You are viewing hrj

(revised 2014/02/08)

Please feel welcome to add me to your Live Journal reading list (i.e., what LJ calls "friends list"). You don't need to ask permission first, you don't need to apologize or explain if you later drop me.

There is very little content that I place under lock on this journal. And given that I've moved most of my ephemeral everyday chit-chat over to Facebook, the things I post here are mostly intended to be public discussions, ruminations, research, project diaries, and entertainments.

With my novel out and as I'm using this blog as a place to discuss writing issues, I expect to have a lot more "drive-by" traffic. Therefore as an experiment I have removed restrictions on comments. If I start getting large quantities of spam, I may tighten up again. And I reserve the right to curate my comment threads as I see fit.
The Glamourist Histories: Shades of Milk and Honey, Glamour in Glass by Mary Robinette Kowal

I read the first two books in Mary Robinette Kowal’s “Glamourist” series on my Thanksgiving trip last year. It was also my first serious experiment with reading new e-books. (I’ve had a bunch of old favorites on my iPad for a couple years now, but those are for “stuck waiting somewhere” reading.) Both books were light, quick reads – I finished the first on the flight out and the second in odd moments later on the trip. (And I’m writing this review largely from memory, so this is what stuck.) The setting trades, to some extent, on current Austen-mania, although not in a direct pastiche sort of way.

The premise is simple: Regency England with a type of illusion-based magic called “glamour” that is used primarily for enhancing domestic environments but that also has untapped potential for more practical use. Kowal’s prose captures Austen’s formal, rather mannered style and she has worked hard to evoke the language of the era. We also see a lot of Austen’s familiar character archetypes: the plain but talented protagonist, the pretty and somewhat badly-behaved younger sister, the kindly but ineffectual father, the air-headed and socially-conscious mother. We are left guessing through most of the first book whether the mysterious brooding man is a scowling villain or the brusque but good-hearted romantic interest. And there is a bevy of potential suitors and possible rivals for our protagonists that have sufficiently complex backgrounds keep the romantic plots guessing. Kowal’s original contribution is the intricate and well-realized magical effects, detailed with just the right level of technical terminology to evoke without over-explaining.

Shades of Milk and Honey concerns itself with entirely domestic conflicts: the relationships of a close rural community, marriage prospects, and the hazards of everyday life. Glamour is a talent--much like singing or painting--employed by young women to advertise their suitability for creating a charming and comfortable home environment for potential spouses. All magic needs limits to be interesting, and the practice of glamour is limited by the physical toll it takes on the user—an interesting conflict, given that it is viewed as primarily the purview of women, but considered especially taxing to their frail bodies. (A harsher side of this conflict emerges in the second book, where the practice of glamour is seen—and demonstrated—to be incompatible with childbearing. What does it mean for a woman to stake her success in marriage on a talent that she must then abandon when she gets pregnant? I was actually rather disappointed by deployment of the stock "magic is incompatible with pregnancy" trope.) In this, it provides an interesting metaphor for all manner of self-destructive practices into which young women are pressured by society, particularly poignant in the example of the neighbor girl who feels the need to continuously “glamourize” her imperfect nose in public, to the detriment of her health.

In the first book we are shown technical details of the workings of glamour, intertwined with the ups and downs of courtship, sibling rivalries, and just enough personal hazard to make the climax exciting. It is no spoiler to note that our protagonist wins her man by virtue of her wit and talents. With that match happily made, the second book explores additional nuances of the workings of glamour, including a technological innovation (the “glamour in glass”) that has the potential to expand its practical uses. The conflict with France brings our glamour-working couple into a much sharper danger than any seen in the first book. And while some of the plots and stratagems seem rather contrived (especially the extent to which our point-of-view protagonist is kept artificially in the dark about essential facts), the means by which our heroes succeed in those plots is satisfying within the rules of the setting.

That ends my review proper, but I feel I must digress for a moment on the question of industrial magic and the economics of glamour. As I note, glamour is presented as largely a matter of entertaining illusion, with only hints of possible more practical uses...except in one minor facet. There are several references to “cold-mongers”: people who can use glamour to create localized temperature changes. This is portrayed as something of a working-class skill and used for commercial purposes. For me, this creates something of an elephant in the room. We’re at the edge of the industrial revolution, with the leveraging of mass semi-skilled labor on the rise. Why is the commercial exploitation of glamour stuck on a cottage-industry level? If one cold-monger can keep the groceries cold, surely a bank of cold-mongers, working in shifts, could maintain warehouse-level refrigeration? And though domestic uses of glamour are portrayed as a leisure skill, akin to needlework or music, it seems implausible that no one is exploiting the same ability on a grunt-level commercial scale. In such a context the physical cost of using the ability suggests some rather horrifying potential consequences of that exploitation.

Now, I understand that these are light-hearted stories focusing on people of relative privilege. And perhaps these questions will be addressed in later books in the series. But when we see the toll that glamour can take on a mildly desperate young woman whose concerns are limited to the marriage market, it’s hard not to wonder what toll it could take on a more seriously desperate young woman whose concerns are feeding and housing her children
It used to be that I was quite content with the notion that my tastes in fiction were idiosyncratic enough to make other people’s recommendations of questionable value. Oh, every once in a while someone would suggest a book that hit my sweet spot. (I still recount the time I walked into the Other Change of Hobbit and said to Tom Whitmore, “So I’m trying to remember the name of this new series people have been telling me I might like…” and he immediately and correctly offered, “Naomi Novik, the Temeraire books.”) And sometimes my knee-jerk avoidance of authors that absolutely everyone was raving about meant that it took me a while to discover that, in this case, my taste really did fall in with the mainstream. (I avoided Bujold for years and years because her fandom had almost a cult-like air to it. And I still have some uneasiness about the nature of her books’ appeal, but that’s a different topic.) And since the volume of my fiction reading has decreased in the last couple decades, there are enough books in my to-be-read stack that are a known quantity that I wasn’t really looking for new recommendations.

But an interesting thing has happened in the last year or so. For one thing, as a published author, I now feel something of a responsibility to keep up with the field more, particularly in those corners of the genre I intersect. And for another, becoming active on Twitter specifically for the purpose of engaging more with the larger writing and publishing community has exposed me to a lot more chatter about new books—and much of it from people whose taste and preferences align strongly with my own. This means that more and more I’m approaching books with expectations built on the enthusiastic recommendations of a community that I want very much to belong to.

This is not entirely a good thing.

I have found myself with a nagging sense of guilt at finding certain books merely very enjoyable, when the lead-up hype raised the expectation that they would be OMG mind-blowingly awesome. Do I need to re-calibrate for hyperbole? Am I still simply out-of-sync with popular taste? (And then there are the dark voices that whisper that I’m just jealous because people aren’t raving about my book in the same way and I need to get over myself and maybe my book really isn’t even in the same universe as these books and that’s why nobody’s talking about it because I have no critical taste and that’s why I can’t recognize the complete genius of what I’m reading and ….) And then there are the suggestions I keep hearing that authors should never ever review other people’s books because fans are vicious and vindictive and if you imply their favorite books are anything less than perfect they’ll sic the internet trolls on your amazon review page. Well, screw that. I’m not going to stop reviewing books (and other stuff) and I’m never going to be anything less than completely honest about my response to a book. So it’s time to get caught up on a few fiction reviews for novels I’ve read in the last year. Let the chips fall where they may, and if my taste doesn’t always align with the rest of the world…well, I’m used to that.

(The actual reviews will be in separate posts because I'd rather separate this introduction from any specific book.)
I have made a spreadsheet (of course I've made a spreadsheet) and collated all the feedback commentary on The Mystic Marriage from my beta-readers in response to my detailed topic/character prompt list. (Except for the couple who haven't gotten back to me yet who are in danger of being dropped from future beta-reader lists -- *hint* *hint*.) I have also made a spreadsheet with chapter-by-chapter notes, theirs and mine. Next is to review the topic/character feedback, determine which items need revision versus which are a matter of variable taste, and translate them into chapter-specific revision notes.

That's the complex part. I need a sprinkling of additional references to minor character X involving groundwork for future plot point Y -- when can this occur? I need more explicit build-up of the main couple's attraction to each other (before they know it themselves) -- where can that occur? I need to show the positive aspects of what's driving character A, not just the negative ones -- where can this be fit in?

I've also been thinking over what I want to do about revision to the existing Skin-Singer stories for the collection. Originally I was thinking of just some light cleaning-up and continuity, but with them all in one place (even though I have no plans to try to turn them into a single overall story) it makes sense to add in a little more deep background about the world (to the extent that I know it) to provide more of a sense of place. Things that I didn't know back when I started writing them. Also -- to be blunt -- I'm a better writer now, and it makes sense to try to bring the collection up to my current standard. This makes it a bigger project than it would have been, but it's going to be a bit bigger than I originally thought anyway if I'm going to end up self-publishing it. (With Bella not interested and no functional connection to either of the outfits that put out the Sword and Sorceress series, I really can't see finding a print publisher who would take it.) This means I not only have to worry about issues like formatting, but I need to deal with cover design and so forth. Nothing I want to do sloppily or in a hurry.

And then there are some bits and snippets of Book 3 that I've ben jotting down (in addition to having started on the detailed outline -- much more detailed than any of the previous books). Yes, there is actual text in the file labeled Mother of Souls. Now if only I could think of an name for my second main character!
The GCLS conference is a combination industry conference and reader/fan convention for the lesbian publishing industry. I’d been vaguely aware of the organization previously since it turned up in my background research when I was considering publishers for Daughter of Mystery. (I figured that producing award-winning books was a good criterion to consider when submitting and the “Goldies” are a Big Deal in lesbian fiction.) But it wasn’t an event I’d considered attending until I actually had a book out. This was a good choice because it’s the sort of event where I would have been lost and miserable without a “job” to keep me focused.

The parallels and contrasts with a science-fiction convention are interesting. GCLS is a bit more skewed towards industry professionals (as opposed to readers/fans) than a typical SF con and the logistics remind me more of business conferences in being designed to keep people socializing as a group (e.g., box lunches, single focal social events for evening programming). This set the conference fee more at worldcon levels in contrast with the size of the event being more like a small regional con (ca. 300 members).

Like SF fandom, GCLS perceives itself to be very open, friendly, and welcoming to newcomers; and like SF fandom it can very easily give the impression of being a collection of closed circles who all already know each other. (I think of this as the contrast between "we're like a family reunion" and "it's like attending someone else's family reunion.") Out of the 300 attendees, I had previously met 4 face-to-face (not counting my girlfriend, who joined me for the event): my publisher, a couple who live in the Bay Area and had come to one of my readings (in fact, who had recommended me to the bookstore that held the reading), and a woman for whom I’d done historic name consultations ages ago that I’d recently reconnected with (and discovered to my delight that the book I’d helped with is published now).

Programming was quite similar to sf cons: panel discussions of writing-related topics, readings, meet-the-author and signing sessions, keynote speeches, and an awards ceremony (at which I got to represent one of the absent award-winners, which was fun). But there didn't seem to be as much casual book/writing-related discussion outside of programming. I volunteered for programming and got included in one of the reading sessions. (Each author got a 5-minute slot, so sort of like the Broad Universe rapid-fire readings.)

Since I'd taken the option of selling my own books from my publisher's dealer’s table (rather than having the common bookseller carry them) I spent an hour or two each day behind the table and sold 6 copies (plus one strategic gift). That seems to be reasonably good sales for the event -- and at least twice that many people mentioned to me that they had already bought/read it. I’d included a chapbook of my previously-unpublished Alpennian short story “Three Nights at the Opera” in the freebie-bags and had hoped that would entice a few more interactions. (I think I only signed three or four.) But the chapbook was mostly intended to see if I could hook some new readers long-term. My genre niche isn’t particularly well populated in the lesbian fiction world and I’m having to be as creative in getting those readers to give me a try as I am getting traditional fantasy readers to look past the whole lesbian press thing.

It was great to meet some of my fellow Bella Books authors, as well as meeting my editor, Katherine V. Forrest, in person for the first time. (Though I didn’t manage more than a bare introduction -- she was a bit too busy to actually have time to chat.) I had a very productive business discussion with Bella’s aquisitions editor Karin Kallmaker covering various topics that were a bit complex to discuss in e-mail. And my fan-girl highlight of the event was -- by pure chance -- being seated next to Ann Bannon at the mass autographing session and having a chance to chat long enought that I got up my courage to ask if she’d accept a copy of Daughter of Mystery as a gift. (She did.) Don’t know if she’ll read it, but I can always dream that she’ll say nice things about it to other people.

I didn’t go to GCLS with the expectation of making new friends -- I know myself better than that. I’ve fit faces to a number of the names I’ve been seeing on social media and book covers, and next year there will be a larger number of people where I’ll be starting from “have met in person previously.” I had three lovely dinner conversations: two with people I’d met before the conference and one the very first evening (before Lauri arrived) when it seemed all my efforts to avoid dining alone were going to fail and I’d gotten as far as ordering dinner before being invited to join another table. The final brunch on Sunday also turned up a delightful conversation, including a couple from Australia who’d been road-tripping for a while before the conference.

Casual socializing, though, was not a high point in general. Providing box lunches to eat in the main social/vendors space should have been a useful social lubricant, but it was a nut I couldn’t crack. Standing there with lunchbox in hand and scanning the room hopefully for open seats failed to procure any invitations to join existing groups. Outside of meals, interactions with people mostly happened when I was sitting behind the dealer’s table and could put on my Salesperson Mask and accost shoppers. Without that context, most people didn’t seem interested in talking to people they didn’t already know.

GCLS 2015 in New Orleans is already on my calendar and I have hopes of being able to contribute more substantially to the programming (as well as hopes of doing the nail-biting at the awards ceremony for my own book and not just by proxy).
I'm really proud of having kept up daily posts to the project for over a month! I'm going to need to take a brief break to work on the revisions of The Mystic Marriage now that I have my beta-reader feedback. (Well, most of it, but one has to go forward with what one has.) So in order to hold myself to a certain schedule, I'll be taking a break for the remainder of July and then starting up again August 1. At that time, I'll set a slightly less ambitious schedule (probably 3-4 entries per week). I work best when I have a fixed and regular goal that I can keep up indefinitely, so I'll be adjusting until I find that balance. But trust that the project will keep moving forward!


(I explain the LHMP here.)

When we move from the medieval into the early modern era, detailed information about real-life crossdressing women becomes more plentiful. This article traces both openly transgressive crossdressing, such as the appropriation of masculine garments for fashionable purposes, and more practical covert uses, such as passing as male to enter restricted professions such as the military.

* * *

Cressy, David. 1996. “Gender Trouble and Cross-Dressing in Early Modern England” in Journal of British Studies 35/4: 438-465.

Cressy looks at the social context of both “acceptable” and unacceptable forms of cross-dressing by both men and women in his study period. While the contexts for the two groups were very different, both raised similar concerns about the violation of appropriate gender roles and the use of cross-dressing as an excuse (or context) for other social transgressions. While much of the public discourse on crossdressing women focused on the blurring of lines between the genders (including the appropriate of male clothing styles such as doublets and hats in the name of fashion), the anecdotal evidence (from life and literature) speaks of more practical concerns (as summarized in Woodbridge 1984): “to plead at law, regain a fortune, or practice a profession barred to women; to advance a stratagem, win back lovers, or fight a duel; to travel alone, avoid rape or molestation, and to have adventures.”

Polemical tracts such as Stubbes’ “Anatomy of Abuses” provide specifics of the accusations of transgression: women cropped their hair, put on broad-brimmed hats and doublets, wore boots and carried swords. The worst offenders were said to be found in theaters and brothels, and the specific example of Moll Cutpurse gives an example of what they were complaining about.

Several of Shakespeare’s comedies involve cross-dressing female characters (Viola and Rosalind as prime examples) though it must be remembered that the layers of gender identity involved male actors playing women who disguised themselves as men. Most in-play theatrical masquerades, though, were cross-dressing men, either for comic effect or as a means of penetrating women’s spaces.

Carnivals were evidently a popular time for crossdressing by both sexes. Another common context for crossdressing women was the military (which will be explored in greater detail in Dekker and van de Pol 1989 and in Dugaw 1996). Evidence from legal records is relatively rare, perhaps because laws against crossdressing were rarely enforced. There were occasional citations of prostitutes who wore male clothing as a sort of advertisement. In 1569 a woman named Joanna Goodman was punished for taking on men’s clothing to follow her husband to war. Susan Bastwick of Stondon was the subject of a complaint in 1578 for crossdressing as part of a prank. A servant was reported in 1585 for wearing men’s clothing on the job. In 1596 three sisters were cited for “going disguised a-mumming” in men’s clothing and their father was cited for permitting it. Women who came to church in men’s clothing, perhaps as a carnival prank, were given penance.

The aforementioned Moll Cutpurse (Mary Frith) was an interesting case. She pushed crossdressing from transgression into performance art. A play “The Roaring Girl” was written about a fictionalized version of her life. She clearly crossdressed to transgress and not to pass, often in a theatrical context either as audience or on occasion on stage. (More on her in Todd & Spearing 1994.)

Keywords: crossdressing passing occupations military discovery theater prostitutes


Literary matchmaking

Having had a useful chat with my publisher about how their option clause does and does not apply to short fiction, I have some brainstorming to do about where to try "Hidebound" (current title of the concluding skin-singer story. My tentative plan is to see if I can sell it as a stand-alone then put out the collected stories myself in electronic-only format. Even better if I could find someone else who wanted to do the collection, but I doubt I have enough name-juice for that. But the online short fiction market is something that didn't really exist a few years ago and it seems likely that I could find someone who would be interested in the story itself.

And having dragged it out again, I really want to do something with "Hoywferch" (the first one of the fluffy little "Mabinogi with lesbians" pieces) but that one's going to be hard to place. Too much of a historic set-piece to fit into standard fiction pigeonholes. I had a thought that it would be really fun as a semi-graphic story: something more than illustrations but not a fully graphic-story format. Unfortunately I don't really know any artists working in that sort of format or even how one would go about looking for them. Oh well, if I were writing ordinary, easily-classifiable stuff, I wouldn't be me.


(I explain the LHMP here.)

If you intend to make crossdressing and passing a key feature of your historic lesbian novel, the two books you really need to read to get a sense of this historic context are this one and Dekker and van de Pol’s The Tradition of Female Transvestism in Early Modern Europe. In both cases, I can barely do more than briefly summarize key examples, due to the scope of the material covered.

* * *

Hotchkiss, Valerie R. 1996. Clothes Make the Man: Female Cross Dressing in Medieval Europe. Garland Publishing, Inc., New York. ISBN 0-8153-3771-x

This review will necessarily be somewhat cursory, as the entire book is relevant to the LHMP project. In general, I will summarize data not covered in detail elsewhere, and include references to the rest.

Ch. 1 - Introduction: Women who dressed as men were anomalies and more common in medieval fiction than fact. The motif (both in fiction and fact) addresses the idea of female inferiority in contradictory ways: by successfully acting as men, the disguised women refute inherent female inferiority, but they can do so only by assimilating to male identity. Hotchkiss reviews previous studies of historical transvestism and reviews its cultural meaning as well as modern psychological interpretations. Historically, the motivations tended to be more practical than psychological, including economic and emotional goals, while literary purposes included gender-role conflicts and salacious comic relief. She discounts Dekker & van de Pol’s assertion that the (real-life) practice functionally began in the latter 16th century, noting that the scarcity of earlier examples is in the context of generally smaller quantities of records. She notes the overlapping issues of transvestism and transgenderism. Both in literature and life, female crossdressers seem to have had little trouble passing as men. Mitigating factors include the early age for the start of male careers (apprentices, novices, servants, squires) which made passing easier for women of a similar or slightly older age. Some cases address practical issues, as in several of the transvestite saints’ lives that mention breast binding. In literature, it’s noteworthy that ideals of masculine and feminine beauty are often described in similar terms. Religious policy, also reflected in civil law, forbade crossdressing, even specifically mentioned women in male disguise, but this was in conflict with popular culture which often took a more admiring stance (at least for female crossdressers).

Ch. 2/3 – Hagiography and real-life similar stories: This chapter covers the legends of crossdressing female saints (covered in detail in the entries for Anson 1974 and Bullough 1974). Although the early legends are likely fictional, there is solid evidence for women with similar experiences. One example is Hildegund von Schönau (d. 1188), whose story has a historic basis that was probably somewhat fictionalized. She was born near Cologne, her mother died when she was young and her father took her on pilgrimage with him, dressed as a boy. The father died on the journey and the servant entrusted with her robbed and abandoned her. She was befriended by another pilgrim who saw to it that she gained schooling and eventually she served as a papal messenger, then later entered a monastery as monk. She died while still in her first year there, after telling her life story (except for the disguise part) and saying they would discovered a "great miracle" after (s)he died. Similar motifs to the saints’ legends are also seen in the cases of Angela of Bohemia (sister of Ottokar I) in the 12th century, who was said to have escaped her bridal chamber in disguise as a man and traveled to Jerusalem where she became a nun. Similarly, Christina of Markyate (1096-1160) and Juana de la Cruz (1481-1534) dressed as men to flee enforced marriages and later led holy lives as women. Agnes of Monçada (early 15th century) disguised herself as a man to live as a holy hermit.

Ch. 4 – Jeanne d’Arc: The most famous case of a real-life woman openly crossdressing in a military context is Jeanne d’Arc. While her literary sisters may have been admired for similar actions, the real-life case was transgressive enough that her crossdressing formed a major component of her eventual trial. The transcripts from the trial give (a reported version of) Jeanne’s own reasoning for her crossdressing: "since I must arm myself and serve the gentle Dauphin in war, it is necessary for me to wear these [male] clothes, and also when I am among men in the habit of men, they have no carnal desire for me." (More detailed consideration of this case will come when I cover an edition of the trial transcripts.)

Ch 5 – Pope Joan: The legend of Pope Joan runs parallel to the crossdressing saints until it diverges into a lesson on women’s weakness rather than praise of a “de-feminized” woman. The legend is set in the 9th century and follows the career of a woman who assumed male identity to attend university with her (male) lover. Her scholarly brilliance led to advancement in the clerical ranks until she was elected Pope. However her true sex was revealed when she became pregnant and gave birth during a papal procession. (The legend has been debunked but was considered true during middle ages.)

Ch 6 – The Disguised Wife: There is a popular motif in both heroic and comic literature of an abandoned woman who takes a male identity to correct her situation by means that require a masculine role. The specifics of these stories are widely varied. There are several German stories of the 15th century about wives swapping clothing with imprisoned husbands so the husband can escape (and then revealing themselves to win their own freedom), or women who win their husbands’ freedom in disguise as (male) minstrels by means of their performance. In the French tale of Aucassin and Nicolette, Nicolette disguises herself as a male minstrel when returning home to Aucassin. (Disguise for the purpose of personal safety is common.) In Boccaccio's tale of Zinevra, the heroine is described as "more richly endowed than any other woman ... with all those virtues that a lady should possess, and even, to a great extent, those virtues that a knight or a squire should possess." Her husband makes a wager about her chastity that sets her up for an accusation of infidelity. Falsely accused, she flees execution disguised as the man Sicurano. Sicurano rises high in the service of the sultan and eventually clears his/her name and brings judgment on her betrayer. The 13th century Franco-Flemish tale "Conte du Roi Flore et de la belle Jehane" has a similar motif but here the disguised, calumniated wife becomes a companion to her falsely-accusing husband as his squire in order to clear her name. In the ca. 1300 Icelandic “Magus saga jarls”, the calumniated wife must win certain tokens from her husband and get pregnant by his to prove her virtue. She gets the tokens in male disguise in a game of tafl and gets impregnated when he thinks he's seducing his "opponent's wife" in the dark. There are even more ribald versions of this motif in French fabliaux.

Ch 7 – Sexuality: A number of stories specifically address the complexity of sexual attraction and response in the context of crossdressing women. Although these stories involve a transitional state where a woman experiences to erotic desire for another woman (in disguise) they all resolve into heterosexuality by some means. In Ovid's Iphis & Ianthe (familiar to medieval audiences by various transmissions) Iphis, who has been raised as a boy, falls in love with Ianthe and resolves her crisis of desire with a divinely-mediated sex-change. Unlike the other stories included here, the disguised woman experiences desire as well as her female beloved, but the character/storyteller cannot envision the successful possibility of same-sex love. In the French romance Tristan de Nanteuil (14th century), the character Blanchandine is asked by Tristan to disguise herself so she can accompany him on his travels, and this is an open secret among his companions. But when Tristan is believed killed Blanchandine (still in disguise) is pressured into marrying another woman against her will. She's offered the chance at a magical sex-change and only after taking it (and then experiencing love for her wife) she discovers Tristan is still alive, but now (as a man) she feels no desire for him. There are two versions of the 14th century French story "Yde et Olive". Yde flees her father's incestuous advances in disguise as man and becomes renowned as a knight both in battle and at court. The king offers her his daughter's hand in marriage and after some attempt to dodge the issue, Yde confesses her secret to her betrothed and Olive accepts this and promises to continue supporting her as her wife. This situation cannot be allowed to stand, however. In one version, Yde is discovered and the matter is resolved by Yde marrying the king and Olive marrying Yde’s father. [Excuse me, but ICK!] In the other version, Yde is granted a magical sex-change and the couple continues happily married. In the French “Roman de Silence” (late 13th century), the title character is raised as a boy because women aren't allowed to inherit. She travels to the king's court and wins fame but is desired by the queen who, when rejected, accuses "him" of misconduct. The consequences of this accusation result in even greater fame as a knight. Eventually Silence is charged with the capture of Merlin who reveals her secret. As a result, the king changes the inheritance laws.

Ch 8 – Conclusion and index of case studies: Other miscellaneous cases (both fictional and historic) not previously mentioned. Eleanor of Aquitaine was said to have donned male clothing on one occasion to escape Henry II's anger. The 15th century case of a woman disguising herself to be student at the University of Krakow. (Shank 1987) Saint Theodora (4th century) condemned to serve in a brothel for resisting pagan practices, exchanged clothes with a soldier (Didymus) to escape, after which they were both martyred. A legend concerning Hildegard of Swabia, wife of Charlemagne (8th century) who disguised herself as man to escape execution when falsely accused of adultery, and then became a famous doctor. After curing her accuser she was vindicated and returned to her old life/role. A 12th century penitential code lists "If a woman, judging it useful according to her own decision, put on male clothing ..."; while penitentials of the 9th and 13th century condemn transvestism in the specific context of carnival.

Keywords: crossdressing passing military discovery desire


(I explain the LHMP here.)

Medieval romances that involve women dressing as men and taking up arms typically involve a lone individual who is venturing into the world unrecognized. Disguise is normally a key factor. The example in this article is unusual, not only in that the women’s activities are open and public, but that the entire community of women participates.

* * *

Westphal-Wihl, Sarah. 1989. “The Ladies’ Tournament: Marriage, Sex, and Honor in Thirteenth-Century Germany” in Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society, 14/2: 371-398

The article examines an unusual motif in the context of chivalric literature: the activities and adventures of a community of women in the absence of their men, where the story does not focus on the resolution of that absence. The work was composed in Germany slightly before 1300 and presents a community of noble families whose men are engaged in tournaments and the pursuit of honor. When the men all leave the town to negotiate a peace treaty with an invading force, the women organize a self-sufficient community in their absence and decide to hold a tournament, taking on the clothing, armor, and arms of their departed men-folk to do them honor. Although some women dissent, arguing that they should stick to feminine forms of honor, the challenge holds the day. When the men return they praise the women for this event, though evidently they get teased for it by others. A great deal of the article then concerns a minor event in the story, where a poor young woman with no male relatives had taken on the name of a famous knight, and when he learns of it and comes to investigate the story, he’s so impressed by her that he gives her money for her dowry. Westphal-Wihl looks at the dynamics of dowry in this context and how the story expresses anxieties about social status and the economics of marriage. The crossdressing in this story is temporary, overt (i.e., with no intent to “pass”), and for the specific purpose of engaging in a masculine activity (jousting). The transgressive power of the activity is limited and for this reason the men choose to see it as praiseworthy rather than threatening.

Keywords: crossdressing tournament


Latest Month

July 2014


RSS Atom
Powered by
Designed by Lilia Ahner