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From the Archives – Irish University Review – ‘Albert Nobbs’, Ladies and Gentlemen, and Quare Irish Female Erotohistories

In the May 2013 issue of the Irish University Review, “Queering the Issue”, there were a number of articles on gender, identity and Queer Theory as related to Irish culture.

Our featured article this week, ‘Albert Nobbs’, Ladies and Gentlemen, and Quare Irish Female Erotohistories” by Charlotte McIvor, examined Quare Irish female erotohistoriography with particular reference to George Moore’s 1918 novella “Albert Nobbs” (later adapted as The Singular Life of Albert Nobbs by French feminist playwright Simone Benussa in 1977, and then as the 2011 film, Albert Nobbs, adapted by and starring Glenn Close) and Emma Donoghue’s 1996 stage play, Ladies and Gentlemen.

Both Irish-authored works concern the lives of mid- to late nineteenth-century individuals born as biologically female who live or perform as men for the purposes of financial survival and, occasionally, pleasure. Moore’s Albert Nobbs dresses and lives as a man for financial survival in Dublin while Donoghue’s Annie Hindle (an actual historical figure) dominates the New York vaudeville stage with her male impersonator act.

Donoghue’s Ladies and Gentlemen may be considered, in Maria Kurdi’s terms, a lesbian version of the female biography play, while the multiple versions of ‘Albert Nobbs’ handle the question of Nobb’s sexuality or desire in diverse ways.

Love and the marriage plot are the focus of both texts even as Nobbs and Hindle initially pursue their objects of desire with differing intentions. Nobbs sees marriage as a route to companionship and social respectability, and not necessarily sexual fulfilment, while Hindle falls in love (and lust) first and considers marriage only at the prompting of her partner. These works’ treatments of marriage vis-a-vis sexual desire call into question the role of the erotic in queer Irish female historical archives.

The essay focuses on representations of the erotic at the juncture of love and marriage in these works in a bid to recover quare Irish female ‘erotohistories.’ This approach follows Elizabeth Freeman’s use of ‘erotohistoriography’ and Noreen Giffney’s embrace of ‘quare theory’ as an Irish practice of queer theory that insists on the intersection between queer, lesbian, and feminist work.

The desires detailed in these works call into question historical understandings of Irish female identity circumscribed by heteronormative frameworks. In turn, ‘Albert Nobbs’ and Ladies and Gentlemen ultimately reveal how these same frameworks must conceal the quare as constitutive of their own existence.

You can read the full essay from the May 2013 edition of the Irish University Review HERE

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