by Caroline Lawrence
|Blackadder and "Bob"
You’ve all thought about doing it.
And some of you actually have done it once or twice, haven’t you?
In at least one of your historical novels you’ve dressed a girl as a boy or – less commonly – a boy as a girl. (Or in the case of one History Girl, a man pretending to be a male impersonator dressed up as a woman.) My guess is that at least half the History Girls who write for this blog have a cross-dressing protagonist somewhere in our books.
Here is just a quick random sampling of cross-dressing in novels by some of us History Girls. (I asked for contributions and hope I've avoided mentioning any that might be considered "spoilers".)
|Grace as Dick
Marie-Louise Jensen’s forthcoming book, The Girl in the Mask, features a girl who dresses as a boy by night in order to enjoy freedoms she is denied as an upper-class girl, including highway robbery.
In The Remarkable Life and Times of Eliza Rose, Mary Hooper dresses Eliza and her pal Nell Gwyn as boys so they can attend a royal entertainment at Foxhall Gardens.
Celia Rees has cross-dressing characters in not one but two of her novels: Sovay and Pirates!
Eve Edwards’ feisty heroine Cat Royal dresses as a boy in several of her adventures, too, but especially in Cat Among the Pigeons where she has to hide out in Westminster Boys School!
|Halo is a girl
Teodora Gasperin in Michelle Lovric’s The Mourning Emporium, disguises herself as boy for the first half so that she can become a sailor on the Scilla, Venice’s floating orphanage.
Eleanor Updale is the one with the man dressed up as a man dressed up as a woman in her book, Montmorency's Revenge.
And I might be the worst offender of the lot. Not only do Flavia Gemina and her sidekick Nubia dress as boys in various of my own Roman Mysteries but The Scribes from Alexandria and The Fugitive from Corinth also feature major characters who are cross-dressers.
Cross-dressing is an especially popular theme in comic drama, e.g Plautus, Shakespeare & Molière, and also in historical fiction (e.g. Georgette Heyer & Geoffrey Trease). But I'm going to take you to a new place, one you might never have visited before.
TV Tropes is a fascinating cult fiction site which identifies themes and devices (don't call them clichés) common in popular films, TV, books, myth and especially Manga.
|A Funny Thing...
Here are some of the subcategories of Cross-Dressing on TV Tropes:
Creepy Crossdresser - usually a "he" and mainly used for creep factor - e.g. Psycho's Norman Bates; Silence of the Lamb's Buffalo Bill; The Big Bad Wolf
Wholesome Crossdresser - an attractive boy or girl dresses as the opposite sex for sensible reasons: to solve a mystery or escape detection. - e.g. Famous Five's George, LOTR's Eowyn, Boy2Girl by Terence Blacker, and many more.
Those are the two main categories. Here are some sub-categories.
Disguised in Drag - a man dressed as a woman for purpose of disguise - e.g. Achilles on isle of Scyros; Some Like it Hot's Joe and Jerry; Tootsie;
Hysterium in A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (above right)
|a distaff counterpart
Distaff Counterpart - a female version of a male hero
e.g. Supergirl; She-Hulk; Batgirl; Toy Story's Jesse, etc.
Harmless Lady Disguise - man wants to become invisible so dresses as lady
e.g. The Scarlet Pimpernel, Willow's Madmartigan, Sherlock Holmes, etc.
Hermaphrodite - someone who feels equally male/female and who may have the sexual organs of both - e.g. Hermaphroditus child of Hermes and Aphrodite; Middlesex; everyone on the planet in Ursula LeGuinn's The Left Hand of Darkness
Transsexual - a person who changes gender to feel more themselves - e.g. Tiresias the blind prophet of Thebes, Boys Don't Cry, Tom from the Cement Garden, Orlando, etc.
Attractive Bent Gender - a boy is very attractive when dressed as a girl & vice versa
Bokukko - in Japanese, a girl who refers to herself with masculine pronouns - e.g. mainly from Manga, like Takatsuki Yoshino (right) the girl who wants to be a boy
Tomboy - we all know this one: the girl who likes action and doesn't feel particularly "feminine" - TV Tropes excel themselves by listing subcategories of Tomboy such as the Cute Bruiser, the Faux Action Girl and the Badass Bookworm, who is often a "Stealth Tomboy".
Sweet Polly Oliver - a female who dresses as a boy for a specific reason
(the folk song's Sweet Polly Oliver disguises herself as soldier to follow her lover)
|half Irish/half Apache
Why do we History Girls love cross-dressers? Is it because we want female protagonists but know that in almost every era except our own, females led pretty boring lives?
Or is there something deeper going on?
I've only blogged briefly, mainly to introduce you to the wacky world of TV Tropes, (and beware, this site is addictive), but I would love to hear why other History Girls like cross-dressing. If you want to blog in more depth about this, pop in the key word CROSS-DRESSING and we'll see if we can get a discussion going.