Skip to content Skip to navigation

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.

Contents summary: 

(blogged by Heather Rose Jones)

This chapter focuses primarily on the history of women participating in military contexts in male dress, whether actual disguise was the intent or not.

Starts off with Joan of Arc, as usual.

Cross-dressed noblewomen involved in the Fronde insurrection in 1652-3: the Princess of Condé marched to Bordeaux in military uniform to gain support; the Duchess of Longueville disguised herself as a man to escape imprisonment after leading the Spanish army in Paris . Also participating in male disguise: the Duchess of Chevreuse and Madame Montpensier.

The upheavals of the French Revolution inspired some women to cross-dress openly as a symbol of their right to public participation, including Théroigne de Méricourt (1762-1817). Many women served openly in the French National Guard as early as 1789, even as officers. Known names include the sisters Félicité and Théophile Fernigh, Thérèse Figueur, Madame Poncet, Angélique Marie Josèphe Brulon.

In this same era, cross-dressing for better employment was documented for Catherine Louise Vignot (a coal carrier), Anne Grandjean (a carpenter), an unnamed female cobbler.

Even after attempts were made to discourage women’s military participation, we find Renée Bordereau, Francoise Després, and the Vicomtesse Turpin de Crissé.

The Napoleonic wars also provided a more relaxed context on the other side for German women participating in the military in male guise (though perhaps sometimes openly). Known individuals include Eleonore Prochaska (whose gender was only discovered after a heroic death that inspired poems and plays), Rosalie von Bonin (who commanded a cavalry unit), Anna Lühring (who was unmasked only due to a letter from her father).

The remainder of Chapter 1 discusses novels with cross-dressing female protagonists, set in the context of the French Revolution.

Contents summary: 

(blogged by Heather Rose Jones)

Krimmer’s primary focus is on the motif of cross-dressing women in 18th century German literature (novels, plays, etc.), but as part of the background, she reviews a great many historic cases. The issues of theory that are covered in these opening parts of Krimmer’s work, with the complexities of gender theory and clothing as signifiers of all manner of social classifications, are thoroughly covered in the analysis of chapters 2-5. The present summary is simply a rough catalog of the examples she cites.

1721 in Halberstadt, Germany – Catharina Lincken charged for wearing men’s clothing. Three different male aliases are listed, under which she served as a soldier at various times. Her transgressions also included switching back and forth between Catholicism and Lutheranism. She married a woman named Catharina Mühlhahn.

Court theatrics and masquerades in which women dressed as men (and sometimes vice versa) were held under Empress Elisabeth I of Russia (1741-62) and Princess Amalie of Hessen-Homburg (1774-1846).

Examples are cataloged under several headings:


  • (no date) The wife of the bandit Schinderhannes participated in his robberies in male dress.
  • (no date) Trijin Jurriaens of Hamburg (see Dekker & van de Pol 1989 for details)
  • (no date) Isabe Bunkens (see Dekker & van de Pol 1989 for details)
  • 1643, Germany - Isabella Geelvinck worked as a cook for a military regiment for 10 years
  • Mary Frith aka Moll Cutpurse (1584-1659) gained fame when her life was put on stage in The Roaring Girl
  • 1720 – The cross-dressing pirates Anne Bonny and Mary Read were captured and tried.

Religious Figures

  • Legends of cross-dressing saints: Thecla, Pelagia, Marina, Hildegund, Athanasia of Antiochia, Margaretha
  • Joan of Arc
  • Pope Joan

Travel and Leisure

  • Lady Mary Montague wore men’s clothing while traveling abroad
  • Queen Christina of Sweden traveled in men’s clothing using the name “Count Dohna” after abdicating in 1654.
  • The poet Sidonia Hedwig Zäunemann wore men’s clothing while traveling.
  • The German courtesan Maria Anna Steinhaus wore men’s clothing while traveling and hunting.
  • Countess Amalie of Bavaria wore trousers for hunting.


  • Hannah Snell served in the British army as a man.
  • Angélique Brulon was a soldier in Napoleon’s army and continued to serve after discovery, as did Thérèse Figueur (1774-1861).
  • German women who had military careers in the Low Countries in male guise included Maria van Antwerpen (aka Jan van Ant) (1719-1781) and Catharin Rosenbrock of Hamburg.
  • 1799 – A German woman, Antoinette Berg, joined an English regiment fighting the French in the Netherlands, after which she joined the navy and traveled to the Caribbean.


After women began to take up theatrical roles, it became a fashion for certain types of male roles to be habitually played by female actors, such as Shakespeare’s Romeo and Hamlet. A long list of actresses became known for playing trouser roles in the 18th century and later.

Contents summary: 

(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.

Contents summary: 

(by Rose Fox)

This chapter opens with an overview of the Chevalière d'Eon: MAAB, legally declared female by Louis XVI, wore men's clothes. Fascinating person. Transvestism was called "eonism" for a couple hundred years thanks to the Chevalière. "For several years, d'Eon's gender was the subject of numerous bets and legal proceedings." "D'Eon's story teaches us that as long as we live and breathe, the culturally mediated body is an unreliable agent of truth."

In many cases "the riddle of a dubious gender identity was only to be solved postmortem." [Augh, no, genitals "solve" nothing! But of course the whole point is that people think pulling down someone's pants gives you more "truth" than asking them.] A crossdresser's death is seen as both a moment of truth and as a punishment for transgression. [Hm, this is starting to get into triggery territory.] Lots of true and fictional stories of murdered gender transgressors. I will refrain from tweeting details. Now there’s a digression to describe Catharina Lincken's dildo: stuffed leather, with leather testicles in a pouch made from a pig's bladder. Lincken was prosecuted for marrying a woman, so the equipment used for consummation was of interest to the court.

Literary analysis: Friedrich Schiller's Fiesco's Conspiracy at Genoa, 1783; Heinrich von Kleist's The Family Schroffenstein, 1803. [I'd tweet the original German titles but some are more than 140 characters long. :) ]

Fiesco: "the cross-dresser, who has transformed gender into an arbitrary sign, becomes a metaphor for language itself." "Fiesco suggests that, though clothing (and men) may lie, the truth of the female body will reassert itself in the end." "It is through re-inscribing gender in the body that the validity of truth and morality is restored." I can't even imagine how traumatic it would have been for trans people to read these books.

Family Schroffenstein "intertwines the search for truth and the interrogation of the body with the concept of gender identity.” In contrast, Karoline von Günderrode's work sees both death and gender signification as arbitrary and morally indifferent. Von Günderrode, in a letter: "Why didn't I turn out to be a man! I have no feeling for feminine virtues, for a woman's happiness." [So her work could be seen as a transmasculine person writing about transmasculinity.] Krimmer says that scholars have "accused" von Günderrode of being unfeminine. That's a pretty loaded word. But I will stop digressing before I get too annoyed. Back to the litcrit.

Fiesco: often regarded as a minor work because of too much uncomfortable ambiguity around Fiesco's "true" character and politics. Fiesco repeatedly assumes new identities, driven by circumstances and the needs of his partners. A 1784 stage version further confuses matters by changing Fiesco's politics, from would-be usurper to local republican. "In Fiesco's hands, real facts vanish behind constructs even as constructs create real facts." [I'm very glad that my book will have a rather more straightforward plot.] Fiesco's wife dons male clothing and later acquires the garb of Fiesco's enemy--so Fiesco mistakes her for his enemy and stabs her. Her death is "both the result of and the punishment for Fiesco's web of lies." This is getting into tangled metaphors about art and creation and falsehood. Skimming moar. I'm by no means an expert, but I'm finding Krimmer's arguments here very unconvincing and difficult to follow. In the 1783 version of Fiesco, a second woman dresses as a man, but her beloved recognizes her, a sign of his moral integrity.

Moving on to Kleist's Family Schroffenstein, "haunted by the anxiety that all knowledge will ultimately remain uncertain." Kleist sounds like a pretty messed-up dude. Obsessed with injured/dead female bodies as "the last reliable repository of truth". Family Schroffenstein: "In the end, the hoped-for naturalness of the body turns out to be nothing but another cultural sign." Romeo and Juliet-ish story. Relevant bit: lovers from feuding families swap clothes, are then killed by their own parents. [!]

Kleist's half-sister and traveling companion often wore men's clothes. He said she "has nothing of woman but the hips". And he wrote, "What mistake has nature committed when it made her a being that...vacillates like an amphibian between...genders?" I am annoyed enough by this dude to skip very quickly through the rest of the discussion of his work. Interesting note, though: while dressed as a man, Kleist's sister encountered a blind flute player who identified her as female. The blind person who can tell the "truth" of someone's gender later appears in Kleist's drama. "One might wonder why Kleist's drama is fraught with so many misunderstandings if the body tells the truth so loquaciously." Zing! A nod to "the Christian tradition in which the body of the crucified stands in for the truth of his message." Interesting. As a non-Christian writing Christian characters, I'm always glad for info on Christian viewpoints.

And finally, on to von Günderrode. This is a remarkably ciscentric view of her masculinity. In correspondence she often called herself by neutral or male names and pronouns. This is called "effacing her identity as a woman". Krimmer asserts that "Günderrode's gender effacement" contributed "to her personal suffering". [Gnashes teeth] "Günderrode's own experience of a male spirit trapped in a female body"--I'm not sure how much more of this I can take. [I used female pronouns for von Günderrode because the text does, but at this point I'm fairly certain I should not do so.] If anyone knows of a biography of Karoline von Günderrode that's sympathetic to her transmasculinity, please let me know.

Poem "Darthula According to Ossian": a princess dresses as male to go to war against the man who killed her father and brother. "Darthula's heroic strength and determination are but empty gestures in the face of...existential impotence and hopelessness" Her father dies in battle--while she's trying to guard him. Ouch. Notable that Darthula isn't the only one killed, and it has nothing to do with her gender--she dies like any other soldier. "In Günderrode's ballad, gender is dissociated from power, just like power is dissociated from morality." "Consequently, assuming a male persona by cross-dressing will not boost a person's courage nor can it invigorate the fighter." Darthula's clothes are torn, exposing her chest--they are not a magic gender-talisman. I hope that somewhere in this book are stories where things go well for the gender transgressors. I probably hope in vain. Oh well.

Von Günderrode's poem “Mora”, 1804: a woman dons her lover's armor to protect herself against a would-be rapist. The rapist thinks her a man, challenges her, and kills her. Of course. [sigh] Mora represents "life and love" while her lover, Frothal, seeks the immortality of fame and glory. He insists they go on a hunting trip even though she has premonitions of death. LISTEN TO THE WOMAN WITH PREMONITIONS. Likewise, she tries to convince Karmor that there can't be love without consent, but he only understands women as objects. [Be right back: writing fanfic of this poem where Mora convinces Frothal to stay home and they have a long happy life together.] "Mora's sacrifice is denied its redemptive purpose." Frothal plots revenge, and the (male) cycle of violence will go on forever. "In Mora, the telling of a heroic tale, while granting immortality and glory, cannot make up for the loss of life" And that's the end of chapter 3. Cheery stuff.

Note: Here's that Anne McClintock piece on crossdressed female miners being seen as a different race. [Note by hrj: if the link as given does not display the required page, try a search within that book on "female miner"."

Contents summary: 

(by Rose Fox)

Chapter 4 is "Classic Amazons: Performing Gender in Goethe's Weimar." Weimar was small and poor, far from major trade routes, with an enormous "dominating" palace. Krimmer doesn't mince words, drawing an analogy between the “great palace” and “shabby town” and the “acclaim for Weimar's male writers” versus the “obscurity of Weimar's female writers”. "In order fully to understand the gender concepts inherent in Weimar Classicism, we must read canonical works alongside marginalized texts by women writers of the time."

Krimmer compares works by Goethe to those by Charlotte von Stein, both featuring crossdressed figures, all in the context of "the struggle to redefine the relation between body and identity, and between gender and social order." Weimar had lots of theater, frequent masked balls (up to 400 people!), masked processions. LOTS of crossdressing. They were so popular that a huge new "Redouten- und Komödienhaus" was built in 1780 to accommodate them. These events offered liberation from sumptuary laws as well as gendered clothing in general.

Goethe loved to attend masked events, and also often traveled in disguise. Krimmer suggests this indicates "his interest in the performative nature of a person's social identity and his fascination with the cross-dresser as expressing his recognition of the performativity of gender." Regarding crossdressing in German theater: all male actors until 1550s, female actors in late 1600s, but still lots of crossdressing after. In the 1770s, "typically, the cross-dressed man played a wicked and/or old woman" and women played boys. The limited roles for crossdressed male actors reduced subversiveness. The "women" they portrayed lacked both beauty and virtue.

Many popular plays had all-male or mostly-male casts, so women sometimes had to fill in if there weren't enough male actors. A few actresses made "breeches roles" their specialties, such as the much-lauded Christianne Neumann. Krimmer thinks that Goethe's interest in Neumann was homoerotic to some degree, but this "must remain speculation". Krimmer notes that women played not just boys but "boys of lower-class status: peasants, gypsies, servants." Maybe "actresses were restricted to the portrayal of powerless male adolescents" so they couldn't steal any male/masculine power. "Women who wanted to assume the prerogatives of men...were relegated to the realm of fiction."

Analysis time! Charlotte von Stein's A New System of Freedom (written 1798, pub. 1867) and The Two Emilies (1803). Von Stein was a member of the elite, friends with a duchess, etc., but keenly aware of discrimination against women. She drew links between women's domestic burden and the lack of women artists and "refused to set aesthetics above ethical concerns." She frequently commented on gender bias in works by Schiller and Goethe. At the same time, she was Goethe's friend and lover. Krimmer calls her privileged-yet-marginalized status "contradictory" where I would say "intersectional".

Von Stein is so much seen as attached to Goethe that her works which don't critique or allude to his are ignored. She wrote A New System of Freedom in 1798; her great-grandson revised it extensively and published it in 1867. Lord Daval, who hates love, prevents his friend Avelos's marriage to Daval's sister Menonda by forging letters. Daval asks Avelos to kidnap two actresses for his private theater; he kidnaps Menonda and her cousin instead. Oops. The actresses also show up along with rescuer Montrose. Everyone pairs up at the end.

"In von Stein's play...the more educated [and high-status] a man is, the more absurd and confused is his reasoning." In contrast, the servants are realistic and sensible. Avelos's servant keeps telling him he's kidnapped the wrong ladies. But while the male servants are ignored, and the rich ladies are resigned, the low-status women foil the men's scheme. The maid Susette gives Montrose the wrong directions, then poses as him and confronts Daval. Susette's impersonation is so successful that when Montrose shows up, no one believes he's him! Alas, the obligatory "happy ending" requires Susette to go back to being Susette. But she proves women can hold their own.

A comment that "women are always crazy about uniforms" turns it from being about liking soldiers to wanting to be soldiers. The actresses also wear male disguises, explaining them as necessary precautions for women who travel alone. Daval says "Didn't I hear men in your room?" and they say, no no, that was us PRETENDING to be men, we are virgins! So by transgressing gender norms they actually lay claim to moral purity. That's pretty great.

Von Stein portrays "deception and cunning as male qualities", which women overcome through parody and roleplay. "By imitating men, women salvage a situation that was created (and wrecked) by male reasoning [that's] inherently flawed." Faces, voices, and handwriting are not giveaways; von Stein rejects a notion of gender inherent in the body. The mimicry is what Judith Butler calls "subversive repetition", showing men themselves as parodies of masculinity. The genre of comedy and happy ending defuse what would otherwise be a lot of threatening gender confusion and questioning.

The Two Emilies is based on Sophia Lee's novel of the same name. Von Stein retains the English names but moves it to Italy. Foundling Emilie Fitzallen believes that wealthy, happy Emilie Arden swindled her out of her inheritance. Emilie F. poses as a man and befriends Emilie A.'s fiancé, Lenox, then tricks him into marrying her. Then, an earthquake! Lenox thinks Emilie F. is dead and tries to marry Emilie A. after all. But Emilie F. reappears and begins to blackmail him. Finally Emilie F.'s parentage is revealed: she's the illegitimate daughter of Lenox's father. The siblings' marriage is annulled.

The work blends and blurs "right and wrong, man and woman, fantasy and reality...with amazing ease". Lots of people thought dead who are still alive, then not believed to be truly alive when they reappear. Again, the idea of the body as the seat of truth is rejected: "it is the mind that accords the body its meaning and...reality". Krimmer quotes Terry Castle: "a growing sense of the ghostliness of other people" was a key feature of the late 18thC sensibility. When Lenox pictures the thought-dead Emilie F. he sees her in male guise, echoing the element of absence in crossdressing as a new gender is taken on, the absence of the old one is significant. So Emilie F.'s femaleness is itself a kind of ghost when she dresses as a man.

Lenox's unwillingness to marry Emilie A. but willingness to marry Emilie F.-as-man implies homoerotic desire. Emilie F. is "said to possess the soul of a man" while "Lenox's behavior and character are feminized". She's physically strong; he has "nerves as tender as those of a woman". She's intellectual; he's moody. The earthquake that separates them is a natural disaster to "cut short an 'unnatural' union". Emilie F.'s reappearance, posing as a ghost (still in menswear), could be "the return of [Lenox's] repressed homoerotic desire". However, Emilie F. is interested in Lenox only as a way to get back at Emilie A.--another homosocial relationship. However however, Emilie A. wasn't at fault--Emilie F. was disinherited because of her illegitimacy (her father's fault).

So basically everyone's problems are caused by men. Emilie F. has a long speech about how unfair the world is to women. "That in which one woman succeeds, pushes the other down." But in the end her father is the one who's shamed, and both women triumph: Emilie A. marries Lenox, Emilie F. gets her revenge. Marvelously, Emilie F. refuses to retire to a monastery and exits as a "true amazon". "Von Stein's drama turns the fight among women into a fight against patriarchy" that succeeds thanks to crossdressing.

Both works "depict women who imitate men in order to outwit them and thus secure their own happiness." "Through his/her presence-in-absence the crossdresser points to the empty space that is the place of women in patriarchal society." Once Emilie F. is treated as a person whose feelings matter, "the ghost of the missing woman disappears." [Whew, I need a breather after that! Some heavy, juicy stuff there.]

While von Stein loves "the playful dissolution of gender roles, Goethe is troubled by the social anarchy that comes in its wake". Goethe wrote an essay called "Women's Parts Played by Men in the Roman Theater". His attempt to define the essence of femininity "opens up an abyss" between gender ideals and reality. In 1788 Rome, the pope had banned women from appearing onstage. Goethe enjoyed seeing an all-male cast perform La Locandiera but was bothered by how much he liked it. So he wrote a blog, essay about it. "The pleasure of the spectator" comes from being aware that all the "women" in the play are in fact played by men. "The imitation of a woman...demonstrates that art itself is concerned with imitation." [Quotes are from Krimmer paraphrasing Goethe, not Goethe directly.] Goethe sees art as not just imitating nature but trying to capture its "true essence". So men play better women than women do, because men have consciously studied how to behave like women. [This is my side-eye face.]

Goethe: a man's portrayal of a woman is not "the thing itself" but "the result of the thing." If men are portraying "true femininity" then there must BE such a thing as "true femininity". Goethe treats this like a scientific inquiry, starting with the empirical, then abstracting until the "pure phenomenon" is found. [This is pretty tangled. We're at the point of paragraphs that take up multiple pages.] I'm going to skim past phrases like "an idea about the objects of experience"--sorry, philosophy fans. So! If true femininity exists, then a man can represent it, but it's so abstract that it has little to do with women's real lives. "By severing femininity from the body of a woman... Goethe introduces a performative concept of gender." However, he does not allow for female actors to represent "true masculinity". And when men portray women, as noted earlier, it often reinforces conservative notions of femininity. Goethe: "My idea of women... is rather innate, or it developed within me God knows how!" [Patriarchy. You're swimming in it.]

Krimmer: "One might read Goethe's own works as an attempt to...teach [women] how to perform their gender 'correctly.' " In a letter to von Stein, he says women "should not want to" shed femininity. But that "should" is very telling. Goethe wrote accounts of two experiences with Carnival in Rome. The first time: "an incredible noise but no heart-felt joy". His account of the second time is much more enthusiastic, though heavily edited. (No original notes are extant.) He notes that Carnival can make tourists and non-participants very uncomfortable. But he'd lived in Italy for 1.5 years and had gone to many masked balls. Why did Carnival make him feel such unease? He singles out the suspension of class boundaries. Weimar's balls barred the lower classes; servants could not wear masks. In Carnival, everyone is masked, and people wear cross-class costumes. This questions the idea of a God-given social hierarchy. And he says Carnival "follows naturally from the Roman way of life"--very frightening to him!

Goethe takes refuge in his stranger status. [I see this as an interesting reversal of the "strangers get to transgress" idea. Where earlier chapters discussed offloading transgression onto foreigners, here the foreigner gets to be safely "normal" at least in his own head.] Goethe says the social differences "seem" abolished, but that idea vanishes "like a dream, like a fairytale". Public and private spheres, inside and outside, also blur. Finally, everyone lights candles, turning night into day. Goethe describes both men and women taking great pleasure in crossdressing at Carnival. Goethe: "One must confess that [crossdressers are] highly attractive in their hybrid shape." But he always emphasizes that they are MEN in WOMEN's clothes, WOMEN in MEN's clothes. Keep those gender barriers high! His effort to describe the dangers of gender transgression is undermined by his revelation of the pleasures of it.

Goethe's novel Wilhelm Meister's Apprenticeship "features the largest number of cross-dressers" of any book Krimmer covers. Almost all the female protagonists wear men's clothes, once or repeatedly. Wilhelm loves theater and later directs a theater, and is fascinated with theatrical cross-dressing. The actress Mariane so delights in portraying an officer that she refuses to take off the uniform after the performance. The character Mignon is a child whose gender can't be easily discerned at first glance. Krimmer notes that almost all illustrations of Mignon portray a very feminine young woman. Hmmmm. Mignon wears sailor pants in everyday life. A baroness does likewise with hunter's clothing. Lots of other women wear menswear.

But all these "amazons" are still portrayed as inherently feminine characters. "The novel conjures up the specter of the masculinized women only to affirm that such masculinization did not take place." Mariane, in uniform, is brave and determined like a soldier, but her self-confidence is shortlived. Another woman mocks her as a "little officer" and she's ridiculed for thinking she can get away with acting like a man. Her downfall is a "feminine" weakness for material things. Her story ends tragically. Goethe's original draft had her marry Wilhelm, but he couldn't get away with a wedding between a man and his "fallen" ex-mistress. Therese is a "true amazon" unlike those "mere well-behaved hermaphrodites" [!]. She rides astride and runs businesses. This is not treated as an expression of masculine nature, but as an expansion of the women's work of managing households. Goethe has her "take care in every way of the happiness of men and the household". She dresses as a man in order to be recognized as an ideal partner by the man she loves, Lothario.

Krimmer: "Why is it that all male protagonists in Goethe's novel fall for women who at first wear men's clothing?" She answers that it "speaks of the underlying homosocial structure of Goethe's male alliance." Natalie wears her uncle's overcoat, and when she takes it off, Wilhelm sees her "disappear in splendor"--to him, she vanishes. She gives him the coat and ceases to matter; her role was simply to connect the two men, Wilhelm and her uncle. There's also a lot of discussion of fathers and sons in the book, and patrilinearity (while mothers vanish from the text).

Mignon is referred to with both male and female pronouns, and declares "I am a boy, I don't want to be a girl." As penalty Mignon is excluded from the symbolic systems of culture, evidenced by a limited ability to read or write. Eugen Wolff suggests that Goethe based Mignon's character on a married couple, and the husband was known to have had gay affairs. Goethe claimed that Mignon is the reason that the entire work was written. Mignon is described as having incestuous parents, perhaps a stand-in for other kinds of forbidden relationships. In the end, Mignon dies, androgyny is expelled, and homoeroticism is subverted into homosociality.

Summary: for von Stein, male clothing helps women overcome powerlessness. Goethe relocates gender in the body. But Goethe can't get away from his own theories of essential femininity that make it something disconnected from the physical. And where Goethe kills off or denatures gender transgressors, von Stein's characters disappear and reappear on their own terms. That's the end of chapter 4 and of my brain for tonight.

Contents summary: 

(by Rose Fox)

German Romanticism was very concerned with the "transgression of polarities", so its literature has lots of crossdressing. Krimmer lists lots of examples of works with characters who crossdress or are perceived as crossdressing. Joseph von Eichendorff's "From the Life of a Good-for-Nothing"; Achim von Arnim's "Isabella of Egypt"; Clemens Brentano's "Godwi" Eichendorff's "Premonition and Present" and "Poets and Their Companions"; E.T.A. Hofmann's "Artus' Court" And Tieck's "Franz Sternbald's Migrations". All published between 1798 and 1826.

Many Romantic writers celebrated androgyny "as an ideal of human wholeness", but only as a goal state for men, not for women. Men could achieve "Bildung" by fusing with femininity. Men search for perfection; women are their foils. Dorothea Schlegel's novel Florentin is very aware that "androgynous wholeness was not meant for the female gender". "The refusal to conform to binary categories constitutes the motivating force of Schlegel's writing." Dorothea was married to Friedrich Schlegel, whose 1799 novel Lucinde celebrated androgyny; Florentin can be read as a response.

Bettina Brentano-von Arnim's gender philosophy similarly refuted the work of her brother, Clemens Brentano. [I'm going to abbreviate Bettina Brentano-von Arnim as BBvA.] BBvA's novels were written around 1840, but based on correspondence from around 1800. They interlace the period's gender ideas. BBvA's works "deconstruct the ideology of the 'gendered character' by dissociating masculinity from male bodies." BBvA sometimes dressed as a man while traveling on long journeys. Krimmer namechecks other crossdressed travelers: Lady Mary Montague, Sidonia Hedwig Zäunemann, Ulrike von Kleist.

And Krimmer returns to the concept of "female absence" and "the unresolved ambiguity of the cross-dresser". Both Schlegel and BBvA were "insisting on paradox and internal contradiction...refusing to provide closure while staging a capricious play with polar categories". Schlegal is often dismissed as her husband's "servile wife and secretary", scorned for "zealous and obsessive devotion". She was ALSO scorned for ditching her first husband for Schlegal, and not marrying him until years later. Women can't win. "Often the condemnation of her alleged immorality was interspersed with thinly veiled anti-Semitic slander." And then all her works were published under her husband's name. Women REALLY can't win.

F. Schlegel wrote Lucinde, inspired by Dorothea's scandalous behavior--the same behavior that she was scorned for. Dorothea published Florentin for the money and doubted the book's quality. She planned a sequel but never finished it. Florentin "delights in detailing narrative strands, which it then abandons silently" and alludes to secrets never explained.

Florentin, a traveler, saves Count S. from a bear. Count S. takes him home to meet wife Eleonore, daughter Juliane, and Juliane's fiancé, Eduard. There are hints of a Juliane/Eduard/Florentin ménage. The three travel across the countryside, with Juliane dressed as a man. During a storm they take refuge in a mill. It's the day before Juliane and Eduard's wedding, so totally a GREAT day to be out riding in the middle of nowhere. Florentin sneaks off to visit Juliane's aunt C, gets involved in a conflict involving C's protegé and her fiancé, and leaves. The novel ends: "Florentin was nowhere to be found." THE END

"The abrupt ending...leaves its readers puzzled." I would imagine so! Krimmer is trying to analyze this but as a book editor I have to say this just sounds like a bad book. Krimmer says "Schlegel's writing revolves around the conscious display of indeterminacy", including crossdressing. The book is very detailed about Juliane's crossdressing, and "the discovery of her 'true' gender in the mill". [Quotes around "true" are Krimmer's, not mine, and I'm not sure what they're supposed to indicate.] The narrative says Juliane frequently crossdresses and passes as male. But at the mill, she's humiliated by discovery. Her parents also dislike her crossdressing, scolding her even when they reluctantly permit her to do it.

"Cross-dressing in Florentin does not reclaim male privilege" but dissolves gender roles, leaving women "unprotected and helpless". Schlegel recognizes that those roles are restrictive but sees them as protecting women from rape [??] and subsequent social stigma. [Krimmer does not use the word "rape" but rather "male license". Ew.] The forest is "uncharted territory" where social norms are invalid. But that lets Eduard be far more aggressive than usual and his kisses and embraces frighten Juliane. Dressing like a man leaves her helpless when a man sees her as a woman. And the miller's wife makes "obscene jokes" about Juliane, not realizing she's a count's daughter.

"The ubiquity and necessity of masks and disguises form the centerpiece of Schlegel's social critique." In a diary entry, Schlegel compares individuality in bourgeois German culture to attending a masquerade with a bare face. Similarly, she said characters are naked until clothed by the author, and that unedited manuscripts are "out of uniform". And she said she'd rather rewrite a story over and over, like dressing a doll, than have it be too perfect to change. "Thus, the fragmentary state of Florentin might be seen as a direct result of Schlegel's poetology of openness." "In refusing definitive choices and decisive endings, Schlegel eludes the pitfalls" of binary gender systems.

I am really very thoroughly in disagreement with this entire analysis. The premise is very flawed. Ambiguity and non-binariness can be solid and satisfying. And they are not the same as fragmentation or distortion. [Skimming a lot now because otherwise I will just get more annoyed.]

Schlegel sees identity as "continually changing" so Florentin's character comes across as inconsistent and unsatisfying. "She emphasized the idea of personal discontinuity and non-identity by creating character collages that tease readers" This especially annoyed anyone who tried to figure out which real people she based the characters on. "The figure of the cross-dresser, whose existence is based on the refusal to commit to only one of two options." [argh argh argh] And that's the end of the Schlegel analysis. GOOD. It's like Krimmer keeps realizing and then forgetting that non-binarism is possible.

On to BBvA's epistolary novel, Clemens Brentano's Spring Wreath. Published 1844, based on letters from 1801 to 1803. "In Spring Wreath, as in all of BBvA's epistolary novels, facts and fiction blend into an indivisible whole." Her novels were also intended to influence the political situation of the time when they were published. One of the things she wanted to bring about was "the re-definition of traditional gender roles". Once again we have a foreign "amazon" character, Frenchwoman Louise de Gachet. BBvA was often called "boyish" or "androgynous" or even "manly" by others. She called herself "child", a gender-neutral term. Krimmer calls this "contributing to the confusion". [It doesn't sound confused to me at all. Grrr.] In adolescence BBvA was slender ("unfeminine"), unrestrained in behavior, and defiant of familial and social constraints. In her novel she amplifies this behavior and portrayers her teen self as triumphant over attempts to feminize her. [Again, I'm using the pronouns used in the text, but given BBvA's androgynous self-words, gender-neutral pronouns would probably be better.]

"It is well-nigh impossible to give a plot summary of Spring Wreath." It's all fleeting moments, impressions, thoughts. "BBvA depicts a heroine who experiences intellectual deprivation caused by a gender-specific socialization." Young Bettine constantly questions stereotypes, names and shames patriarchy, longs to change the world, be active, travel, live free. BBvA had previously expressed these desires in her novel The Günderode, based on her correspondence with Karoline von Günderrode. [As noted earlier, KvG was also an author, and almost certainly a trans man with no way to express or live that identity.] In BBvA's novelized version, Karoline tells Bettine, "If you were a boy, you would become a hero."

Spring Wreath introduces Louise de Gachet, another fictionalized real person, who led royalist military resistance in the Vendée. De Gachet made quite a splash in the small German town of Offenbach, and BBvA was "deeply influenced" by encountering de Gachet. In the novel, Clemens says that de Gachet rides wild horses, knows a lot about science, and is extremely beautiful. Lots of mixed-gender praise there. Clemens even recommends de Gachet as a role model--but advises Bettine to "overlook" "the manly wildness of her being". Eventually he realizes de Gachet's masculinity is too pervasive, and withdraws his recommendation.

Bettine first describes de Gachet as "a beautiful man-youth"; de Gachet says "Au contraire c'est une femme". De Gachet invites Bettine to travel with her, but Bettine fears being drowned out by the stronger personality, and declines. Bettine wants to transgress on her own terms, in her own ways. But the encounter encourages Bettine to reject her brother's misogynistic statements and emphasis on traditional gender roles. When he warns her against hanging out with men, she says that Karoline "does not know any male company but mine". Wow. And Bettine refers to one of Clemens's male friends by female pronouns because he behaves in what she sees as a feminine way. So for Bettine, gender is wholly performative.

In letters, BBvA often used unexpected pronouns for people; in novels, sometimes turned real people into genderswapped characters. BBvA fictionalizes her experiences traveling crossdressed in Goethe's Correspondence with a Child. Bettine (the character) climbs trees, hitches horses, and brandishes a gun. "By appropriating male clothing, Bettine appropriates qualities that are commonly attributed to men."

Krimmer observes that transgression can be easier in times of war and other cultural chaos, when many things are destabilized. BBvA was an outspoken activist for freedom fighters, the poor, prison reform but she avoided organized feminist activism. But her novels all express "her concern with the restrictive gender roles of the 1840s". She saw "all things sensual and natural [as] symbols of the spirit". More blurring of categories. BBvA sees herself not as deviating from nature but as naturally opposed to what society wants. "It was nature herself that made her this way, and that that [sic] which is natural cannot be bad." Krimmer calls this inconsistent, and an "ironic example of how the discourse on nature can be turned against itself." [Personally, I'm missing the inconsistency. Precisely this argument is made today--it's the heart of "born that way" narratives.]

Final summary, comparison of BBvA and Schlegel, etc. Gender-bending allowed them "to express the experiences of a gender that had no language of its own." So is Krimmer now perceiving both authors as non-binary or third-gender? That doesn't jibe with the rest at all! But it doesn't matter because the chapter is over! There's a conclusion section that talks about how the internet separates body from identity, etc. The conclusion is heavily binarist and also already out of date, so I'm not going to bother writing it up here. So: done!