hrj: (doll)

When you read Stephanie Burgis's guest-post below, I think my regular readers will understand immediately why I'm delighted to have her as a guest, and why I think anyone who enjoys my writing will probably love hers as well. I haven't read her newest book Congress of Secrets yet, but I thoroughly enjoyed her previous work Masks and Shadows (see review) and gave it one of my highest accolades: passing the "treadmill test" with flying colors! (Since I read fiction mostly at the gym, the "treadmill test" is, "Did I blow right past my workout target because I was so engrossed in the book?") Although the new book has similar themes and setting to Masks and Shadows, they are independent of each other.


Finding the Fantasy in History – Guest Blog by Stephanie Burgis

The best thing I ever did for my writing career was to go to grad school. I didn’t get an MFA in Creative Writing, though. Instead, I studied opera history and politics, and the way those two things intertwined.

There are lots of obvious reasons why it’s good for any fiction writer to study history. You get to see the way the world really works (sometimes over and over and over again, in distressing repetition). You get to see the (sometimes unimaginable) ways real people have schemed and fought for power, as well as breathtaking acts of real heroism, generosity and self-sacrifice, too.

But sometimes, you get another bonus, as a fantasy writer. Sometimes, you get magical ideas handed to you.

As I got ready to write this guest blog, I kept thinking back to the first line in the Acknowledgements of Lois McMaster Bujold’s wonderful book The Curse of Chalion (which is set in a fantasy world based on Renaissance Spain): “The author would like to thank Professor William D. Phillips, Jr., for History 3714, the most useful four hundred dollars and ten weeks I ever spent in school.”

In Bujold’s case (if I’m remembering this story right, from an interview I read many years ago!) she took a course on Spanish history just for fun, in mid life, and it sparked a whole new setting for her next few books and also a basic historical setup that she could turn into something astonishingly unique and powerful. (I am a huge Bujold fan in general, but I love her Chalion books best of all!)

Her kingdom of Chalion bears a number of resemblances to Renaissance Spain, just as her fiery young heroine has a lot of overlap with Spain’s own historical Queen Isabella – but Bujold made that world her own with the addition of an all-new, original and convincing religious system that includes five gods taking an active part in history and directly affecting all the characters and their struggles.

…So it started with history, and became something new. That’s a fabulous way of doing it!

But sometimes, it’s just a matter of finding what was already there.

In my own case, I spent my years as a PhD student studying opera and politics in late eighteenth-century Vienna and Eszterháza…which meant, inevitably, that I read a lot about the many different secret societies that were rife in Vienna in that time period. Most famously, Mozart’s The Magic Flute is full of Masonic symbolism – and the provocative chapter title of one academic book I read, when studying Mozart’s operas, was: “Why did the Freemasons Visit Hell?”

Of course, that visit never literally happened. The author of that book was only discussing a rite in which they symbolically visited the underworld.

But as a fantasy reader and writer, of course I immediately thought: What if it wasn’t just symbolic? What would that have been like?

Vienna also happened to have a number of active alchemists working in the late eighteenth century. Some of them, of course, were proto-scientists…but others were fabulously successful showmen who held audiences rapt with their astonishing “supernatural” summonings.

As a lifelong fantasy reader, it didn’t take long for me to wonder: what if those weren’t just fraudulent performances? What if that kind of mysterious, supernatural alchemy actually worked?

And I was at an academic conference at Oxford University (run by the Society for Eighteenth Century Studies) when, just for fun, I attended a talk about Sir Isaac Newton, who had nothing whatsoever to do with my own work. I had attended a lot of talks that day, and I’d listened with more or less interest to lectures on dozens of different aspects of the eighteenth-century world, trying to pick out any details that might be relevant to my PhD thesis, and also daydreaming a little about where I might head out for dinner afterward, until…

…Halfway through that particular talk, I suddenly perked up, stopped daydreaming, and started frantically scribbling notes on my program book, as the speaker discussed Newton’s theories of the aether, the material and the immaterial worlds, and the ethereal medium that (according to that model) hovered in-between the two worlds, just beyond the limits of our vision.

Those theories went on to become the direct basis for the work done by one of my alchemists in Masks and Shadows, when he summons very real and dangerous elementals from the immaterial world into the luxuriant palace of Eszterháza, with bloody results.

My latest novel, Congress of Secrets, is set 35 years later, at the Congress of Vienna in 1814, and it’s a standalone novel without any recurring characters– but the same kinds of alchemy have been going on behind the scenes in Vienna ever since the events of Masks and Shadows. Unfortunately, the head of secret police has figured out his own my powerful, driven heroine knows only too well.

But she’ll risk anything to get her father back – even resorting to the same dark alchemy that devoured her childhood.

...The same kind that came to me from that one Oxford conference.

It wasn’t what I’d expected to get out of that academic gathering – but when you start studying history, you never know what you’ll find!

In my case, I found two novels full of dark, alchemical magic – and it all came out of looking at dry historical facts and wondering… What if???

Stephanie Burgis grew up in East Lansing, Michigan, spent 2 years in Vienna, and now lives in Wales, surrounded by castles and coffee shops. She is the author of two historical fantasy novels for adults (Masks and Shadows and Congress of Secrets), a trilogy of MG Regency fantasy novels (the Kat, Incorrigible trilogy), and over 30 short stories in various magazines and anthologies. You can find out more and read excerpts of all of her books at:

hrj: (LHMP)
(I explain the LHMP here and provide a cumulative index.)

This entry concludes Rose Fox's guest-analysis of Krimmer. They are doing research for a novel with a trans male protagonist and a lesbian supporting character in ~1810 London, examining the works Krimmer covers 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.

* * *

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

Chapter 5: Female Fantasies: Poetology and Androgyny
(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!
hrj: (LHMP)
(I explain the LHMP here and provide a cumulative index.)

We continue with Rose Fox's guest-analysis. They are doing research for a novel with a trans male protagonist and a lesbian supporting character in ~1810 London, examining the works Krimmer covers 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.

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

Chapter 3: the body as a repository of gender truth/legitimacy.
(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"."
hrj: (LHMP)
(I explain the LHMP here and provide a cumulative index.)

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.

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

Chapter 2
(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.
hrj: (doll)
Alma Alexander is another of the authors I first met when hanging out in the Usenet group rec.arts.sf.composition. The first book of hers that I read was The Secrets of Jin-Shei, which is a stunning Chinese-inspired fantasy full of complex female characters and a richly imagined world. Her most recent release is Random, a story about shape-shifters with an interesting twist, which is my current gym reading. (Shape-shifters are near and dear to my heart at the moment, since I’m working on the final story to my skin-singer series.) Alma graciously agreed to drop by for a guest blog, which I’ll reciprocate as soon as I get a few things cleared off my plate. Alma blogs at and you can follow her on Twitter as @AlmaAlexander .

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Humans are fascinated by the possibility of transformation. By an ability to change our familiar shape—two legs, two arms, a walk-upright human ape with a flat face and a large skull and a particular set and style and shape and size of dentition—and turn into something different and dangerous. The Native American skinwalkers, for instance, who could turn into any animal they wanted—a physical manifestation of the great unknown, perilous and witchy. The vampires who traditionally swung a corner of that elegant cape and soared away into the night sky as bats. And, of course, there were always the were-wolves.

There were all these things, and more.

Other storytellers have already explored the Werewolf trope, taking it sideways by other Were creatures like Were-beagles and Were-ravens and Were-rats. But when I began building my own world for The Were Chronicles, I went considerably farther afield, delving into things I had never handled anywhere before. Sure, I had the other-species Were-kind populating my story, and they were fun enough to play with, I used them to build a scaffolding for a whole structured and stratified Were society in which everyone knew where their rung of the ladder was and where they belonged.

But the new ideas...were different. They came out of left field.

I envisioned, for example, an Old World and a New World to which my characters had immigrated. And in the New World, it was a whole different variant of Weres. One was the new-moon Were as opposed to the traditional full-moon Were—the kindred that Turned into their animal forms when the moon was gone rather than when it was in full-powered glow in the sky. I introduced these as something that was not exactly common, or even known about, in the Old World of my tale, the place where the traditional Were-kind existed. They were a New World thing, unknown and different, to be integrated into the trad world in strange and novel ways.

Another one came out of nowhere, for me. The Random Were. The kind that was not fixed in form, but was still ruled by the Were laws and changed according to the moon as the rest of their ilk did. That...was potentially game changing, and it had the ability to turn the Were trope, as generally practiced in fiction, inside out. It was one of the Randoms who broke the mold and did the unthinkable—changed from one human into another, when her Turn time came. And it was she who seeded the brain of another unique creature—a true shifter, one who could change at will into anything he chose—with ideas which might not otherwise have occurred to him.

These were outside manifestations, a reworking of the soft clay of an old idea into a new and perhaps unexpected shape. But more than this, I wanted to rebuild the trope from the inside out. It wasn't enough to resculpt the Were into a new form. I was more ambitious than that. I wanted to know what the clay was made of.

I developed a whole New World culture in which Weres were recognized as part of the world with not quite equal rights. In the Old World they were feared and remain hidden most of the time.

Beyond that, I took a step back into my own past, and a step deeper into the trope I was working with, and I set out to posit an actual scientific and believable genetic basis and background for the Were folk. They were who they were because of something on the level of their DNA—and I, armed with a somewhat dusty and rarely used MSc degree in Molecular Genetics, made it my business to find out what, and why. I ended up casting those iconic Werewolves, the Lycans of my world, as the scientists of my piece—although their agenda might have been...somewhat less than pure. I let the scientist Were loose on the investigating the deepest core of what the Were creature was, or could be made to become.

I wrote about a race of creatures who had always been considered to be monsters...and who were, in my story, not monsters at all, because I was writing FROM THE INSIDE OF THEIR CONSCIOUSNESS. I set out to write a story about what, from the point of view of the WERE, did it mean to be HUMAN. We, the ordinary workaday human race who had no talent to wear any other skin than the one we had been born into, WE were the monsters with whom the Were parents frightened their Were-babies to sleep at night.

I wore their skin. I am a human who Turns into a Were-creature. I am—if you like—a Were-were. I looked at the world through a pair of very different eyes than my own.

The challenge is...after reading the Were Chronicles...will you recognize it...?
hrj: (doll)
I'm excited about some of the stuff I have lined up for the next few weeks. Next week I'll have the third of my Thursday Guest Blogs, from SFF author Alma Alexander. And after I finish up the LHMP postings for Among Women, I have a special guest-blogger covering one of the books high on my to-do list. (More details later when we've reviewed and agreed on the actual posting.)

This is a reminder that I'm interested in including guest blogs from other authors (or people involved in the world of books in some other fashion) on a regular basis. I have some nibbles of interest from a few people, but am always looking for more. It hadn't previously occurred to me to invite people to contribute material for the Lesbian Historic Motif Project. In this case, someone was posting about one of the books already on my list in a way that was so thoroughly compatible with my approach that I took the chance of asking if I could use it and they said ok. If you've enjoyed the LHMP and think you might be interested in contributing one or more entries, please contact me so we can discuss it.
hrj: (doll)
Guest Blog by Natasja Hellenthal: The Origin of Evil and Writing in Grey Areas

I met Natasja on facebook where she runs the Speculative Fiction Book Club group, as well as being active in various LGBT fiction sites. She has self-published a number of fantasy novels that are infused with philosophical considerations such as those explored in this essay.

* * *

We live in a world built on absolutes. Right and wrong. Win or lose. Polarised views. Religious, racial and political divides. But what if life is not that simple? What if the world is not that straightforward?

We explain everything what we see and what happens in definite terms. Right or wrong? Good or bad? What if it’s possible to be just a little bit right and just a little bit wrong? What if life is not a matter of right or wrong, winning or losing? Not black and white? What if life is actually played out in grey areas? What if it is time for stories to reflect this?

How are right and wrong defined? In religion, ethics and philosophy, “good and evil” is a common dichotomy. It is the concept of all human desires, behaviours and values. A dualistic spectrum-wherein in one direction is life and continuity (good), and in the other there is death and destruction (evil). Good is a sense of having the right desirable quality. Likewise, most religious and philosophical interpretations agree that evil behaviour itself is an aberration; one that defies any understanding, save that the path of evil is one of confusion and excessive selfish desire (greed). It is the differentiation of intentions, decisions, and actions between those that are “good” (or right) and “bad” (or wrong).

Religious and philosophical views both tend to agree that goodness is built-in to human nature and is ultimately based on the natural love, bonding and affection that people grow to feel for other people and creatures alike.

We can argue about what sorts of things are good, but we all know what love is, or feel the loss of it when we don’t. Morality ultimately comes down to sympathy and fellow feelings for others. That is something we share with other intelligent ‘higher’ species, which have a conscious. But it seems that we are the only species that understand when we do wrong when we do, or to better put it; know when we do wrong and still do it. That is what separates us, I believe. What makes us human.

Read more... )
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I first met and got to know Lucy Kemnitzer ([ profile] ritaxis) on the late lamented Usenet group rec.arts.sf.composition and we've not only kept in touch via our blogs but have intersected in person on a number of occasions, since we both live in the greater SF Bay Area. There's a special bond you make with another writer when you get to watch each other's stories grow from idea-seeds through research and initial drafts to final products. Like my own Alpennia, Lucy is grounding her current project in the invented past of a place that is and yet is not the Europe of our world. A lot of her methods are quite familiar, although I haven't had the opportunity of making a research trip in recent years!

I'm delighted that Lucy agreed to be my inaugural guest-blogger here in the Rose Garden. I have a couple more guests lined up at the moment and hope to make this a regular weekly feature if there is enough interest. (Please contact me if you'd like to discuss doing a guest blog or a blog exchange.)

* * *

Last summer I spent nearly seven weeks in a European city (Central or Eastern depending on who's talking) doing hours of research almost every day. I took notes and photographs, walked miles, peering at architectural details, the leaves of plants, the layout of streets. Serendipity was on my side, because the large complex of national museums there was doing an ambitious multifaceted project on the history, culture, economics, and everyday life of the last century of the Austrian Empire and everything to do with World War One.

In addition, I've read a stack of books and articles, perused websites, and interviewed people , including a series of discussions about trench warfare and the history of automatic weapons. I have a nature encyclopedia of the area, and I have taken the pains to translate sections of it. I learned to identify trees that do not grow in California.

This was in service of a novel which is not set in Europe—Central or Eastern, however you may construe it—nor during World War One, nor having anything to do with the Austrian Empire. The novel is a secondary world fantasy, which takes place in locations sprinkled around an impoverished backwater region with historical pretensions to empire and a tremendous linguistic, ethnic, and religious diversity and uneven penetration of modernity (modernity being in this case about equivalent to modernity of our own Europe of a hundred years ago and a bit more). The region consists of affiliated small duchies and principalities badly governed by a tangle of conflicting law systems, with varieties of feudalism pertaining in some places while simultaneously there's a bicameral parliament elected by popular (but constrained) vote. Magic runs through the story: the protagonist has an ongoing relationship with a wild sow who is an elemental spirit, and his scientist sister has visions and talks to trees.

I could go on. But clearly, I'm not writing about the Austrian Empire here. So why all the research—and why, in particular, this research?

I'll answer the second question first. I researched this corner of the world because I had access to it. I was in that city for family reasons and I took advantage of it to inform my secondary world building with what I could learn there. Also, when I was first thinking about this story I wanted to set it in a milieu that was not Tolkienesque: not, to be frank, set in a disguised England. I was already beginning to learn about this corner of the world, and I decided to let Serendipity work for me there.

I had already written most of the book before I took my great research vacation, and I had already visited the city as well. I had ideas about how history would go, and what technology would pertain. I wanted to know as much as I could about how these things had gone down in the real world. In this way, I can compare and contrast elements of my story with elements of the real world. Sometimes it's a simple reality check: would a city at this level of development likely have a streetcar system? Yes, it would. Would it be available for my working-class characters to ride? Yes, at least certain lines would. Would the Duke of the tiny obscure place ride an automobile or a sledge? Auto in the summer, sledge in the winter, depending on the state of the road.

But the very core conceit of the story hinges on a historical question I asked because I didn't want to set it in the Middle Ages. "When was the latest that armies used drummers on the battlefield?" I was thinking perhaps the Franco-Prussian War or something. Imagine my surprise to learn the answer—World War Two. Then I started nosing around and I kept discovering that the actual history was full of things that enriched the story and moved the plot along. Every time I read about the evolution of the ideas around language and ethnicity in the Slavic-(but not only Slavic-)speaking regions, I found that I understood my story more. Even though my novel is not "about" language or ethnicity, and especially even though it is not "about" Slavs or Germans or Hungarians or Romani...

It's not exactly that the real world provides strict templates or laws about history and the relationships among peoples. It's more along the lines of pattern drafting for clothing. To draw a new armscye, it behooves one to understand the curves and measurements of existing ones, and to know especially well the way the armscye is put together of a garment that has something in common with the garment one is designing.

* * *
Lucy Kemnitzer blogs at
and can be followed on Twitter as @lucykemnitzer

You can pre-order her lesbian sci-fi novella A&A Salvage from Less Than Three Press (release date is December 10, 2014).
hrj: (doll)
To celebrate reaching 100 Twitter followers, I offered a choice of blog topic to the 99th and 100th. One of the winners, Ursula W., noting that another friend of hers, Rose Lerner, also wrote Regency-era romances, requested a blog trade on that topic. (ETA: My post is now up at Rose's site here.) Class is a recurring theme in Rose Lerner's romances. Her March release from Samhain, Sweet Disorder, is about an earl's son canvassing an impoverished middle-class widow during a local election. Her debut In for a Penny, about a marriage of convenience between a penniless peer and a Cit heiress, will be rereleased in June. A Lily Among Thorns, about a tailor and an innkeeper whose aristocratic family connections create endless complications for them, will be rereleased in September, and True Pretenses, about a Jewish con artist who grew up on the streets and a Tory philanthropist heiress, comes out in early 2015. Her website can be found at

* * *

When I was asked by Ursula W. to do a blog exchange with Heather Rose Jones, and she identified the common strands in our writing as "research (esp. social class), decent humans as protagonists, [and] conversations w/ Heyer" I was immediately intrigued. And when Heather was inspired by that to choose the topic of "conversations with Heyer and roadblocks to romance covering class/gender/etc. issues"...I couldn't stop thinking about it.

My relationship with Heyer is complicated. In some ways, I relate to her like a critical mother. Her work has influenced my genre and my writing so heavily, she's written some of my very favorite romances, and yet...I know she wouldn't approve of me (apart from anything else, I'm Jewish!). I'm unable to simply set aside the places we disagree. Instead, they inspire in me frustrated stomach churnings if I think too much about it.

Because here's the thing about Georgette Heyer and class issues as a roadblock to romance:

In Georgette Heyer, real class difference is an insuperable barrier to romance.

It's not a conflict which is overcome in the third act. It actually makes genuine love between two people impossible. Deborah in Faro's Daughter plays at vulgarity because she's angry at the hero's snobbery, but the implication is that if she really were as inelegant as she pretends to be, the hero couldn't possibly find her attractive. Leonie in These Old Shades grew up in a working class family but she's the daughter of a count...and not only that, the legitimate daughter of a count (nothing worse than flaunting your baseborn kids in society as if they're actual human beings worthy of your love, as we are aggressively instructed in both These Old Shades and Regency Buck!). Meanwhile, the count's "heir," with whom Leonie was switched at birth, is a stolid, plain fellow who secretly yearns for farming and low company.

The only Heyer heroine who is genuinely, genetically not a gentlewoman is Jenny in A Civil Contract, and she's also the only Heyer heroine whose hero never comes to feel passionate adoration for her. According to the text, it's because she's "too commonplace and matter-of-fact to inspire" it. But actually, the heroine of The Quiet Gentleman is fairly similar in personality, and she gets the real deal. What sets Jenny finally, definitely apart is her middle class genes (which, not to mention, are subtextually heavily linked to her "unattractive" plumpness).

To Georgette Heyer, class differences were in the blood, and blue blood was better, full stop. Rich people are smarter, sexier, more complicated, more sensitive, and they were that way naturally. Cultural differences in how middle- and lower-class people express emotion were, to Heyer, deficiencies rooted in non-aristocrats' physical bodies. (There's a reason for this, of course, and it's that over the course of the eighteenth century, concepts of "restraint" and "elegance" became more and more central to policing class difference and justifying the privileges of the wealthy, since feudalism and the divine right of kings were going out of fashion. Which is itself fascinating to play with in historical fiction!)

When I wrote In for a Penny, I was pretty transparently writing a manifesto about why I hated A Civil Contract. I wanted to write a book about a Cit heroine married for her money by an overbred lord...who feels inadequate next to her. Who is jealous of her ex who's a closer social match for her. Who worries that she regrets their marriage.

The advantages to "marrying up" are obvious (especially if, like Phoebe in my recent release Sweet Disorder, a heroine is not only middle-class but poor). But the disadvantages are real. Cecilia Grant said recently that, "Part of the action of most romances, I think, is the realization of the wish to be truly understood." And marrying someone from a different cultural context, especially someone who comes from a group that has social privilege your group doesn't--that is choosing to spend your life with someone who will have a hard time understanding a fundamental part of your life and who may never understand a part of your life. If you "marry up," your spouse may behave in ways that trigger resentment and anger in you. And if their family and friends are preprogrammed to look down on you, that's a major threat to the fantasy of the HEA, which is not just about a wonderful relationship but about a wonderful life and a wonderful future and, often, a wonderful community.

There's a moment in Penny where Nev and Penelope are visiting a snobbish neighbor for dinner:

The food laid out for them was aggressively English, not a cream sauce or ragout in sight. “Forgive the simplicity of my table,” Sir Jasper said. “I find English cooking more healthful than French, but it must appear sadly plain compared with the efforts of your splendid chef.”

Penelope was unpleasantly reminded of one of her father’s friends, a Methodist who had given up all forms of meat. His elaborate explanation that no, he didn’t judge those who dined on animal flesh, only he found the mind was so much less clouded by carnality when fed on purely vegetable sustenance, had been delivered in precisely the same tone. “Not at all,” she said, smiling. “My father dislikes French cooking. It will be quite like home to have some plain beef again.”

Until Sir Jasper’s face went blank, it did not even occur to her that he might not like to hear that Greygloss was quite like home to Penelope Bedlow, née Brown. She wasn’t usually so tactless. And she hadn’t even meant it. Greygloss was far too elegant to be anything like home. God, she wanted to be home. She wanted her mother’s horrible purple tablecloth and people who liked her.

People who liked her: that's what Penelope gave up to be with Nev, and it's nothing to sneeze at.

That doesn't mean, though, that class differences are an insuperable obstacle. It means they're a great source of conflict. After all, what is more romantic than knowing that someone could not be more different than you, that they really should not be able to understand you, to get you down to your bones...and yet, somehow, they're the only person in the world who does?



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