“Gilbert Osmond, transwoman: Norms of embodiment and transgender recognition in The Portrait of a Lady“
27 November 2020 @ 3:00 PM (PST)
“In this talk I contend that unexamined norms of embodiment have prevented generations of readers from noticing a trio of transgender characters at the heart of The Portrait of a Lady: Gilbert Osmond – the universally disliked husband of the novel’s charismatic heroine – and the heroine’s cousin Ralph Touchett and friend from childhood, Ned Rosier. I show that a norm of what I call ‘co-located’ embodiment has made it difficult to recognise what I call ‘translocation’: a mode of being in which the subject’s body is located outside his or her physical person. I offer a very brief account of translocation in terms of Lacanian theory before moving on to show how an understanding of the translocational function of such cultural practices as the collecting of artworks and the contracting of marriage can transform our vision of James’s novel. By way of this account, I suggest that The Portrait of a Lady may point towards the perhaps very widespread modern and contemporary occurrence of subjects whose embodiment is achieved in translocated form.”
BIOGRAPHY: Dr. Coulson’s interests lie in nineteenth- and early twentieth-century American and British literature, in particular narrative representation, and in the material culture of the period. She is currently completing her book Women, Realism, and Henry James, which explores the relations between realist representation and feminine subjectivity in the lives and work of Henry and Alice James, Constance Fenimore Woolson, and Edith Wharton. Future projects reflect an interest in the functioning of realism across different cultural forms, and include work on Sargent and the quintessentially realist art of portraiture; on the narrative dimension of Victorian historicist architecture; and on textile metaphors in late-realist/early-modernist literature.