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'Neither man nor woman'? Female transvestism, object relations and mourning in George Moore's 'Albert Nobbs'

Heilmann, Ann ORCID: 2003. 'Neither man nor woman'? Female transvestism, object relations and mourning in George Moore's 'Albert Nobbs'. Women: A Cultural Review 14 (3) , pp. 248-263. 10.1080/0957404032000140371

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Heilmann offers a psychoanalytic reading of Moore's narrative of cross-gender impersonation 'Albert Nobbs'. First published in A Story-Teller's Holiday (1918) and later transferred to Celibate Lives (1927), the story features a woman who passes herself off as a man, until a chance meeting with another male impersonator happily equipped with a wife galvanizes her desire for a companion. Her inability to reveal the secret of her body to her prospective bride, however, coupled with the marked absence of any expression of sexual passion, leads to the break-up of the relationship, and Albert dies, a loner hoarding money in order to sublimate her thwarted longing for love. In this text the no (wo)man's land of cross-gender masquerade operates as a psychological marker of Albert's social (hence internal) lack of identity. An illegitimate child brought up by a nurse, she never knew her parents, whose absent presence was embodied by an allowance discontinued after their death. Drawing on Kleinian object-relations theory, Heilmann argues that Albert's (mis)performance of 'manhood' constitutes a subliminal quest for her missing parents, a desire always frustrated and ultimately displaced into the hard currency of material commodities. If Moore's story represents the female tranvestite as a castrated, sexless and depressed 'perhapser', an 'outcast from both sexes', fatherless and yet forever locked into a male-authored, patronymic text, Simone Benmussa, who in 1977 adapted the story for the stage ( The Singular Life of Albert Nobbs ), offers a more subversive reading of the female cross-dresser as a 'figure that disrupts' (Marjorie Garber) cultural categories and binary oppositions. The article ends with a consideration of Benmussa's revisionary strategies.

Item Type: Article
Date Type: Publication
Status: Published
Schools: English, Communication and Philosophy
Publisher: Taylor & Francis
ISSN: 0957-4042
Last Modified: 28 Oct 2022 10:33

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