friday July 1st

In such fearfully hot and dry times a rain becomes an item of the utmost importance, so I will mention the fact that we had a slight shower last Sunday P.M. Several times since, we have been threatened with a repetition of the pleasant phenomenon, but each time have been disappointed.

Continued behind our works quite inactive until Wednesday 29th when we were removed by General G. A. Wright and in the P.M. received orders for the route. Three hours before sundown we moved out of the works. Our destination was Reams Station on the Weldon railroad to make a demonstration in favor of Wilsons Cavalry, which had been on a raid and was being hard pressed by the Rebs. And also we were to make a more thorough destruction of the railroad so that, with the damage which Wilson had done, the communications between Richmond and the South would be pretty well demolished.

Did not get to Reams until 11 P.M., although it was not a long march. The utmost circumspection had to be observed in making our advance, for an encounter with the enemy might be expected at any moment. As soon as we got into position at Reams, a strong picket was thrown out, the rest of the night [was spent] making coffee and sleeping on their arms. Early yesterday morning (June 30), two of our Divisions formed a line across and at right angles with the railroad and threw up strong breastworks. The remaining division fell to work tearing up [the rails and?] the railroad ties, burning the latter and heating and bending the former etc., making utter destruction as far as possible for some miles.

After dinner, my servant Mr. Griffis my servant [note: transcription repetition?] put up my tent and made me a table upon which I at once placed my Company Pay Rolls and fell to work finishing them, which I had nearly accomplished when Major Day, our Mustering officer, came arround and mustered the company for pay on the partial rolls. Every military organization has to be "Mustered for pay" on the first day of every alternate month. That is, they are formed in line and all men whose names are on the rolls have to be accounted for. That is, whether they are present or absent, if absent how, and where all who have died since last muster must be named etc. Payments are not received as soon as the mustering is over. The rolls are sent to Washington and given to the Paymaster of the respective Brigades, who are not ordered to pay the army sometimes for four months.

Directly after being mustered, orders came to "pack up" and "fall in" and the corps was marched out of the works, which had been erected, and started back towards its position of yestermorn. Start made about 5 P.M. We have only come about four miles on the back track and yet it has taken us all of five hours to march that distance. The delay was caused by the wagon train. Had one or two bad mud holes to go through, which is always a matter of no little time. Camped on the side of a bare sunny hill, made coffee, and threw ourselves on the ground. Went to sleep and did not stir until late this morning.

Today has been an extremely hot one, the bright sand on which the Brigade is camped threw the suns rays back into our in a dreadfully painful manner. And to add to the rest of the suffering, very little water could be obtained. I went to a well which had been dipped nearly dry, and as often as a bucketful of water could be obtained I would beg a swallow, so after a while I succeeded in obtaining enough to slake my thirst.

I could not finish my rolls in the hot sand, so I took them and climb[ed] into an old house which was occupied by a lot of broken furniture and a brood of very young chickens. They were motherless, and without a doubt it was owing to the fact that their ma was at that moment being digested [by] the strong stomach of some soldier. The extreme youth of the chickens was all that saved them from the same fate. I spread my rolls on a box and, seating myself on another, soon finished them (not the boxes, but the rolls), finding only one mistake, which was the adjutant's and not mine. That job done, I proceeded to pull off my garments and examine them for certain little animals which I found had begun to make their unwelcome appearance, and although they were very common in the army--not a man probably being without them--still I treated them. Crushed heads as fast as I found them.

This evening looks like rain again. Hope it will.

DIARY Saturday 2nd

Back in our old works of the 18th alt. again. Last night after dark, the corps was formed in line. The 3 Divs advanced [?] a mile, then stacked arms and, rolling themselves (those that had them) in their blankets, went to sleep. At 5 A.M. today, fell in line again and marched to our present position [note: I'm tempted to preserve Abiel's "posish" here, but I'm going for readability and the original is preserved in the unedited text.] where we are rigging ourselves up in good style.

I discoverd a curiosity on our return in the shape of an apple orchard in the midst of a pine forest. The apple trees looked very sickly and as if they would soon succumb to their more thrifty neighbors, which were already far over-topping them and depriving them of all "their sun". I also saw some noble oaks, the branches of a single tree covering a space of over 100 feet in diameter, If I had a home up North, how I should like to have a few of those noble trees in my lawn, under which I and my family might enjoy the beautiful sunsets.

I was down to the swamp to wash and, on the way, lost my gold pen & case. As hundreds of soldiers were continually passing over the same path, I expected I should never see it again. I took a bath after which I wet my shirt thoroughly and put it on. This I consider a grand idea [in] this hot weather, as one feels much cooler. The thermometer is 110˚ in the shade. On my way back, I found my pen where it had been stepped over by hundreds of men since I droped it. "Better be born lucky than rich." I shall have to postpone my letter to sister tonight as it is too dark to write, and candles are luxuries which we do not at present possess, and could not use them in the wind which now sucks through our tent anyway.

LETTER (very faded and difficult to decipher)

........ of the 106 N.Y. Vols july 3rd 1864

Dear Sister,

For a wonder in campaign life, I write this letter in nearly the same place I did the one a week ago to you. Not that we have not moved in the mean time, for we have, as you will see by my memorandum if you can read it. But the ....e of being at the end of the week near where you were at the beginning is accepted as a wonder by Grant's soldiers. I have not heard from you yet, and it seems so strange. You are usually prompt to answer, and yet to none of the three letters I have sent you from here have I received an answer.

..he .... if I do not get an answer to this I will send another if I live to the end of the week. I hope that one of ..... [note: presumably part of the missing text is a suggestion that Susan is too busy with the new baby.] so that you cannot write. If he is such a fine fellow, I should think you would want to write and tell me all about him, so that I could join my joy to yours. ......................... for a wonder I dreamed of you last night ........ I found you away from home somewhere and that I had an opportunity to speak to you. I saw the baby, but forget how he looked. You motioned for me to come and ......... where you were and appeared to have something to tell me, and for some reason I could not come. Shortly afterwards, I was sent for .................... and I woke up. A heavy cannonade was going on ................ the noise of which probably was my recall to the ...y. Did you get the letter in which I requested you to send me a bowl(?) by ...... send a light one, do it up just as you would a ....... and it will come through in ....... all right.

.................. in the paper how hot it is. But no one ....

............ the heat is 110 ................. still we are a jolly set and all are wishing for rain and making the best of life as it is. If you have any news from father, write it, for I have not heard from him since the middle of May. [several lines indecipherable] blackberries are getting ripe ......... we shall soon luxurate I suppose. I will close by sending love to all. I dare not be particular as to .......................... you will get the letter.

Your loving brother,

Mrs. Joseph Potter A. T. La Forge Andover Address - 1st Lieut. "I" Co. 106th N.Y. Vols. Allegany Co. 1st Brig. 3rd Div. ?" ? C. N.Y.  

You need not put the Washington on for they may stop there.

DIARY Monday 4th

This has been the most quiet and orderly national birthday I ever spent. There has been no cannonading along the lines in hearing of this place. The only difference from the ordinary routine was the playing of all the bands at sunrise. Indeed I quite lost sight of the fact that it was the Fourth until I heard someone about sundown remark "what a quiet Fourth". I at once determined on a celebreation, so took my revolver and went outside the works and fired two shots then came back feeling fully satisfied that I had did my duty.

I feel in excellent spirits, for last night I received a letter from my sister--the first in more than a "good while." Our people are in pretty good health, Joseph being better than when she last wrote me. I was amused at her question asking if my pay was any higher than when I was a private. She also wants to know how it is that I am in command of a company. Is there no Captains etc., all of which I must answer in my next. Both yesterday & today have been comfortably cool, a slight sprinkle of rain. I got my Co[mpany] Descriptive Book today and have been busy making up accounts, sending descriptive Lists to my men who are absent, sick, and wounded and, in fact, discharging the duties of which I feel so proud.

DIARY Tuesday 5th

Cool & pleasant. My occupation [the] same as yesterday. I was detailed this evening to go on duty tomorrow as officer of the pickets. At five A.M. that will be my first duty of the kind, as an officer.

DIARY Wednesday 6th

Orders sent around at four A.M. to "pack up and be ready to move at a moments notice." Our (3rd Division) part of the 6th Corps is to be sent to Western Virginia to meet the rebs who are advancing in a strong column down the Shenendoah Vally under General Enell [according to Bruce Catton's book "The Civil War" page 534 the southern general was Jubal Early], who threatens to cut off the retreat of General Hunter. The latter General was defeated in front of Lynchburgh and is now retreating down the Kanewa [Kanawha] Valley before a victorious foe.

The day has been very sultry and the march to City Point a very trying one, but the men feel so rejoiced that they are going to exchange the arid sands and pine forrests of Lower Virginia for the mountain breezes and fertile fields of the Blue Ridge & Shenendoah Valley, that the swealtering heat and suffocating dust are endured without a murmer. During our march today, at times the dust flew so thick that for 10 & 15 minutes at a time we could not see 20 feet from our selves. This, added to the heat was dreadful. However we are now on transports, steaming down the James River and feeling almost as good as though on our way home. Most of this Division for months did duty in West Virginia, and the place was found so agreeable that they are rejoiced at their return to it.

DIARY Friday 8th

Reached Baltimore at 5 P.M. yesterday. Not allowed to land, but had to wait for General Rickets, who was on a slower boat. Waited until midnight, when we were ordered ashore by General. Lew[is] Wallace who commands this Department. Cars were ready upon which we at once embarked for Frederick City Maryland, which we reached at 10 A.M. today. Leaving the cars, we marched through the town to the South Mountain (west) side. The people received us with joy, giving water and provisions freely. Bivouacked in the fields, took dinner mostly on soft bread, the first in a long time.

About 2 o'clock we learned that a column of the enemy were threatening Monocacy Bridge, an Iron structure of great value about three miles east of the town. Back through the town we went and closed in mass on a hill where we could overlook the city and plain. About 4 o'clock a cloud of dust on the side of South Mountain indicated the approach of the enemy on the Sheapardstown road. When the cloud of dust (for we could see no enemy) got within 1[?] mile of the city, the cannon on that side opened with shell, apparently with good effect for we could see them burst just over the road. We soon fell in and marched to that side of town again. Before we got there, the rebs concluded to retire up the mountain again, so we were not needed.

I therefore take advantage of our idleness to write up my memorandum. The citizens seem to vie with each other as to who shall show us the most kindness, a very strong contrast between them and the people of Eastern Virginia.

DIARY Saturday 9th

After dark last night, we again marched through the town to the East but did not stop, for a column of the enemy were already between us and the Monocacy railroad bridge. The direct march to the bridge would have been but 3 miles, but owing to the presence of the enemy we were unable to choose our road, so we had to cross the river away above here and follow down the east bank to this place. There was no road intended for wagons, so our progress [was] over the steep hills and through the woods and fields making our progress necessarily slow. In fact, the way was bad enough to be a disgrace to Allegany County. The route we came was fully eight miles and over such places. We got into posish [i.e., position] on the bank of the Monocacy at midnight.

I threw my self on the ground so completely tired out that I slept without covering through a hard rain. Woke up completely soaked. Wonder that no bad effect should come of it. I went to a brook near camp and took a good bath, the first in a long time, then had breakfast. We learn that a small party of Rebs marched into Frederick last night meeting no resistance. If I was in the habit of swearing I should call that a ____ disgrace. [Note: I don't know whether this was Abiel self-censoring in his original record or whether he blotted it out later (which happened to some much later entries). I strongly doubt the emendation was done in my mother's transcription process.]

I can hear firing in the direction of Frederick now. Probably they are engaging our outposts. An aid just rode up and ordered a picket of one hundred & fifty men from the 106th. I am to go on as officer of the picket. The order is countermanded; I am not to go.

The country through here is splended, in fact far the finest farming country I have seen since our passage through Pennsylvania on my last trip to the North. The wheat crop which has been just gathered seems to be a good one. (The firing on the Line has just ceased.) How strange it seemed yesterday to see our soldiers in Line of battle and our batteries engaged, while arround us in every direction farmers and farm maids were peacefully although rather hurriedly gathering their crops and performing other rural duties. The rain of last night was much needed.

Some refugee negros are going by, also several loyal families--many of the ladies well dressed--are seeking protection behind us, as they dare not stay in their homes so long as the Rebs have possission. [Note: unclear whether Abiel meant "position" or "possession" so I have left it.] They account for their good clothes by saying that so long as they had to leave some to fall into the hands of the enemy, they might as well be the poorest. So they carry their best on their backs and that is probably all the worldly goods that this day's work will leave them.


Major category: 
LaForge Civil War Diaries
Tuesday, December 27, 2016 - 13:52

I posted this in LiveJournal back on April 21, 2016. Yeah, these are the thoughts I was already having 8 months ago. I think it needs reposting. Everyone has their own completely valid reaction to celebrity deaths. This is mine.

There is nothing special
About this year, these deaths.
Time passes; lives end.
I was five when Kennedy was shot.
My mother sent me to school saying,
"This is why the teachers may cry."
Years later she told me that I replied,
"Why is this death worse than every other death?"
Time passes; lives end.
Some in peace, some in violence,
Some in relief, some in triumph.
There is nothing special
About this year, these deaths.
When I was five, those who died
Were my parents' heroes,
My grandparents' companions.
They were old.
Old people die.
But for the lucky,
We live to see the day
When those who die are our heroes
Our companions.
It isn't right that they die,
Because old people die,
And we aren't old.
We can't be old.
Ask a five year old, "Who died today?"
Who died last month,
Who all the deaths were in this year of years.
A five year old will say,
"Why is this death worse than any other death?"
These aren't their heroes, their companions.
The lens moves on across the years and magnifies.
There is nothing special
About this year, these deaths.
Time passes; lives end.
Some too early; some too late.
Magnified by our attention.
We are lucky, who live to see our heroes die.
We live.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016 - 07:00

I ran across a lovely comment about Mother of Souls on Twitter: "[HRJ] continues to set the gold standard for her subgenre." (Of course, now I'm idly speculating on which of the several possible subgenres could be meant.) Rest assured that I will continue to try to be a gold standard for whaterver I'm writing. Oh, but of course today's blog title refers to the artist in the excerpt below!

It keeps getting harder and harder to select teasers that don't give away key plot points. I think this one will do. Princess Anna has been commissioning portraits of selected members of her court, including some monumental works that show off what she considers some of her key assets. One of those key assets is her Royal Thaumaturgist, Margerit Sovitre, but another is her alchemist, Antuniet Chazillen. The princess has hired a peculiarly talented painter, Olimpia Hankez to depict the creation of the mystic gemstones that sealed Antuniet's appointment, and that calls for a reunion of the haphazard team that helped to create them. Jeanne is amused to recreate her role as laboratory assistant.

Chapter 25 - Jeanne

While Antuniet and the apprentices attempted to carry on their work, Jeanne took her turn posing. She was to stand before the furnace holding out her hands as if carrying a sealed crucible to be placed in the blaze. At first she’d been afraid she’d be asked to hold one of the heavy vessels while Hankez sketched and frowned and scribbled color studies in pastel. But before her arms even had time to become tired, she was told, “Enough. I have the hands. And you may sit now for the head study.”

It was hard not to smile at the peremptory commands. It wasn’t simply that Olimpia Hankez was famed enough that people put up with it. It was that you understood you were in the presence of a master who wouldn’t waste your time and expected you not to waste hers.

Jeanne passed the time by trying to recapture her thoughts and feelings from the days the painting was meant to portray. Scarcely two years past and it seemed like another age entirely, one when she and Antuniet were still fumbling their way toward a place where both their hearts could live. Their hearts…her eyes went, as always, to the irregular crimson stone that lay on Antuniet’s breast. I don’t know if it will come through the fire, but it’s yours, if you will have it. She had been speaking of the stone and her heart both. She watched Antuniet straighten momentarily and stretch to ease her back. They were still going through fires, but now they entered them together.

“Perfect.” Maisetra Hankez set down her tools and signaled an end to the sitting. “You captured the spirit of transformation I was looking for.”

Jeanne stood and stretched in echo of Antuniet’s gesture. “May I see?”

The painter examined her critically. “If you wish. Not everyone cares to.”

What sort of warning was that? Jeanne waited until Maisetra Hankez had cleared her things away then stood before the easel where several sheets of paper were clipped with sketches in various levels of detail. The last one, still commanding the center of the space, was in many ways the simplest. Only a few spare lines in pencil, without any of the color that was roughed in on the more complete ones. But Jeanne could see what Hankez had meant. The expression that had been captured showed none of her private thoughts, but said plainly, we will come through the fire and we will be transformed.

Jeanne let out an admiring sigh. It would be almost insulting to praise Maisetra Hankez’s skill. This went beyond mere talent. She peered more closely at some of the other drawings. It was like a child’s puzzle blocks with little bits of a larger picture scattered here and there. An alembic, a mortar, a pair of hands grinding, the play of light from the furnace on a faceless figure who was working the gears for the alignment.

There were a few head studies as well, but not ones intended for the larger arrangement. These seemed to be quick sketches, snatched at a moment’s whim when the subject was unaware. There was one of Antuniet frowning over some problem. Another capturing a rare expression of tenderness that made you wonder what she’d been gazing at in that moment. There were several of Anna: laughing, studious, biting her lip over some perplexity, and one simply staring thoughtfully into space. The last was finished almost to the point of being a portrait, perhaps from the length of time available, though it was barely larger than thumb-sized. It had that captivating quality of Hankez’s best work.

Major category: 
Mother of Souls
Monday, December 26, 2016 - 08:00

This set of tags finished up the Historic Cross-dressing group. The permanent tag-essay page can be found here. These individuals sit at the intersection of both gender and sexuality transgression. A woman (or someone that society assigns as female) might choose to pass as male temporarily or live as a man long-term for a variety of reasons. Safety was one obvious motivation, but economic advantage was a far more common one. Pre-modern society didn't even pretend to the concept of equal pay for equal work. The same work would be compensated much higher if performed by a man, and that's before considering entire professions restricted to men. There are extensive records of women passing as men to enter the military, including many who were only discoverd after death. The individuals listed here only scratch the surface.  In some cases, the cross-dressing was done openly to invoke male military authority (as for Jeanne d'Arc) rather than as a disguise.

Historic Cross-Dressing: Military

  • Angélique Marie Josèphe Brulon - 18th century French woman who cross-dressed to serve in the army.
  • Anna Lühring - 18th century German woman who cross-dressed to serve in the military.
  • Anne Jane Thornton - 19th century Irish woman who cross-dressed to serve in ihe military.
  • Antoinette Berg - 18th century German woman who cross-dressed to join an English regiment in the Netherlands against France.
  • Catharin Rosenbrock of Hamburg - 18th century German woman who cross-dressed to serve in the military.
  • Catherine Louise Vignot - 18th century French woman who cross-dressed to serve in the military.
  • Christian Davies - 18th century English woman who cross-dressed to enlist in search of her husband.
  • De Bredashe Heldinne - Fictionalized biography of 18th century Dutch woman Maria van Antwerpen (q.v.).
  • Deborah Sampson (Robert Shurtleff) - 18th century American woman who cross-dressed to serve in the army.
  • Duchess of Chevreuse - 17th century French woman who cross-dressed to take a military role.
  • Duchess of Longueville - 17th century French woman who cross-dressed to escape prison in the context of military service.
  • Eleonore Prochaska - 18th century German woman who cross-dressed to serve in the military.
  • Félicité and Théophile Fernigh - 18th century French women who openly cross-dressed to serve in the French National Guard.
  • Francoise Després - 18th century French woman who cross-dressed to serve in the military.
  • Hannah Snell - 18th century English woman who cross-dressed to serve in the army. After discovery she became something of a celebrity icon.
  • Hendrik van de Berg - Woman in 1660s Netherlands who joined the army in male disguise at the urging of another woman who did so.
  • Isabella Geelvinck - 17th century German woman who worked cross-dressed as a military cook.
  • Jeanne d’Arc - 15th century French woman who cross-dressed openly for the purpose of taking a military leadership role. Her trial testimony indicates she may have had a non-binary identity.
  • Madame Montpensier - 17th century French woman who cross-dressed to take a military role.
  • Madame Poncet - 18th century French woman who cross-dressed to serve in the army.
  • Maria van Antwerpen/Jan van Ant - 18th century German woman who cross-dressed to serve in the military in the Netherlands.
  • Mary Anne Talbot - 18th century English woman, forced to accompany her husband in the military in disguise as a man.
  • Phoebe Hessel - 18th century English woman who initially cross-dressed to accompany her father in the army, then entered a combat role.
  • Princess of Condé - 17th century French woman who openly cross-dressed to take a military leadership role.
  • Renée Bordereau - 18th century French woman who cross-dressed to serve in the military.
  • Rosalie von Bonin - 18th century German woman who cross-dressed to serve in the military.
  • Sarah Emma Edmonds - 19th century American woman who cross-dressed for military service.
  • Thérèse Figueur - 18th century French woman who cross-dressed to serve in the army.
  • Trijntje Simons/Simon Poort - Woman who cross-dressed to join the military (18th c?, Netherlands) and received full military honors at death.
  • Vicomtesse Turpin de Crissé - 18th century French woman who cross-dressed to serve in the military.

Historic Cross-Dressing: Female Husband

Living as a man (in whatever profession) created the potential for romantic or erotic encounters with women, and this naturally led to marriage in many cases. It is not knowable (and perhaps not always meaningful) whether they would identify today as transgender, or whether passing as a man was a deliberate strategem to enjoy a same-sex relationship, or whether marriage was simply seen as a part of the "disguise". The cases where we know details of the motivations cover a broad territory.

  • Barbara Hill (John Brown) - 18th century English person born Barbara Hill and living as a man (John Brown) recorded as having married a woman who continued the relationship after the matter became public.
  • Henri Estienne - 16th century French writer who recorded the trial an execution of an (unnamed) assigned-female person who was discovered living as a man, married to a woman.
  • Ilsabe Bunkens - 17th century German woman who passed as a man and twice married a woman.
  • Jeanne Bonnet - 19th century American woman who cross-dressed (possibly overtly?) and living in a committed relationshp with a woman whom she’d persuaded to leave prostitution.
  • John Chivy - 18th century English person living as a man, discovered after death to have female anatomy. John was married to a woman for 20 years.
  • Journal of Montaigne’s Travels in Italy by Way of Switzerland and Germany (Michel de Montaigne) - Travel journal describing a 16th century incident in Switzerland where a group of women together started living as men. One married a woman.
  • Katherina Hetzeldorfer - German 15th century person assigned-female who lived as a man, including traveling with a women identified as wife. Trial records for various gender-transgression and sexual assault issues include details of sexual activity.
  • Milton Matson - 19th c American, assigned-female, arrested for passing as a man and being betrothed to a woman with an implied sexual relatoinship.
  • Sarah Paul (Samuel Bundy) - 18th century English woman who passed as a man for economic reasons and married a woman who was aware of the disguise and who, after some legal quarrels, chose to continue living with her after public discovery.
  • The Female Husband (Henry Fielding) - 18th century fictionalized biography of the real-life Mary Hamilton. In the fiction, Hamilton was seduced by a woman but after being abandoned by her, began living as a man and had several sexual relationships with women, including marriage in some cases.

Historic Cross-Dressing: Passing/Transgender

This group collects non-military cases where marriage was not a defining aspect of the individual's story (although some of them did marry women), and where there are significant transgender aspects to the person's story.

  • Anne Grandjean - An 18th century French woman who, when she confessed to a priest that she was in love with a woman, was told that it meant she must actually be a man. Anne lived as a man for a while and married a woman, but later the authorities changed their mind about her.
  • Catalina de Erauso - A 17th century Basque person, assigned female, who fled a convent and lived as a man, including spending time in the military in the New World. Late in life, Catalina was given Papal permission to continue living as a man.
  • Chevalière d'Eon - A 17th century French person who lived variously as a man and as a woman at different times. D’Eon was, by some, believed to be properly assigned as female, and so returning to “proper gender” after passing as a man. Post-mortem examination revealed d’Eon to be physiologically male.
  • Des Hermaphrodits (Jacques Duval) - A French (1612) medical treatise that discusses cases on the lesbian/transgender intersection.
  • Elena/Eleno de Céspedes - 16th century Spanish person, assigned female, who began living as a man at ca. 18 years of age and at one point received a court ruling of male status, allowing Eleno to marry a woman. This was later reversed with ensuing complications.
  • Ellen Tremayne/Edward De Lacy Evans - 19th century Irish immigrant to Australia, assigned female, who lived as a man in Australia, including marrying three women.
  • Henrikje Verschuur - 18th century Dutch woman, impatient with female social roles who cross-dresses, enlists in the army, and enjoys sexual relations with various women who are aware of the disguise.
  • James Miranda Barry - 19th century Irish person, assigned female, (Margaret Ann Bulkley) who lived as a man to study medicine and continued as such until death.
  • Medicinal Dictionary (Robert James) - 18th century medical text that discusses cases of women living as men or having sexual relations with women.

Historic Cross-Dressing: “Transvestite Saints”

The biographies of the "transvestite saints" of the early Christian era were almost certainly highly fictionalized, although they accurately depicted some of the struggles around gender in the early church. More interesting are the medieval women whose lives echo those earlier fictions. I've grouped them together because of this thematic similarity  even though the early legends more properly belong in the "literary" category.

  • Agnes of Monçada - 15th century Spanish(?) woman who cross-dressed as a man to life as a holy hermit. Her story is similar to the semi-fictional biographies of “transvestite saints” from the early Christian era.
  • Angela of Bohemia - 12th century sister of King Ottokar I of Bohemia who fled an unwanted marriage in male disguise and became a nun. Her story is similar to some semi-fictional saints lives from the early Christian era.
  • Christina of Markyate - 12th century English woman who cross-dressed to flee an unwanted marriage and became a nun. Her story is similar to some semi-fictional saints biographies of the early Christian era.
  • Juana de la Cruz - 15th century Spanish woman who cross-dressed to flee an unwanted marriage and became a nun. Her story is similar to some semi-fictional saints biographies of the early Christian era.
  • Pope Joan - Legend of a 9th century woman who cross-dressed to take up a (male) religious profession and eventually became pope but was discovered when she gave birth. The legend has some similarities to the “transvestite saint” genre.
  • Saint Anastasia - 5th century Byzantine/Egyptian saint said to have cross-dressed to join her husband in a monastery.
  • Saint Athanasia of Antiochia - 9th century Syrian saint who cross-dressed to live as a holy hermit.
  • Saint Eugenia - 3rd century Roman saint said to have cross-dressed to become a monk and later abbot. Her disguise was uncovered when a woman accused Eugenia of fathering her child.
  • Saint Euphrosyne - 5th century Egyptian saint who cross-dressed to enter a monastic life under the name Smaragdus.
  • Saint Hildegund von Schönau - 12th century German woman. As a child, she was dressed as a boy for safety when accompanying her father on pilgrimage and later retained the disguise to become a monk. Her story parallels those of the more fictional “transvestite saints” of the early Christian era.
  • Saint Margaretha - Mentioned as a cross-dressing saint, but I haven’t found further details. This is not the most famous Saint Margaret (of Antioch). Possibly the same as Saint Pelagius.
  • Saint Marina - Egyptian saint (no date give, almost certainly entirely fictional) who was raised as a boy in order to accompany her father when he entered a monastery. She became a monk in turn. When accused of fathering a woman’s child, she left the monastery to help raise the child.
  • Saint Pelagius - 4/5th century Egyptian saint (probably apocryphal). Her story begins as Margaret, a courtesan who, after she converted and was renamed Pelagia, cross-dressed under the name Pelagius to become an ascetic monk.
  • Saint Thecla - Roman woman converted by Saint Paul to whom he gave the authority to preach after she baptizes herself and puts on male clothing.
  • Saint Theodora - 4/5th century Egyptian legend of a woman who (among other adventures) cross-dressed to enter a monastery and was exiled when accused of fathering a child, whom she then raised. (There is also a legend of a 4th century Egyptian Saint Theodora who briefly exchanged clothes with a man to escape prostitution. These may be versions of the same legend.)

(I've skipped the place-holder tag lists this time because I'm publishing the permanent page simultaneously.)

Major category: 
Friday, December 23, 2016 - 10:00

Given that this book won pretty much every SFF award available in the year it came out, it may seem odd that I'm only getting around to reviewing it now, but perhaps that helps me stand back from the buzz. For the possibly two people among my readers not familiar with the series, Ancillary Justice is the first in a three-part space opera revolving around the social and political consequences of multi-bodied consciousness, including the use of "ancillaries" -- persons who have their original consciousness/personality over-written in order to become interchangeable biological cogs in the larger machinery of the Radch empire. Breq, the viewpoint character, is the only surviving ancillary of the troop ship Justice of Toren and is on a mission directly related to that state that gives every evidence of being a pointless suicide mission. Isn't that how all good space opera begins?

The writing style hit my preferences solidly on target. The worldbuilding is laid out implicitly and released in casual observations and perceptions, allowing/requiring the reader to build an understanding of the setting and its consequences as the story progresses. The non-linear narrative intertwines well with the shifting nature of who and what Breq is in relation to the world. As Breq struggles with what words to use to describe her nature, her perceptions, and her relationships, we come to understand what lies behind those struggles and how they set up the conflict in the book.

At the time of the book's release, there was a great to-do over the presentation of Radch culture as not making distinctions of gender in language or social interaction, and the author's choice to use female pronouns to represent this in the narrative. As a linguist, I confess I found that set-up neither revolutionary nor problematic. Plenty of more familiar languages don't make distinctions of gender in pronouns, although such a grammatical system doesn't preclude a sexist society, it should be noted. And given that Ancillary Justice was written in English, the author necessarily had to make some sort of choice in representing this feature. Any choice would have had significant consequences for how the reader perceives and interprets the characters and story, based on implicit defaults. Given this, the choice of using female English pronouns is far more disruptive to reader expectations than any other choice (as well as being rather refreshing to this female reader).

But a far more radical aspect of the protagonist's voice is how issues of selfhood, personhood, and individuality are handled, as well as the potential for a multi-bodied personality to become divided against itself, which lies at the heart of the plot. If is far more interesting to untangle what it means when Breg refers to some segment of herself as I, we, or she, than the more simple question of whether she'd going to guess wrong in identifying another character as she or he.

In my interpretation of the story's premise, one of the deepest flaws of the Radch use of ancillaries as disposible, interchangeable tools (and it is a flaw essential to the story) is that selfhod and personality are emergent properties of the wetware: you can overlay an existing body with programming, but the nature of biological processes will immediately start modifying that programming with the experience, perceptions, and interactions that the body undergoes. The "ship personality" may be treated as an AI, but in order to perform its functions, it will necessarily acquire "humanity". We see people's prejudices and assumptions about the nature of ships and ancillaries to be challenged and deconstructed, and it is that chaotic, perhaps irrational, and individual humanity on which the outcome hinges.

Space opera, in itself, isn't one of my favorite genres, but when the action hinges around strongly-detailed and interesting characters, as in this book, it's a setting that allows for exploration of some fascinating concepts. I was immersed and carried along in the story...I can't say "effortlessly" because part of the charm is that the book requires you to do a fair amount of imaginative work, but let's say "with great investment in the characters and their fates." The other two books in the series are in the "to read" folder on my iPad and I expect they will continue in the "most likely to read soon" category.

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