Skip to content Skip to navigation

Gender-Queer Historic Motif Project: 81b Krimmer 2004 - In the Company of Men: Cross-Dressed Women Around 1800 (Ch 2)

Full citation: 

Krimmer, Elisabeth. 2004. In the Company of Men: Cross-Dressed Women Around 1800. Wayne State University Press, Detroit. ISBN 0-8143-3145-9

Publication summary: 

A study of cross-dressed women (or trans men) in history and literature in 18-19th century Germany and surrounding cultures. Most of the summary for this work is provided by guest-blogger Rose Fox.

Chapter 2: Trans-Gender/Trans-Nation: Trojan Horses in Women's Literature

Today's entry begins Rose Fox's guest contribution to the Project. Rose is doing research for a novel with a trans male protagonist and a lesbian supporting character in ~1810 London, and the summary and analysis of chapters 2-5 of Krimmer is compiled (with permission) from their tweet-stream of that read-through. Rose’s angle is slightly different from the summary I might have made (for one thing, it’s far more detailed!) as they’re examining it through the lens of what a transmasculine person reading these books might have thought and felt.

If other readers are interested in contributing entries to the Project, feel free to contact me about it.

* * *

(by Rose Fox)

The book is primarily about Germany, but it touches on a lot of international issues. Chapter 1 analyzed two German novels about French women who cross-dressed to fight in wars. For my purposes, the most useful bit was a list of actual female French soldiers who wore men's uniforms. [Yay, more research to do!]

Chapter 2 gets into the ways that mass production of textiles and clothing enabled gender-based dress codes. Krimmer links performative identity and the advent of capitalism in an offhand comment that goes unexplained. I want to know more! Sumptuary laws were enforced mostly against women--implying gender as social, not biological. "If gender is a social fact, not a biological essence, misrepresentation and transgression are to be expected." Imported clothes could lead to imported dangerous ideas about gender. "The transgression of gender roles is often intertwined with the crossing of national (and social) boundaries." "Nationality and ethnicity may function as both excuses and explanations for gender deviance." This lets authors get away with writing about foreign characters who crossdress--those foreigners don't know any better.

Anne McClintock wrote about female coal miners in 19th-century England. [Adds to research longlist.] McClintock says female miners who wore pants were conceptualized as belonging to another race! !!! 1800s activist Hannah Cullwick was photographed garbed as a male slave to draw attention to the plight of female domestic servants. 1800s French socialist and feminist Flora Tristan dressed as a Turkish man to gain access to England's parliament. 1600s: Basque ex-nun Catalina de Erauso dressed as a man for years, using Basque-ness to evade penalties for stealing, dueling, etc. 1500s: Eleno de Céspedes, when prosecuted for crossdressing, used being biracial as a defense. Friederike Unger's 1804 novel Albert und Albertine: a foreign "amazon" voices a critique of German gender ideology. Karoline Paulus's 1805 novel Wilhelm Dumont: a crossdressing Frenchwoman challenges German valuing of female self-sacrifice.

"For 18th century women, the very acts of writing and publishing constituted a transgression against traditional gender codes." Goethe called one of Unger's heroines a "she-man" even though she DOESN'T crossdress, because she still wants self-actualization to a degree that's not considered feminine. Using foreign characters as convenient transgressors "is problematic since it relies on a process of 'Othering'". [Yes, thank you!] There’s deeper analysis of Unger and Paulus's novels. This is where I start to skim.

In 19th century fiction, heroines who violate gender norms are punished by going mad. Unger offloads both onto the Spanish sidekick so that the German heroine can have a happy ending. [Ew.] "Seraphina's lack of submissiveness constitutes a danger to her mental health." Seraphina steals the clothes of a male aristocrat. Reduced to wearing an effeminate nightgown, he becomes emasculated. [More ew.]

"A performative concept of gender liberates women from the dictates of biology [but] it subjects them to...the new market system." Freedom to acquire power via male-coded clothing depends on having the money to buy that clothing. [Still relevant today.] Capitalism makes gender (and class) a thing that can be bought and sold. Clothing creates personality--when Seraphina steals the clothes of a philanderer, she in turn becomes unfaithful to her friend. In the end, after Seraphina goes mad and is banished, the German heroine regains status by wearing Seraphina's fancy dress!

Lots of 19thC novels with female crossdressers have lesbian subtext. Lots and lots and lots. Masked balls are "a privileged symbol of transgression and sexual license in 18th century discourse" [and modern romance novels!]. "The dead male beloved serves as a moral placeholder for the missing heterosexuality of the female protagonist."

In Paulus's novel Wilhelm Dumont the hero, Wilhelm, embodies all the feminine qualities that the heroine, Adelaide, disdains. But Adelaide, as the heroine, is constrained to passivity. Her foil is French crossdresser Rosalie. Rosalie dodges arranged marriage and then, dressed as a man, courts her female cousin! Transgression again is linked with capitalism: crossdressing female characters often end up rich at the end of the novel. Crossdressing female characters usually lack relatives, especially male ones and parents, who might constrain them.

Add new comment