Female Cross-Dressing, Genre and Popular Literary Forms from 1830 to 1900
University of Roehampton, London
Supervisor: Dr Louise Lee
This project proceeds from the critical and creative thought experiment that gender theorist Judith Butler timetravelled to Victorian Britain and was in dialogue with female cross-dressers and populist writers across the 19th century. Deploying the trope of cross-dressing, I will consider the extent to which ‘performativity’ evidenced by real life female cross-dressers from theatre, visual culture and literary culture -- Vesta Tilley, Harry Stokes, Mary Diana Dods -- was also underpinned by a generic ‘performativity’: a porosity of boundaries both within and around popular forms. As many critics acknowledge, nineteenth century generic boundaries were sites of contestation: in the process of simultaneous emergence and re-definition. By pursuing visual forms of crossdressing as sites of connection between popular literature and theatrical culture, I will demonstrate that these re negotiated intersections, or intersex-ions, suggest new interpretive prisms through which to consider representations of gender as a key point of connection between the discourses of fiction and drama in the nineteenth century. Alongside archival research of real-life case studies of women cross dressing as men, my work will focus on three key areas in relation to the presentation of cross-dressing in theatre and popular fiction: plot device, stereotype and subversion.