cover image Before Trans: Three Gender Stories from Nineteenth-Century France

Before Trans: Three Gender Stories from Nineteenth-Century France

Rachel Mesch. Stanford Univ, $30 (344p) ISBN 978-1-5036-0673-9

In this thoughtful academic treatise, Mesch (Having It All in the Belle Epoque), a professor of French and English at Yeshiva University, explores the lives of three famous gender nonconformists in fin-de-siècle Paris. Archaeologist Jane Dieulafoy and her husband brought “forty tons of artifacts” back to France from the ancient city of Susa in Persia. She delivered lectures on their findings while wearing “closely cropped” hair and men’s clothing (at a time when it was illegal for women to dress in pants). According to Mesch, Dieulafoy’s “devotion to both her husband and her country” allowed audiences to “overlook her unusual attire.” As a teenager, Rachilde (born Marguerite Eymery) revealed her persona as “a Swedish count from the seventeenth century”; she later published a scandalous novel featuring a “gender crossing” protagonist. Author Marie-Amélie Chartroule de Montifaud adopted the masculine nom de plume Marc de Montifaud and combated “death threats, an attempted poisoning, and set-ups meant to prove her sexual impropriety.” Mesch is careful not to make her subjects too representative of modern ideas about gender roles, and delivers multifaceted portraits of complex individuals, rather than caricatures in service of buzzwords and slogans. This sensitive triple biography will appeal to scholarly readers interested in the origins of trans, queer, and feminist perspectives. (May)