‘I Became a Man in a Military Camp’: Negotiating a Transmasculine Identity in Aleksandr Aleksandrov (Nadezhda Durova)’s Personal Documents and Literary Fiction


queer history
military celebrity


Notes of a Cavalry Maiden [Zapiski kavalerist-devitsy, 1836], an autobiographical narrative by Aleksandr Aleksandrov (born Nadezhda Durova) (1783-1866), a Russian-Ukrainian hero of the Napoleonic wars, has been popular with readers since its first publication in 1836. Despite the obvious gender ambiguity of the narrator in this text, most adaptations and biographies interpret ‘Nadezhda Durova’’s grammatically female gender as proof that her army service was a brief instance of military cross-dressing in the otherwise conventional life of a patriotic woman. However, Aleksandrov’s legacy includes not just Notes and other published fiction, but also a substantial corpus of personal documents, some of which have only recently been recovered from the military archives. These texts form a record of Nadezhda Durova’s documented transition to Aleksandr Aleksandrov and, I argue, testify that from 1808 Aleksandrov consistently identified as a man until his death in 1866. In this article, I focus on Aleksandrov’s military and civil correspondence, to compare his transmasculine voice in personal documents to the more ambiguously gendered voices of his narrators in fiction. Using the narratological category of ‘autofiction’, I argue that even though Aleksandrov had to choose between two binary gender identities in everyday life, literary fiction created a space for him to inhabit the personas of both ‘Nadezhda Durova’ and ‘Aleksandr Aleksandrov’.
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