A Scarlet Pansy

A Scarlet Pansy

A Scarlet Pansy

A Scarlet Pansy


First published in 1932, A Scarlet Pansy is an extraordinarily vivid and richly textured depiction of American queer life in the early twentieth century, tracing the coming-of-age of androgynous Fay Etrange. Born in small-town Pennsylvania and struggling with her difference, Fay eventually accepts her gender and sexual nonconformity and immerses herself in the fairy subculture of New York City. A self-proclaimed "oncer"--never tricking with same man twice--she immerses herself in the nightclubs, theaters, and street life of the city, cavorting with kindred spirits including female impersonators, streetwalkers, and hustlers as well as other fairies and connoisseurs of rough trade. While reveling in these exploits she becomes a successful banker and later attends medical school, where she receives training in obstetrics. There she also develops her life's ambition to find a cure for gonorrhea, a disease supposedly "fastened on mankind as a penalty for enjoying love." A Scarlet Pansy stands apart from similar fiction of its time--as well as that of the ensuing decades--by celebrating rather than pathologizing its effeminate and sexually adventurous protagonist. In this edition, republished for the first time in its original unexpurgated form, Robert J. Corber examines the way in which it flew in the face of other literature of the time in its treatment of gender expression and same-sex desire. He places the novel squarely within its social and cultural context of nearly a century ago while taking into account the book's checkered publication history as well as the question of the novel's unknown author. Much more than cultural artifact, A Scarlet Pansy remains a uniquely delightful and penetrating work of literature, resonating as much with present-day culture as it is illuminating of our understanding of queer history and challenging our notions of what makes a man a woman, and vice-versa.


FAY ETRANGE LAY DYING ON A BATTLEFIELD IN FRANCE, dying in the arms of the man she loved.

Young Lieutenant Frank, much younger than herself, tenderly drew her closer. At that time he did not sense that she had sacrificed her life to save him. Though she had revealed her true self, in his gratitude for her recent ministrations he thought he loved her. Perhaps he did. Perhaps he was even broad-minded enough for that. At least in after years he was heard to speak reverently of Fay.

Fay was beautiful, had always been beautiful, from babyhood onward. Whatever feature is to be admired in a babe, she had possessed: skin of the softness and bloom of a dainty blush rose; eyes of deepest blue; ringlets of spun gold. And later, at the age when growing girls are thin and gangling, she had been pleasantly rounded and winsomely lovely. Even at the time of her death, when she was well past thirty-three, her beauty had not begun to fade, but with each year had seemed to take on an appropriate maturity. Best of all, she had never realized that she possessed beauty. She had studied her mirror but little, except when making up for some grand function. This was due to an overwhelming interest in others and in objects about her, a trait manifested early in life.

Though Fay belonged to the emotional type, nevertheless, she was possessed of a marked interest in science. Thus her life had developed along complex lines.

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