Genre Drag
: Cross-Dressing, Popular Literary Forms and Culture from 1830 to 1870.

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


This thesis explores instances and depictions of female to male crossdressing during the period of 1830 to 1870. A destabilising figure endowed with subversive potential, I demonstrate how the female to male crossdresser (both figurative and fictional) exposes the porosity of gendered and generic boundaries during a time associated with rigid social norms, gendered binaries and abstinance. I show how, through the process of what I have called genre drag, authors, playwrights, journalists and performers (to name but a few) were utilising the fluid nature of popular cultural genres to subsequently enable their own explorations of gender and sexuality.
Not unlike the cross-dressed figure themselves, this thesis demonstrates that popular literary forms are similarly fluid and performative in nature. This thesis makes an original contriubution to scholarship on Victorian print culture, as well as the growing field of nineteenth century sexuality and gender studies, this thesis combines an analysis of both gender and genre –the nature of each and the relationship between the two – to demonstrate low mid-century popular forms played a unique role in exploring more fluid possibilities of gender and to provide insight into the heterogenity of Victorian culture.
While the chapters of this thesis are arranged in chronological order in relation to a particular cross-dressed figure — The Female Sailor, The Reynoldsian Woman, and Lola Montez, the content within them spans the entirety of the period. The inclusion of archival research such as newspaper articles, court martial transcripts, letters and diaries, in addition to popular literary and visual forms, further support the argument that popular culture was a site of contestation, and that genres were used to explore how gendered boundaries might be both renegotiated and blurred. It is this generic fluidity which allows for the exploration of gender and sexuality outside of the confines of normative gender roles and nineteenth-century social norms. It demonstrates how a focus on the depictions of cross-dressing in different popular forms (including cheap serial fiction, newspaper correspondence and pornography) can shed light on Victorian popular culture as being a valuable and over-looked locus for discussions of gender.
Date of Award8 Jan 2024
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Roehampton
SupervisorIan Haywood (Director of Studies) & Mary L. Shannon (Co-Supervisor)


  • Gender
  • Victorian
  • Genre
  • Illustration
  • LGBTQ+
  • Victorian Print Culture
  • Victorian Popular Fiction
  • pornography
  • Nineteenth Century
  • Victorian theatre

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