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1. Cross-Dressing in Fact, Fiction and Fantasy

Queering Christopher Kirkland (1885): Eliza Lynn Linton’s “Autobiography-in-Drag”

Nathalie SAUDO-WELBY

Résumés

La vie d’Eliza Lynn Linton (1822-1898), femme de lettres antiféministe, fut pleine de contradictions. En tant que première femme journaliste professionnelle, Linton critiqua les femmes émancipées. Dans ses romans, on trouve à la fois des caricatures accusées de féministes et des femmes rebelles aux traits plus nuancés. Bien que Christopher revendique dans les dernières pages du roman une indépendance et une solitude absolues, le personnage a en réalité été construit dans sa relation aux autres. Le roman est peuplé de mères de substitution et de filles spirituelles, présentées favorablement et parfois idéalisées. L’inversion du sexe de certains personnages, qui ressemblent parfois à Linton elle-même, lui permet de négocier sa masculinité, d’exploiter le schéma du roman d’apprentissage et de subvertir les codes romanesques traditionnels.
Cet article examine l’autobiographie fictionnelle de Linton sous l’angle de la narratologie féministe. En osant se présenter sous les traits d’un personnage masculin, Linton crée des situations dans lesquelles les principes binaires qu’elle défend ne tiennent plus.

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“[I]t is still by no means clear what role, if any, gender plays in the way a life is remembered and told.
Remembered and told, not lived.”
(Maria DiBattista 208)

1Eliza Lynn Linton (1822-1898) made her name among the Victorians through her virulent essays on the “Girl of the Period” written in the 1860s and 1870s, in which she criticized the vanity and lack of womanliness of her fellow women, and in particular of the “unsexed” emancipated women. Linton made her way in the male-dominated world of journalism and became famous by criticizing other women, and she was particularly resentful of those who surrendered their femininity. Yet, she was what she most disliked: a “discursive” professional woman who fulfilled her career ambitions by resisting conventional standards of womanliness (Christopher Kirkland 219). In her early misogynistic essays, she adopted a male anonymous persona; from 1883 onwards she managed to have the authorship of her sensational essays recognized and from then on she “assume[d] the full responsibility” for her work (Layard quoted by Bache 23). She was a paradox: in her biography, Nancy Anderson called Linton a woman standing “against women” and presented her misogyny as a fact. However, scholarly readings of her works have elicited another paradox, showing how her autobiography encodes same-sex desires, even though some of her novels contain damning caricatures of lesbian characters.

  • 1 The book narrates her lonely childhood as the twelfth child of a rural clergyman. Linton lost her m (...)
  • 2 This is particularly problematic in the pages which describe Linton’s interview with her first edit (...)

2Linton’s paradoxical identity is best reflected in the fictionalized story of her life, The Autobiography of Christopher Kirkland (1885), which she wrote at the age of 62. Using the three-decker form, Linton tells her life story through that of a male persona named Christopher Kirkland. She mixes real-life characters with fictional ones, and inverts the sex of some of the characters, but not all of them.1 The book contains no dates and little factual information. It often resembles an essay in form and does not contain the slightest suggestion that Linton ever takes an ironic stance. Christopher’s development is mainly described in emotional, intellectual and inter-relational terms, so that if taken as a roman à clef, even to its Victorian readers, the book was “a puzzle” (An, The Athenaeum, qtd. in Linton Christopher Kirkland 389). The book is as much a novel as an autobiography, although, as the editors of the Victorian Secrets edition of her work observe, “after Layard, all critics and biographers writing about Linton have worked with CK as a major biographical source, despite the tension inherent in the sex reversals.” (8) Thus Herbert Van Thal included in his biography whole sections of Christopher Kirkland, changing the pronouns and gender markers so that they could apply directly to Linton.2

  • 3 Letter from Linton to G. Bentley (1885).
  • 4 In the essay “Beauty and Brains”, many paragraphs start with a masculine subject, and Linton occasi (...)
  • 5 “Her definition of ‘feminine’ seems to have been based on what the culture believed, and not necess (...)

3Linton claimed that, in Christopher Kirkland, she had consciously used cross-gender narration as “a screen which takes off the sting of boldness and self-exposure3” (qtd. by Vicinus 150). Recent scholarship has interpreted this case of literary transvestitism as evidence of her identification with men, denoting a form of feminine self-hatred: “masculinity was the forbidden and longed for identity”, Martha Vicinus writes (150). Her “Girl of the Period” essays, which were published anonymously, are indeed written from a male perspective. Linton often slips into the first-person plural in order to mark her solidarity with men, and she calls upon women “to consider themselves in relation to men’s liking” (The Girl 2, 241).4 Replacing Linton’s work within the context of the late-nineteenth century commodification of the author figure, Lee Anne Bache has shown that Linton “shield[ed] herself as Christopher” and thus “achieve[d] a separation of public authorial persona and private individual” (30). Christopher Kirkland has also been described by Deborah Meem and Kate Holterhoff as an “autobiography-in-drag” (7), encoding Linton’s lesbian desires through fictional displacements.5 Understood in these terms, it appears as a confused form of coming-out narrative.

  • 6 The preface is signed by Christopher Kirkland. This preface is written in a rather impersonal style (...)

4My analysis will build on the fact that even in the first edition, Linton was presented on the first page as the author, and that she also signed the dedication.6 Since the name of the author did not coincide with the name of the autobiographical subject, she problematized the autobiographical contract by dissociating the author (Linton) from the narrating self (Christopher Kirkland) and by creating an overlap between two different narrated selves (Linton and the fictional Christopher). “Enacting the restraint, the withholding of self she so often advocated,” Lee Ann Bache writes, “Linton problematizes and endlessly refracts ‘true identity’ in her autobiography.” (30) Having abandoned the position of anonymous female author in favour of that of female celebrity, Linton positioned herself as the author, a place that she had fought hard to occupy and had found highly marketable, but she also created for herself an internal second voice. I call it a second voice because the Victorian middle classes were so familiar with her works that nobody could have read the book without having her antifeminist essays at the back of their minds.

  • 7 The concept of double-voicedness was introduced by Mikhaïl Bakhtin in his essay “Discourse in the N (...)
  • 8 According to George Somes Layard, “[It] was to her friends her most interesting work.” (vii)

5One consequence of this double signature is that the issues of anonymity and disguise are somehow sidelined and what prevails is rather what I regard as a case of double-voicedness,7 bridging over the gender divide. Following Judith Butler, who characterizes the “I”, as “one who is constituted through the act of taking its sexed place within language that insistently forces the question of sex” (95), I want to explore the ways in which Christopher Kirkland enacts strategies for evading the necessity of positioning oneself in definite or clear terms along gender lines, and to tentatively explore and subvert some of the ways in which language enforces the question of sex and gender. Reading the text as a form of feminist experiment would obviously be to over-interpret it. However, by reading Christopher Kirkland in the light of recent writings in feminist narrative theory, I would like to attempt to suggest a queer reading of what she rightly believed to be “the best [book] of her career” (Anderson 179).8 Relying on textual evidence of how gender is marked in the text, I will show that Linton’s fictionalized autobiography unsettles the kind of truths about gender roles and gender identity that can be found in her essays. As a consequence, Christopher Kirkland is an “open work”, as defined by Umberto Eco, in that it requires the reader to oscillate between two readings, depending on the sex they assign to the narrator.

6The Autobiography of Christopher Kirkland is an autodiegetic narrative in which the gender-unmarked first-person singular pronoun is used to cultivate indeterminacy and to speak double, gender-wise. Christopher’s claim that in his marriage, “[o]ur roles were inverted from the beginning, and I had to be man and woman both” (271) reinforces this double positioning, suggesting that despite Linton’s often expressed essentialism, she felt that gendered positions were largely a matter of choice, or, in Judith Butler’s terms, were performances that could be more or less freely chosen. This quotation sums up my argument that Linton was speaking not only crosswise but also indeterminately, so as to attribute to herself the qualities of both women and men, thus unwittingly undermining her own binaries. I am first going to show how Linton’s double positioning allows for moments of epicene writing which undermine her own binary divides. I will then examine the cases when Linton seems to lose her grip on her persona, and betrays the woman behind the man.

1. Moments of epicene writing

  • 9 The expression “as a girl” is also the only sign that the narrator of the introduction to Willa Cat (...)
  • 10 The last direct designation of Christopher as a “boy” occurs half-way through the book: “’I have se (...)
  • 11 “Many lesbians, rather than fully embracing an impossible adult masculinity, identified with the ad (...)

7Linton’s adoption of a male persona was likely to wear thin as readers progressed with the narrative and with their increasing awareness that Linton was telling the story of her own life. The use of expressions like “when I should be a man” (33), “when I was a grown man” (36), “if I were a true man” (268), “as a man of honour” (313), or simply “as a man” suggests that Linton may even have wanted to remind her readers and herself that she was indeed speaking in a man’s voice.9 Other indications that the narrator is male include the use of the word “boy” until very late in the book.10 As Martha Vicinus has observed, the figure of the “boy” was loaded with homosexual connotations in the late-Victorian context.11 The term “boy” was used to express a gap between the hero or heroine and conventional representations of heterosexuality. Understood as a lesser kind of man, the “boy” also offers an equivalent for Linton’s stance as a woman journalist in a world of men, having to endure the contempt, prejudices and limitations to which women in the profession were subjected. However, instead of conceiving her autobiography as a sample of feminine lived experience, Linton selected the genre of the male novel of self-development, and complied with many of its codes.

  • 12 The whole of the first chapter does not contain any gender-marked form, but its first words (“I was (...)

8Outside the cases of explicit gender-marking I have mentioned, Christopher’s masculine voice and Linton’s own voice blend in an indiscernible manner. First-person narration in English allows gender undecidability in ways that would only be possible within the limits of a single sentence in a language like French. French autobiographical texts are placed under more constraints than English since they are generally written in the passé composé, a tense in which the past participle agrees in gender with the subject.12 Vast sections of Christopher Kirkland are written with very little grammatical or semantic evidence of gender marking. The combination of a male persona and of first-person narration allowed Linton to create a form of gender fluidity, with the result that sexual identity is occasionally left in suspense. One could speak of a form of epicene writing, an expression borrowed from Laurie Finke’s reading of anonymous medieval romances. Finke uses the word “epicene” “to indicate the ways in which textual clues in the poems suspend readers between male and female without ever resolving the uncertainty” (152). Linton’s own use of the word “epicene” was always pejorative. In her essay “The Epicene Sex”, she attacked mannish women; in Christopher Kirkland, she refers appreciatively to the “epicene costume” worn by Christopher’s wife’s children, but once Christopher has become the children’s father and taken on his feminine role, he dresses them in gender-specific clothing and also puts an end to their mixed home schooling: “The boys were sent to school, a governess taught the girls at home.” (271) However, what justifies, to my mind, the use of the word “epicene” is that Linton’s narrative technique opens up a space of possibilities for the two alternatives and hence for two possible readings.

  • 13 “In these outcast days I used to dream a strange dream – strange, considering my age – how that I w (...)
  • 14 In the case of “The boy is father to the man” (54), Linton has re-masculinized Wordsworth’s line “T (...)

9Further textual encouragement to envisage the two identities in turn is provided by Linton’s tendency to consider events and situations from both female and male perspectives. In the childhood section, the lack of gender marking of the text is reinforced by the mention of epicene alternatives, which include phrases such as “tramps of either sex” (33), “our half-witted men and women […] were as happy as kings and queens” (34), “The choir was composed of a few young men and women”, “the High school boys and girls” (34), and “the ladies tucked up their skirts and the men turned up their trousers” (35). Chapter 3, which narrates some childhood reminiscences, is almost entirely epicene. Christopher is called a “child”13 and wears a pinafore and frocks, which were worn by boys and girls alike until the Edwardian period (44-47). Apart from the clauses “when I was a very small boy” (45) and “in my early boyhood” (53), there is no way of knowing whether the speaker is male or female in this chapter.14 Towards the end of Christopher’s life story, the epicene alternatives give way to a desire for substitution, which opens up alternative lives: “had I been a woman” (340), or “[h]ad I not been an Englishman” (362).

10If it is not easy to describe this epicene voice, it is even more difficult to interpret it. Does the first-person pronoun stand for a feminine self that has been colonized by masculinist views? This would confirm the perception of Linton’s contemporaries who accused her of betraying her fellow women by adopting a male view on the woman question. Some even used her own positioning against her, calling her “that most despicable travesty of a woman” (qtd. in Anderson 213).

  • 15 “I think now, as I thought then, that the sphere of human action is determined by the fact of sex, (...)

11To what extent does a voice of undecidable gender help challenge ideological assumptions about what constitutes a man’s life and a woman’s life, and the ways in which they are written? Can Christopher’s life story be read as a tale of human progress, defying notions that sexual identity is an essential ingredient in life writing? This would run counter to the views Linton expressed in her essays15 and to Christopher’s declaration that “[p]ersonally, what we are is determined by two things – age and sex; and we can no more go beyond their influence than the earth can free itself from the law of gravitation. […] What determines the very ground-work of society, and its moralities, but this material fact of sex, with its secondary modification, age?” (325, 326)

12Age being essentially a variable, its association with sex (which Linton seems to use as an equivalent to gender) opens up interesting possibilities about its relative character. If “sex” is not an absolute, but something that varies throughout one’s life, then one is free to negotiate it within the set of available representations. In other words, “sex”, as used here, may be construed as gender or viewed as a spectrum. The examples of conventionally gendered oppositions that follow certainly work to lift this ambiguity:

The courage of the man, the self-devotion of the woman; the shame of cowardice and lying – a form of cowardice – with him whose strength includes the salvation of others as well as of himself, and the easy condonation accorded to both with her whose weakness excuses fear; his freer license, her chaster modesties; his sense of justice, which makes laws for the equal good of all, her narrowed sympathies born of the restricted cares of maternity; his reason, her instinct; his philosophy, her religion; his aggressiveness, her compassion – these, and all other antitheses which could so easily be made, are essentially matters of sex doubled with age. (326)

  • 16 The writing of her autobiography must have tested Linton’s well-set gender binaries for she argues (...)

13A few features of this list of sexual binaries suggest that antitheses are not so “easily” made as Linton would have it in her journalism: the use of the comparative (“freer”, “chaster”) and of the past participle (“narrowed”), as well as the convoluted syntax of some of the descriptions, indicate that it cannot have been so easy to fit individual idiosyncrasies into pre-existing categories. One may add that Linton’s own professional self-representation also defeated such categories, for she evidently considered herself as a brave and rational woman, and clearly dissociated herself from feminine religious thinking.16

14In her attacks against the “Girl of the Period”, Linton regarded exceptions to the laws of sexual characteristics as rare and without significance, and she probably viewed herself as exceptional in this sense. In her essay “Interference”, she observed that “[t]o be sure there are some men – small, fussy, finnicking fellows, with whom nature has made the irreparable blunder of sex […]; but the feminine characteristics of men are so exceptional that we need not take them into serious calculation.” (The Girl 1, 100) However, another salient dimension of Linton’s decidedly troubled autobiography is the way she constantly undercuts the framework of gender binaries which she asserted under her own byline in The Saturday Review in a rhetorical style which “repel[led] reflection” (Hamilton 47).

  • 17 In an essay entitled “The Epicene Sex”, she writes of “these women of the doubtful gender” who “hav (...)
  • 18 See also “My new old friend, John Crawford, had married the eldest sister of all – one of the most (...)

15Linton’s gendered descriptions in her fictionalized autobiography tend to assess gender in relative terms. In her antifeminist essays, Linton had graded feminine types along a scale of womanliness17 and denounced the parallel emasculation of the males. In Christopher Kirkland, the women’s intellectual and social power matches that of men, and many women even outshine them. Since Linton turns few women into men, in the novel, apart from herself and her sister Emily, Christopher appears to have been fashioned largely by female influences, including a surprising number of feminists. Such a sense of feminine power is unexpected in a male Bildungsroman. Christopher has countless surrogate mothers, “social godmothers” (151), substitute sisters, patronesses and lovers who guide him on his way to fame and to an established literary and social position. Two of these formidable women are described as “virile” (119, 207). One of Christopher’s friends is “a tall, large, strikingly handsome woman, almost stone deaf, and of a singular mixture of qualities. With certain virile characteristics – witness her personal courage, and her constancy […]; her self-respect […]; her power to command and her ability to obey – she had the most ultra-feminine notions of propriety […]” (119). Christopher’s social circle, such as it is presented in Chapter 11, is composed of at least twelve powerful women, whether derived from real-life counterparts in Linton’s life or fictional.18 The “most intrinsically remarkable of all [Christopher’s] friends” is a Mrs Hulme who “wanted only that energy which springs from respect for humanity and consequent regard for success – the energy we call ambition – to have become as famous in her own way as a second Madame du Deffand or another Madame de Stael. […] I date many of my after-views in life to my acquaintance with her and hers.” (153) Christopher/Linton is acknowledging his/her debt to real-life women and to literary models, as well as suggesting that some of his/her female contemporaries still lack ambition.

  • 19 “I, the strong one, par excellence, of the family – the young lion of the brood – the Esau, the Nim (...)

16Conversely, Christopher describes some remarkable men as feminized without letting his admiration and approval of their characters diminish. Christopher’s brother Edwin, who corresponds to Linton’s sister Emily, is endowed with a femininity that arouses the narrator’s jealousy, because it paradoxically makes him attractive to women (96). Emily was thus transposed into a male, only to be grudgingly re-feminized. Christopher is described as strong and resolute,19 but yearns for more femininity and is occasionally overwhelmed by tears and overtaken by a “strange effeminacy” (94). He very aptly describes himself “as sensitive as a girl underneath his controversial armour” (379). The attendant at the British Library who befriends Christopher at his arrival in London is described as “[h]onest as the day, true as steel, tender-hearted as a woman” (117). Christopher’s friend Cavanagh Morton, a picture of passiveness and weakness, is feminized to the point of being married by force to his lodger’s daughter. The “delightful” Dr Travis, an associate of Robert Owen, is described as “one of the loveliest flowers of humanity”, “singularly well-bred and as pure as a good woman” (176). The unidentified Arthur Ronalds “combine[s] the strength of a man with the purity of a woman. He was essentially a measure of the highest standard to which humanity can attain under its present conditions.” (354-55)

17By representing gender differences in the form of a spectrum rather than a divide, Linton undermines her own journalistic pronouncements on sexual differences. This may have added to the “puzzle” posed by the book and to the readers’ disturbance. It may also explain why, despite her confidence that Christopher Kirkland was “the book of [her] whole career” and her saying that she had “no fear of [its] success” (qtd. by Anderson 179), the novel met with negative reviews and was a commercial failure. Today, Linton’s fictional autobiography is made even more interesting to us by the fact that she occasionally seems to lose grip on her cross-gender enunciation by betraying the woman behind the man, thus unwittingly queering her writing.

2. Queer writing in a minor key

18It often happens that it is only by presuming the heterosexual orientation of the narrator that the readers of Christopher Kirkland can infer the narrator’s sex from his strong attraction to beautiful women. Significantly, Susan Lanser’s description of Jeanette Winterson’s Written on the Body (1992) in the opening lines of her essay “Queering Narratology” only needs to be slightly adapted to hold true of Christopher Kirkland:

  • 20 The original runs: “The narrator of Written on the Body is in love with several married women. Hard (...)

The narrator is in love with several married women [Adeline Dalrymple, Esther Lambert, Felicia Barry]. Hardly a new topic, hardly tellable by some narratological criteria, but for the novel’s narrative voice. For the autodiegetic narrator of Christopher Kirkland is identified as both male and female. That double-voicedness and the extent to which it destabilizes both textuality and sexuality drive this novel at least as much as its surface plot.20 (my rewriting)

19In Written on the Body, Winterson maintains the undecidability of the narrator’s sex throughout the text, despite providing multiple ambiguous signs of sexual identity. The transvestitism at the foundation of Christopher Kirkland also creates a feeling of queerness, since the double-voicedness of the text opens it to parallel interpretations, depending on the readers’ sexual desires and their perception of the author’s gender. When Christopher’s position is “sufficiently good to make marriage possible”, he does “his best to fall in love with one or other of the girls [he] knew – chiefly, of course, amongst the advanced class.” (219) Even then, the marriage question is envisaged from the angle of its dissolution, for Christopher’s Paris experiences have taught him to regard divorce by mutual consent as a just law. Christopher’s two-sided view of things at this stage foregrounds issues of sex equality:

[…] in a complex and widely differentiated society like ours – where men cannot marry when young and women cannot marry where they would; where the highly developed nervous organization of the race makes compatibility difficult to find and incompatibility impossible to bear; where women’s domestic life is cramping and monotonous, the development of trade having robbed it of half its duties and all its variety – post-nuptial dissatisfaction is fatally common for both men and women alike. (217-18)

20As marriage becomes a matter for deliberation, Linton is placed in the uneasy position of both judge (as a male choosing a wife) and party (as the woman she was when she separated from her own husband, the engraver William Linton). Before launching into a typically Lintonian catalogue of the unwomanly women of his acquaintance, Christopher writes an ambiguously worded confession which reflects Linton’s divided allegiances:

But, I confess it with a certain sense of shame – a certain sense of ethical unmanliness in a fastidiousness which looked like disloyalty to my flag – all these girls of the emancipated class sinned, or in grace and good breeding, or in the more serious qualifications for domestic life. They were clever and bright-witted; some were pretty and some were good; but either they were not conventionally ladies or they were not trustworthy as future wives. (220)

  • 21 Similarly, Christopher has admitted earlier that his dislike of the women’s emancipation movement l (...)

21In expressing feelings of “shame”, “disloyalty to [his] flag” as well as “fastidiousness”, Christopher seems to side with these female “sinners” at the very moment when, seeking a wife, he is positioning himself as male. The word “unwomanliness” would here make more sense than “unmanliness”, a word which is only used at this precise moment of the narrative. Linton confesses her shame at her lack of feminine solidarity, before safely returning to a male perspective (“not trustworthy as future wives”). Her confused answer to the questions of what makes a good wife, and of how the two sexes are supposed to complement one another leads her to an ambiguous form of self-fashioning.21 But Christopher’s choice of a spouse gives Linton an opportunity to resolve her ambiguous feelings of guilt, shame, admiration and love. Christopher’s elect, Esther Lambert, is a “Woman’s Rights woman from head to heel”, who is made attractive by her belief in the cause of women (262). “I felt her to be a kind of dynamic power to which others must apply the direction – but she was always that power. I used to attend her lectures – I, the declared enemy of the whole tribe of lady lecturers! – and I always vigorously applauded her.” (266) By transposing her husband’s strong republican principles into Esther’s feminist convictions, Linton voices an admiration for a type she hated, a variety of the “post-prandial orator” denounced in her essay on “The Epicene Sex” (The Girl 2, 235-42). Christopher’s preference for Esther is expressed in an epicene formulation that reaches further than his own liking: “No man or woman who knew her could have failed to love and reverence Esther Lambert.” (264) Christopher’s marriage question thus opens up a space for a tribute to women’s idealism and energy, as well as for same-sex love. Simultaneously, Christopher’s summary of the women’s movement’s principles slips into a description of Linton’s own autobiographical posture:

Equal political rights; identical professional careers; the men’s virile force toned down to harmony with the woman’s feminine weakness; the abolition of all moral and social distinctions between the sexes; – These are the confessed objects of the movement whereby men are to be made lady-like and women masculine, till the two melt into one, and you scarcely know which is which. (259)

  • 22 In her study of women writers and old age in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, Devoney (...)

22One cannot help wondering whether Linton remained insensitive to the irony of these lines when she wrote them. Could she so consciously have perceived herself as the embodiment of what the defiance of gender roles and norms led to? Her self-designation as the “strangest” animal in a “strange menagerie” (Christopher Kirkland 122) invites us to provide a positive answer to this question. Since autobiographical writing should be taken, less as the exposition of a self which is already constituted and known than as an act of self-creation as well as self-discovery (Eakin), it is probable that the writing of Christopher Kirkland made Linton realize that Christopher’s ambitions reflected her own unvoiced feminist aspirations. In a letter to George Bentley, who had published her collection of “Girl of the Period” essays in 1883 and was still dithering over whether to publish Christopher Kirkland, she wrote: “I have put my very Soul, my Life into those pages, and I feel as if I am being slowly killed through them.” (quoted by Anderson 179) The final vision we are given of the ambitious Christopher at the end of the book is arresting. Once intractable, intolerant and impulsive, and having laboured in a “state of mind [which] was conviction, not knowledge” (287), Christopher feels as he grows older that his “absolutes [are] beginning to dissolve” (158) and he comes to a realization that “nowhere has been said the final word, and that nothing has received its last and unchangeable form – that everything on earth is relative” (159). Speaking of his faith and principles, he remarks: “When I spoke of the absolute, I was met by the relative, the evanescent, the apparent” (164). The mature Christopher appears as dejected and broken, forsaken as he is by all the godmothers, goddaughters and lovers who have contributed to fashion him. He is now a picture of dismemberment: “I have stood by the graves of those I have loved most and honoured most; by the graves of my own people, whose lives seemed to be part of my own, so that when they died it was as if some member of my body had been detached and buried out of sight.” (368) The narrative closes on the celibate and childless Christopher’s sad realization of the incompleteness of his solitary self: “I stand absolutely alone, both spiritually and personally” (380). This representation of old age contains some of the clichés that can be found in nineteenth-century descriptions of elderly women. By writing her autobiography in the guise of a male character, Linton was spared the necessity of depicting herself as an old lady in decline. The difficulties she had in getting her autobiography published were in themselves evidence that her appeal was on the wane. At the age of 62, Linton was on the brink of what doctors called “the great climacteric”, a time of life when women’s productive powers and mental acuity were thought to be at greater risk of falling off than men’s (Looser 9)22 and when Linton went on the attack again in 1891-1892 with her articles on the “Wild Women”, a few of her critics did indeed treat her fierce diatribes as the ravings of a garrulous old woman.

Conclusion

23Linton’s autobiographical practice took her further than her novels of rebellion and beyond her loud journalistic pronouncements on sexual identity and differences. If we did not know E. L. Linton’s misogynist stance from her journalism and some of her novels, we could be tempted to read her autobiography as an act of resistance against the patriarchal standards of evaluation governing Victorian middle-class autobiography. Julia Wedgwood wrote in the Contemporary Review in 1886 that “Christopher Kirkland translates a woman’s into a man’s experience and does it much less clumsily than we should have expected” (qtd. by Deborah T. Meem and Kate Holterhoff in Christopher Kirkland 383). The ease with which Linton’s life fell into the pattern of a masculine tale of apprenticeship must have come up against her own difficulties to fit her feminine identity into this mould, without entirely giving away the project of convincing her readers of her own femininity. Her written self thus became the site of her most heart-felt questionings of gender roles and sexual essentialism. As against the satirical male posturing she adopted in her essays, Linton’s autobiographical fiction required her to test her ideological assumptions about gender against her life memories, her lived experience and the troubling experience of reading herself as male.

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Hamilton, Susan. “Marketing Antifeminism: Eliza Lynn Linton’s ‘Wild Women’ Series and the Possibilities of Periodical Signature” in Tamara Wagner, ed. Antifeminism and the Victorian Novel: Rereading Nineteenth-Century Women Writers, Amherst/New-York: Cambria Press, 2009, p. 37-55

Heilmann, Ann and Valerie Sanders, “The Rebel, the Lady, and the ‘anti’: Femininity, Anti-Feminism and the Victorian Woman Writer.” Women’s Studies International Forum, vol. 29, n°3, May-June 2006, pp. 289-300.

Lanser, Susan S. “Queering Narratology” in Ambiguous Discourse: Feminist Narratology and British Women Writers edited by Kathy Mezei. U of North Carolina P, 1996, p. 250-61.

Layard, George Somes. Mrs Lynn Linton: Her Life, Letters and Opinions. Methuen, 1901.

Linton, Eliza Lynn. In Haste and At Leisure. Heinemann, 1895.

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Notes

1 The book narrates her lonely childhood as the twelfth child of a rural clergyman. Linton lost her mother when she was five months old; her oldest sister and surrogate mother died a year later. Through self-teaching, Linton became an agnostic, a freethinker and a socialist. The book also narrates her difficult integration into the male-dominated world of journalism, leaving out her antisuffrage stance and the subject which became her distinct mark: misogyny. In their edition, Deborah Meem and Kate Holterhoff identify some of the nameless characters in the novel: “the famous widow was Lady Jane Franklin (1791-1875), herself an explorer and traveller” (note 224, 151). They also put the right name on a few disguised characters, such as “Mr Hume [who] was Daniel Dunglas Home (1833-1886)” (note 212, 145).

2 This is particularly problematic in the pages which describe Linton’s interview with her first editor, John Edward Cook. In Christopher Kirkland, Cook calls Christopher a “little boy” and a “good boy”, before telling him to write “like a man” (126-28). In Van Thal’s biography, the boy is turned into a girl, but by emending the passage, Van Thal spared himself the difficulty of having to decide whether Linton was actually asked to write “like a man” (24-25).

3 Letter from Linton to G. Bentley (1885).

4 In the essay “Beauty and Brains”, many paragraphs start with a masculine subject, and Linton occasionally identifies with men: “When we are young, the beauty of women has a supreme attraction beyond all other possessions or qualities; and there are self-evident reasons why it should be so. It is only as we grow older that we know the value of brains […].” (The Girl 1, 128)

5 “Her definition of ‘feminine’ seems to have been based on what the culture believed, and not necessarily on any impulse from within herself. Thus she was in fact rigidly cisgendered; however, the internal male identification played out through the Christopher narration indicates that she might not have been so rigidly cissexual”, Deborah Meem and Kate Holterhoff write in their introduction (9).

6 The preface is signed by Christopher Kirkland. This preface is written in a rather impersonal style, but Christopher speaks of himself in the third person and calls himself “a man”.

7 The concept of double-voicedness was introduced by Mikhaïl Bakhtin in his essay “Discourse in the Novel” to describe the hybridity of novelistic discourse. It is integrated into his description of heteroglossia: “double-voiced discourse […] serves two speakers at the same time and expresses simultaneously two different intentions: the direct intention of the character who is speaking, and the refracted intention of the author. In such discourse there are two voices, two meanings and two expressions. And all the while these two voices are dialogically interrelated, they – as it were – know about each other […]; it is as if they actually hold a conversation with each other.” (324) The concept was taken up by feminist critics to describe how women’s writing tends to “embod[y] the social, literary and cultural heritages of both the muted and the dominant” (Showalter 201).

8 According to George Somes Layard, “[It] was to her friends her most interesting work.” (vii)

9 The expression “as a girl” is also the only sign that the narrator of the introduction to Willa Cather’s My Antonia is female.

10 The last direct designation of Christopher as a “boy” occurs half-way through the book: “’I have seen your favorite boy, Christopher Kirkland,’ [Fanny Haworth] said; ‘and I do not like him. He is not true.’” (198)

11 “Many lesbians, rather than fully embracing an impossible adult masculinity, identified with the adolescent boy who combined elements of both sexes. […] Like male homosexuals, lesbian writers could admire the boy as a stand-in for their own adolescence” (Vicinus 163).

12 The whole of the first chapter does not contain any gender-marked form, but its first words (“I was born”) would require a French translator to opt for a gender-marked form (Je suis né/e).

13 “In these outcast days I used to dream a strange dream – strange, considering my age – how that I was not one of them – not my father’s child at all – but a foundling (…) I do not think the desolation of a young child could go beyond the secret hope of one day finding himself an alien to his own – of some day being claimed by the unknown […]” (49).

14 In the case of “The boy is father to the man” (54), Linton has re-masculinized Wordsworth’s line “The child is father of the man”, but the masculine might already have prevailed in the proverbial form.

15 “I think now, as I thought then, that the sphere of human action is determined by the fact of sex, and that there does exist both natural limitation and natural direction. This creed, which summarizes all that I have said in extenso, I repeat with emphasis, and maintain with the conviction of long years of experience.” (The Girl 1, viii).

16 The writing of her autobiography must have tested Linton’s well-set gender binaries for she argues that Christian values are inherently feminine, and that Christianity is responsible for the empowerment of women and the valorizing of feminine virtues: “the apotheosis of woman began with Christianity, because therein are enshrined the special characteristics of her sex.” (321) As a free-thinker, she must have felt that she did not fit in her own system. As a matter of fact, her agnosticism was a great difficulty for her publishers, who must have found it easier to accept in the male persona of Christopher.

17 In an essay entitled “The Epicene Sex”, she writes of “these women of the doubtful gender” who “have ceased to be women and not learnt to be men” (The Girl 2, 237).

18 See also “My new old friend, John Crawford, had married the eldest sister of all – one of the most regal and empress-like women I have ever seen – whom I can distinctly remember as one would remember a queen.” (291) Admittedly, one also finds a few offensive feminine portraits, such as the young woman who marries Cavanagh (248), and the rapacious black woman, Mrs Redmayne (261).

19 “I, the strong one, par excellence, of the family – the young lion of the brood – the Esau, the Nimrod, the savage” (95).

20 The original runs: “The narrator of Written on the Body is in love with several married women. Hardly a new topic, hardly tellable by some narratological criteria, but for the novel’s narrative voice. For the unnamed autodiegetic narrator of Written on the Body is never identified as male or female. That silence and the extent to which it destabilizes both textuality and sexuality drive this novel at least as much as its surface plot.” (Lanser in Mezei, 250)

21 Similarly, Christopher has admitted earlier that his dislike of the women’s emancipation movement lay in its “unloveliness” (257), and he even called himself frivolous and intolerant for thinking so: “I have confessed already to the frivolity of finding many of these extremely advanced women antagonistic to my ideas of feminine charm. […] But tolerance is an exotic with me. […] My present intolerance, I am sorry to say, was even less respectable than this. It was simply a matter of taste.” (257-58)

22 In her study of women writers and old age in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, Devoney Looser points out the contrast with: “[a]mong some literary men themselves, there was a sense that old age brought increased powers of writing.” (18)

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Référence électronique

Nathalie SAUDO-WELBY, « Queering Christopher Kirkland (1885): Eliza Lynn Linton’s “Autobiography-in-Drag” », E-rea [En ligne], 16.2 | 2019, mis en ligne le 15 juin 2019, consulté le 21 juillet 2019. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/erea/7606 ; DOI : 10.4000/erea.7606

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Auteur

Nathalie SAUDO-WELBY

Université de Picardie
nathalie.saudo@u-picardie.fr
Nathalie Saudo-Welby is a Senior Lecturer, habilitated to direct research (HDR), at the University of Picardy in Amiens, France, where she teaches British Literature and translation. She wrote her doctorate on degeneration in British literature (1886-1913). She has written over twenty articles on fin-de-siècle fiction. Her book on New Woman Fiction, Le Courage de déplaire, will be published by Classiques Garnier in 2019.

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