he earliest American representation of the female soldier was fictional. In his 1799 novel Ormond, Charles Brockden Brown included the character of Martinette de Beauvais, an American Revolutionary War veteran who followed her husband into battlefield. The sympathetically portrayed Martinette de Beauvais, a Frenchwoman, was a very different type than the female soldiers depicted in ballads. Perhaps Brown reckoned that a violent, feminist Frenchwoman would not seem as threatening or unappealing to readers as would a similar character if she were American.
As she explains to the novel’s heroine, Constantia, "My soul was engrossed by two passions, a wild spirit of adventure, and a boundless devotion to him. I vowed to accompany him in every danger, to vie with him in military ardour; to combat and to die by his side."
Thus, Martinette’s military service is motivated not just by love, but by competition: her “boundless devotion” is not, in her mind, incompatible with her desire to “vie” with her lover on the battlefield. Soon it becomes clear that cross-dressing and military services are means for her to transform herself completely: "I delighted to assume the male dress, to acquire skill at the sword, and dexterity in every boisterous exercise. The timidity that commonly attends women, gradually vanished. I felt as if embued by a soul that was a stranger to the sexual distinction."[i]
If her very soul can be altered by the process of fighting in warfare, what then is the basis for “sexual distinction”? Martinette not only succeeds in boisterous exercises, but “more than once rescued [my husband] from death by the seasonable destruction of his adversary”(202).
Martinette is a transitional figure in the history of the female warrior—she starts off as a lover, but ends up as a patriot—one, moreover, who delights in inflicting violence on the enemies of the state. For it is not finally her love for her husband that keeps her on the battlefield. Even after his death from a wound, she travels to Paris, where she fights in the revolution. When Constantia asks her “how can the heart of women be inured to the shedding of blood?” she replies with a passionate speech: “Have women, I beseech thee, no capacity to reason and infer?…My hand never faultered when liberty demanded the victim. If thou wert with me at Paris, I could show you a fusil of two barrels, which is precious beyond any other relique, merely because it enabled me to kill thirteen officers at Jemappe”(206). Her devotion to the cause—and her ability to kill “when liberty demanded the victim”—is proof of women’s “capacity to reason and infer.”
Soon it becomes clear that cross-dressing and military services are means for her to transform herself completely...
Finally, she disputes the idea that hers is an exceptional case. As she tells Constantia, who is shocked the idea that Martinette might have fought in the ranks, “Hundreds of my sex have done the same. Some were impelled by the enthusiasm of love, and some by a mere passion for war; some by the contagion of example; and some, with whom I myself must be ranked, by a generous devotion to liberty.”(207)