Cross-Dressers

Janet Todd

  • The Cavalry Maiden: Journals of a Female Russian Officer in the Napoleonic Wars by Nadezhda Durova, translated by Mary Fleming Zirin
    Angel, 242 pp, £12.95, May 1988, ISBN 0 946162 35 2
  • Isabelle: The Life of Isabelle Eberhardt by Annette Kobak
    Chatto, 258 pp, £15.00, May 1988, ISBN 0 7011 2773 2
  • Vagabond by Isabelle Eberhardt, translated by Annette Kobak
    Hogarth, 160 pp, £4.95, May 1988, ISBN 0 7012 0823 6

Fighting women have had a long and legendary history. A troop of Roman soldiers could be ousted by a single Gaul if aided by his wife, who, ‘swelling her neck, gnashing her teeth, and brandishing sallow arms of enormous size ... delivers blows and kicks like missiles from a catapult’. But however massive their arms and however swollen their necks, openly aggressive Amazons were in the end almost invariably defeated by their sexuality: left seduced, raped, abandoned or married. It is not the ‘she-soldiers’ who especially titillate the public – only the most severely blinkered could ever have doubted that women are capable of martial courage – but, rather, those women who dressed themselves up in male clothes and joined armies or societies as men. This masquerading to carry out unconventional roles seems to have fascinated the 18th and late 19th centuries in particular.

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