Jane Austen and Cross Dressing

Here is an excerpt from my guest blog post on The Calico Critic (where there is also a giveaway of Pride and Proposals!) about the connection between Jane Austen and cross-dressing…. 

So Laura asked me the question, “You have a Ph.D. in English literature, did you focus a lot on Austen?” The answer, ironically enough, is: no, not really at all. In my Ph.D. program, my specialty was drama, especially 20th century drama and gender issues. My dissertation was about cross-dressing in 20th century plays and films (M. Butterfly, La Cage Aux Folles, The Crying Game, Victor/Victoria, Tootsie, etc.). On the face of it, this wouldn’t seem like great preparation for writing Jane Austen fan fiction; after all, she didn’t write plays and there’s no cross-dressing in her novels. However, it was excellent preparation for thinking about the way that gender roles have an impact on depictions of characters.

One of the things I found fascinating about cross-dressing is that how it brings gender roles to the foreground. When a man dresses as a woman, it really makes the audience think, “Is that how a woman would behave?” or “Why are certain behaviors ‘female’ and others ‘male’?” In some ways, Austen’s novels do the same thing. I’m not saying that Austen had a feminist agenda where she set out to “educate” readers about women’s rights. But she tells her stories from the female perspective (a radical choice for the era) and uses that unique perspective to illustrate differences in male and female behavior.

You can read the rest of my post (and an excerpt from my novel) at the link below!



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