Transvestism in Walter Scott

If you were a Jacobite, returned to Scotland in secret in 1765; and you had kidnapped your son, who had been brought up by his English mother as a decadent, liberal, English type rather than a hard Scots warrior, a man of Duty and Destiny;

and you sought to transport your son, who might seek to escape, as you crossed the country on horseback, how would you choose to restrain him?

By dressing him as a woman, of course!

Cristal Nixon will act as your valet- I should, perhaps, say your femme de chambre. Your travelling dress you may consider as singular; but it is such as the circumstances require.

The soldier offers no better explanation, and the son does not challenge this. Later, the clothes arrive- a skirt, or upper-petticoat of camlet, like those worn by country ladies of moderate rank when on horseback, with a riding mask. Darsie wonders whether he should co-operate- but if he will not, he will be prisoner in a carriage rather than on horseback, and considered the comparative degree of ease and freedom which I might purchase by wearing the mask and female dress, as easily and advantageously purchased. That is, he has no great objection.

So far Scott has given us Darsie’s journal, but now turns to the third person narrator. Although he did not assume such a disguise without some sensations of shame and degradation, Darsie permitted Cristal Nixon to place over his face one of those silk masks which ladies frequently wore to preserve their complexion. He remonstrated somewhat more vehemently against the long riding-skirt, which converted his person from the waist into the female guise, but was obliged to concede this point also. Scott explains that then women riders wore men’s jackets, ladies’ riding habits not having been conceived, but men’s clothes then had splendid colours, lace and gay embroidery.

Perhaps Scott could not trust himself to explain Darsie’s feelings in the first person. There are other instances of cross-dressing in Scott: in The Monastery, a brother and sister regularly impersonate each other. Cross-dressing men are often attracted to women, and Scott was married- I can’t find a suggestion he was gay- but when I googled the scene I found an essay suggesting Darsie’s relationship with his friend Alan could be read as gay, even if a straight reading considering their love fraternal was also possible. I read all of Scott from Nationalist motives, but Christopher Whyte says the theorist must demolish the Nationalist’s canon. I read him for self-improvement, Whyte reads for pleasure.

When he liberates Darsie from the skirt, Redgauntlet says Do not blush at having worn a disguise to which kings and heroes have been reduced– but readers would recall that the Young Pretender dressed as Flora MacDonald’s maid.

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