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Material TransgressionsBeyond Romantic Bodies, Genders, Things$
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Kate Singer, Ashley Cross, and Suzanne Barnett

Print publication date: 2020

Print ISBN-13: 9781789621778

Published to Liverpool Scholarship Online: January 2021

DOI: 10.3828/liverpool/9781789621778.001.0001

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Hester Stanhope, ‘Un être à part

Hester Stanhope, ‘Un être à part

Material Transgression and Belonging in the East

(p.127) Chapter Five Hester Stanhope, ‘Un être à part
Material Transgressions

Jillian Heydt-Stevenson

Liverpool University Press

Hester Stanhope rethought tenets of Enlightenment and Sensibility that defined women at the mercy of biologically sexed bodies. Expected to marry for money and status, she left England to live independently in the Middle East, assuming agency in Syria as a warrior, tourist attraction, politician, and anchorite sibyl. She cross-dressed as a Turk and a Bedouin man, influenced Ottoman and tribal politics, took lovers, ruled the Syrians in her territory, accessed both male and female worlds, and enjoyed a liberty forbidden to women on British and Syrian grounds. Stanhope’s fluidity is apparent in multiple sources: accounts of travelers who visited her, her own letters, and the Memoirs of her physician Charles Meryon, wherein he quotes her correspondence (censored) and her conversations with him and others. Each genre—the letter, the memoir, and the travel account—creates a heroic persona for her. Two other phenomena add to these metafictional complexities: first, the competition between Stanhope’s and Meryon’s stories, and second, the filters of gender and class prejudice through which he views Stanhope. Such indeterminacy invites the question of how she both is and is not a speaking subject and of how these representations limit our interpretations of her and her actions.

Keywords:   Hester Stanhope, Travel narrative, Memoirs, Syria, Middle East, Crossdressing, Gender Contact Zones

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