"The Man Who Thought Himself a Woman" and Other Queer Nineteenth-Century Short StoriesUniversity of Pennsylvania Press Q19: The Queer American Nineteenth Century
"Perhaps it is no coincidence that the nineteenth century—the century when, it has been said, sexuality as such (and various taxonomized sexual identities) were invented—is the period when American short stories were invented, and when they were the queerest."—Christopher Looby, from the Introduction
A man in small-town America wears the clothing of his wife and sisters; satisfied at last that he has "a perfect suit of garments appropriate for my sex," he commits suicide, asking only that he be buried dressed as a woman. A country maid has a passionate summer relationship with an heiress, the memory of which sustains her for the next forty years. A girl is carried by a strong wind to a place where she discovers that everything is made of candy, including the "queer people," whom she licks and eats. If these are not the kinds of stories we expect to find in nineteenth-century American literature, it is perhaps because we have been looking in the wrong places.
The stories gathered here are written by a diverse assortment of writers—women and men, obscure and famous: Herman Melville, Willa Cather, and Louisa May Alcott, among others. Exploring the vagaries of gender identity, erotic desire, and affectional attachments that do not map easily onto present categories of sex and gender, they celebrate, mourn, and question the different modes of embodiment and forgotten styles of pleasure of nineteenth-century America.
"A marvelously heterodox collection of American shorter fiction from the long nineteenth century."—Times Literary Supplement
"Looby's contribution is nothing short of game-changing . . . [A] scintillating collection of short stories . . . It is hard not to marvel at the range of queer stories Looby has collected here. Almost all somehow trouble the nineteenth century's foundational ideas about gender and domesticity."—GLQ
"Looby’s anthology brings together several stunning narrative experiments that challenge any normative description of nineteenth-century literary aesthetics. It is a treasure to have at one’s fingertips so many piercing exceptions to the patriarchal metanarratives of American literary production...It challenges the reader to confront historical desire in all its alterity, nonconformity, and violent intensity. Queer readers may come to these stories looking for our predecessors, but we instead find something as hard and uncanny as human bone."—ABO: Interactive Journal for Women in the Arts, 1640-1830