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Performance Games with Dr James: Remediating Historical Trans/Gender And The Case of James Barry

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Speaker: Professor Ann Heilmann (Cardiff University)

This lecture examines the representational strategies of neo-Victorian life-writing in re-imagining a historical case of transgender: James Miranda Barry, senior colonial medical officer of the British army 1813-1859.

A pioneer of medical reform whose preventative measures anticipated Florence Nightingale, Barry attained the highest rank of Inspector General. Known for his pugnacious, iconoclastic personality during his lifetime, he became the object of intense interest after his death in 1865 when speculation arose as to his sex; this speculation has since informed biography, biodrama and biofiction. The uncertainty about Barry’s sex and, consequently, the gender fluidity of cultural representations of Barry offers an exemplary model for the genre fluidity of neo-Victorian life-writing, since Barry is featured both as a boundary transgressor and a boundary marker.

In exploring neo-Victorian life-writing’s ‘performance’ of the performance of James Barry, Ann Heilmann examines the linguistic choices (the question of pronouns) and para/textual masquerades of neo-Victorian life-writing (including book titles and cover images). Among the plays considered will be Frederic Mohr’s (David McKail’s) Barry: Personal Statements (1984, 2008), Kit Brennan’s Tiger’s Heart (1996) and Sebastian Barry’s Whispering Psyche (2004).

About Ann Heilmann

Ann Heilmann is Professor of English Literature at Cardiff University, having previously held chairs at the Universities of Hull and Swansea and lectureships at Manchester Metropolitan and Bradford Universities. Her fields of expertise are Victorian and especially fin-de-siècle literature, contemporary neo-Victorianism, and literary women and gender studies. Her lecture on James Barry draws on her work on 19th-century gender and neo-Victorian studies, in particular her monograph, currently in final preparation for Palgrave, Neo-/Victorian Biographilia and James Miranda Barry: Studies in Transgender and Transgenre.

The author of three previous monographs, on the New Woman (New Woman Fiction, 2000, and New Woman Strategies, 2004) and on Neo-Victorianism: The Victorians in the 21st Century (with Mark Llewellyn, 2010), she has co-edited a scholarly edition and essay collection on the Anglo-Irish turn-of-the-century author George Moore, and further (co)editorial work involves three essay collections and four anthology sets on late-Victorian, early 20th-century and contemporary feminism and women’s writing. Her most recent editorial project is a database, Routledge Historical Sources: History of Feminism, and she is the general editor of the anthology series ‘History of Feminism’ and the monograph series ‘Gender and Genre’ (both with Routledge).



Event price

Free, but booking essential

Event dates

23 Mar 2017 - 6:30pm