spate of American narratives that appeared in the first half of the nineteenth century laid much more emphasis on thrilling situations than on patriotic sentiment. Like the “breeches roles” popular on the nineteenth century stage, in which women cross-dressed to play male roles[i], fictional representations of the female soldier in the first half of the nineteenth century seemed designed to titillate audiences even as they purported to teach moral lessons. The creation of male authors, these ostensibly autobiographical accounts of female soldiers highlighted the romantic and sexual aspects of their impostures. The focus of these narratives often became the delight their heroines took in the act of cross-dressing; one would be hard-pressed to find much patriotic sentiment evinced by these protagonists, much musing on the differences between the sexes, or even much speculation on the essential qualities of each sex.
An excellent example of this genre is the 1815 publication, An Affecting Narrative of Louisa Baker, a Native of Massachusetts Who, in Early Life Having Been Shamefully Seduced, Deserted Her Parents, and Enlisted in Disguise, on Board an American Frigate as a Marine. Lucy Brewer, also known as Louisa Baker, was a creation of itinerant Boston bookseller Nathaniel Coverly. It was an enormously popular narrative which went through at least nineteen editions.[ii] As the subtitle of the “memoir” suggests, its protagonist narrates the story of being seduced and abandoned, and details her years working in a brothel. Her escape from the brothel and into the role of a marine becomes a means of rebirth into virtue. This character never has a bad word to say about her stint as a male, fighting as a marine on the U.S.S. Constitutionin the War of 1812, spending time in brothels and lifting a cheerful glass. Eventually, her virtue redeemed, she rejoins her parents. It is as though being treated with respect, and distinguishing herself with bravery, has been enough to make her comfortable once more in her role as a dutiful daughter.[iii]
Brewer’s interest in transvestism endures after she has been revirginated by her battle experiences, and it always proves a profitable one for her. Even after rejoining her parents, she continues to cross-dress on occasion, and when she is in drag, it is her chivalry towards a wealthy girl whom she protects against boorish men that eventually enables her to meet and marry the girl’s brother. In Lucy Brewer’s case, military service and transvestism, far from unsexing her, actually make her more successful as a woman by enabling her to overcome her seduction and betrayal, erase her years of prostitution, facilitate her reunion with her family, and finally help her to win a rich, successful husband.