New Books Network

Rachel Mesch

Before Trans

Three Gender Stories from Nineteenth-Century France

Stanford University Press 2020

New Books in European StudiesNew Books in French StudiesNew Books in Gender StudiesNew Books in HistoryNew Books in Peoples & PlacesNew Books in Politics & Society September 4, 2020 Roxanne Panchasi

In Before Trans: Three Gender Stories from Nineteenth-Century France (Stanford University Press), Rachel Mesch reads the biographies and work of three writers who did...

In Before Trans: Three Gender Stories from Nineteenth-Century France (Stanford University Press), Rachel Mesch reads the biographies and work of three writers who did not conform to the gender norms of the period. In different ways, Jane Dieulafoy (1850–1916), Rachilde (1860–1953), and Marc de Montifaud (1845–1912) lived and wrote gender stories that challenged prevailing notions of masculinity and femininity, claiming and writing identities that complicated existing binaries and conventions.

All three of the writers Mesch examines pushed boundaries in their private and public ways of being and in their self-presentation. An archaeologist, Dieulafoy fought in the Franco-Prussian War and traveled to Persia to study the ancient city of Susa. Rachilde wrote erotic novels including the ‘scandalous’ Monsieur Vénus. An art critic, Montifaud published erotic literature that shocked the sensibilities of the time.

Thinking about these figures individually and together, Before Trans considers their non-conformity at a moment that held limited possibilities for the expression of a diversity of gender and sexual identities. The book offers so much, as a history of these important figures of nineteenth-century French literary and cultural life, and as a contribution to the exciting and growing field of trans scholarship.

Rachel Mesch is Professor of French and English at Yeshiva University.


Roxanne Panchasi is an Associate Professor of History at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, Canada who specializes in twentieth and twenty-first century France and its empire. She is the author of Future Tense: The Culture of Anticipation in France Between the Wars (2009). Her current research focuses on the history of French nuclear weapons and testing since 1945. Her most recent article, ‘“No Hiroshima in Africa”: The Algerian War and the Question of French Nuclear Tests in the Sahara’ appeared in the Spring 2019 issue of History of the Present. She lives and reads in Vancouver, Canada and hopes all listeners are keeping healthy and safe at this difficult time in our world. If you have a recent title to suggest for the podcast, please send her an email (panchasi@sfu.ca).