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23rd March, 2017

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


Event Details

23rd March, 2017
18:30 -
The Royal Central School of Speech and Drama
62-64 Eton Avenue
London, Greater London, England NW3 3HY

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).

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