Last summer, I complained about slogging through pages and pages of Charles Reade’s knowing generalizations about the fairer sex in order to find out whether I would end up writing about it. Well, it turns out that I’m planning on half of a diss chapter on it, and that’s what I’m working on right now. I’ve been making believe that the author is alive and reading some biographical stuff, and it so turns out that Reade kept tons of notebooks, many on the subject of “Woman” and “Foemina Vera.” Curiously enough, instead of the normal separate spheres stuff I was expecting, “more than half the entries in this Notebook are directly concerned with androgynism” (Wayne Burns, Charles Reade [1961]). Burns writes that Reade was particularly struck by the case of

Fred, a young married woman who, with her husband’s consent, posed as his son–and so successfully that, again with her husband’s consent, she courted and became engaged to a young girl, one Miss Smith. For undisclosed reasons Fred and her husband then took Miss Smith to Moulton, where the three of them posed as father, son, and daughter, until Miss Smith’s father arrived arrived on the scene and exposed Fred for the woman she was–much to his daughter’s surprise and dismay. (195-196)

Reade’s comments are almost charming (I especially like number 3):]

Queries suggested by the meagre account on this page.

1st Why did Miss Smith lend herself to the lie   a, and, if she did, why?

2. Was plunder intended or what by the husband?

3. Is it not possible that Miss Smith supplied a certain want to this childless woman’s heart. In short that she wanted something inferior to love and cherish, and look down on; to her husband she probably looked up as he is  a blackguard, and she a woman age of Fred 25 of Miss Smith 17    The ring   B    looks ugly

4. What are the sentiments of a woman who finds the man she is deep in love in is only a woman

c can the bare discovery cure in one moment a passion that has become a habit, or is the discovery like the death of a beloved object. (196)

I’m not sure what I make of it, but is the most interesting Victorian anecdote I’ve come across in a while.