Sunday, July 17, 2011

Adventures of a Cross-Dresser

Mary Anne Talbot (1778–1808) was an Englishwoman who wore male dress and became a sailor during the Napoleonic wars. Her story was illustrated by the Italian-born British artist named Fortunino Matania (1881-1963).

In 1792 she unwillingly became a mistress of captain Essex Bowen who enlisted her as his foot-boy under the name "John Taylor" for a voyage to Santo Domingo. Matania captures the captain’s imperious dominance and the 14-year-old’s fearful acquiescence to her new identity.

She served as a drummer-boy in the battle for Valenciennes, where captain Bowen was killed. She was wounded and treated the wound herself to avoid revealing herself to the surgeon. She decided to continue working as a male sailor.

On a sojourn to Rhode Island in America, she attracted the attentions of a young woman who fell in love with the eligible young “gentleman.” Matania’s illustration on tone paper shows the moment when the girl openly declares her love. Mary Anne’s expression of consternation, and her blend of male and female qualities, is a difficult thing to express in a drawing, but Matania accomplished it.

Despite a series of injuries received in battle, Talbot continued to wear sailor's clothes. She worked in menial jobs and even tried her luck on stage at Drury Lane but eventually was arrested and taken to debtor’s prison at Newgate.

Mary Anne Talbot on Wikipedia
 Fortunino Matania on Wikipedia
Download her 1809 autobiographical account on Digital Commons 
Previously on GJ: Matania at Work 
Images courtesy Anthony Smith


Roberto said...

Reminds me of ‘The Life and Exploits of Anne Bonny’ and ‘The Adventures and Heroism of Mary Read’ from the book: ‘The Pirates’ by Charles Ellms.
Or the early life of the Russian Mystic and Theosophist, Maddam Blavotski. -RQ

Steve said...

Sounds like the inspiration for the well-known traditional song, The Handsome Cabin Boy.

Paul Allan Ballard said...

I can't get enough Fortunino Matania! Any chance you have come across his Princess of Mars work? I've only seen one tiny jpeg of Dejah Thoris.

Anonymous said...

Matania's splendid work can be seen in Jim Vadeboncoeur's Images magazine, as well as in Heritage Auction archive - in high resolution. Their website is hard to browse and time takes patience to arrive at the page you seek (and in most cases you'll miss the image you are looking for, though it's there) but it ultimately pays.

James Gurney said...

Thanks for mentioning that, Tino. It's really great to explore the Heritage site, which has so many super high res files of great illustration.

There's also a book in the works on Matania, but it keeps getting delayed.