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

Heilmann, Ann 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: 04 Jun 2017 08:28

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