Swanson, Diana L.
Ph.D. (Doctor of Philosophy)
Department of English
Transvestism in literature; American fiction--19th century--History and criticism; Gender identity in literature
While the past decade has witnessed tremendous critical interest in literary cross-dressing (i.e., when a character of one sex wears clothes traditionally associated with the other sex), literary critics have tended to focus on dramatic works and genres (plays, films, television shows) which help to illustrate theories of gender-as-performance. Although these examinations have made important contributions to our understanding of literary cross-dressing, the novel genre, with its attendant themes and history, has been relatively neglected. My project, “Novel Habits for a New World: Cross-Dressing as Literary Device in the Nineteenth-Century American Novel” investigates narratives, characters, themes, and novel sub-genres which incorporate cross-dressing in ways that both reflect and re-shape our understanding of it. I have selected novels that span this most turbulent and formative American century, giving principal attention to core texts representative not only of the cross-dressing tradition, but of the larger American literary tradition: Last of the Mohicans (1826), by James Fenimore Cooper; Hope Leslie (1827), by Catharine Maria Sedgwick; Uncle Tom's Cabin (1852), by Harriet Beecher Stowe; Clotel (1864), by William Wells Brown; Little Women (1868), by Louisa May Alcott; The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1883), by Mark Twain; and Iola Leroy (1892), by Frances E. W. Harper. The fact that cross-dressing characters appear repeatedly in American novels across the century suggests that cross-dressing was a useful and important literary device, and gives rise to intriguing questions: What functions does cross-dressing serve in a literary work? What do cross-dressing characters in American novels have to say about American culture? How do novels in nineteenth-century America incorporate and also influence the larger traditions of literature, and of literary cross-dressing? And ultimately, what constitutes cross-dressing—i.e., which boundaries of American identity (gender, class, race, etc.) can be crossed by means of dress? These are the questions central to my work. My project contributes to the fields of American literature and literary history, gender theory and criticism, and women's and lesbian gay bisexual transgender studies, as it seeks to increase our understanding of the literary tradition in the years of Western expansion, Civil War, and various influential political reform movements.
Shelden, Mary Lamb, "Novel habits for a new world : cross-dressing as literary device in the nineteenth-century American novel" (2003). Graduate Research Theses & Dissertations. 4142.
xxi, 363 pages
Northern Illinois University
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