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The Travels and Adventures of Mademoiselle de Richelieu (Erskine)

18th century English picaresque novel involving two women both traveling in male disguise who regularly joke about marrying each other and end living together as women.

LHMP entry

This article looks at the 1744 novel The Travels and Adventures of Mademoiselle de Richelieu, concerning a cross-dressing lesbian heroine who goes about Europe having adventures. Woodward examines this text in the context at other 18th c novels with similar themes that veer off from the lesbian resolution. She also considers the problem of the work’s authorship. It purports to be a translation into English by a man of a French original, written by a woman, but there are reasons to doubt several aspects of that framing.

Current gym reading is "Adv of Mlle de Richelieu". Alas, there's a reason this is not considered a literary classic. Every character the protagonist meets delivers a multi-page lecture on philosophy, history, theology, etc. or an entertaining and edifying story (a la Chaucer or Bocaccio) unrelated to the main plot. Also much travelogue. So far the framing story is running ca. 5% of text. No lesbians yet (they come later) but 1 amusing "2 women interact both passing as men" episode.

[Our heroine Alithea -- in male disguise to go adventuring, as you may recall -- has run up a temporary Debt of Honor while gambling and is maneuvered into taking a temporary loan to pay it off from a beautiful and lovely young widow, Arabella. Arabella has withdrawn to her country house before Alithea is aware of the strategem. Arabella -- in the persona of the Chevalier de Radpont -- writes to her offering to come visit in order to settle the debt, Arabella tells the Chevalier to wait on her return as she has a rule never to allow male visitors at her country home. She notes:]

Lanser examines the conjunction of the novel as a genre with "modernity" as defined in this work and considers its relationship to sapphic themes, despite the superficially overwhelming heteronormativity of the genre. One hallmark of the novel is the way in which it explores the contradictory imperatives of self-determination and socialization. The focus of the novel on the formation of couples and the subjective nature of desire opens the conversation--as previously seen with political and social conversations--to the inclusion or exclusion of sapphic subjects under that rubric.

This chapter tackles the question of how "sameness" in the context of same-sex relations reflected and represented concerns about social leveling. It begins by considering an example of the "metamorphic" framing: a 17th c. book of curiosities that included a chapter of 24 instances of persons changing sex. Though the book was reprinted regularly, the sex-change chapter was dropped, perhaps reflecting a shift from an earlier miracle-accepting age to one more concerned with rational explanations.

“Travesty” comes literally from “cross-dress” with the theatrical term later picking up its sense of general transgression. Anyone familiar with theater and opera from Shakespeare onward is aware how popular it was to include gender disguise in its many forms and consequences. The two most common expressions both revolve around anxiety about female-female desire: a woman disguised as a man who attracts female romantic attention, or a man disguised as a woman to gain intimate access to a woman who then worries about the ensuing “wrong” erotic attraction.

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