Scripting the Self : Gender Bending and the Theatrics of the Body in Choisy’s Memoirs

Nancy Arenberg (University of Arkansas)

The Abbé de Choisy was one of the most intriguing and eccentric figures in Louis XIV’s court. A prolific author, he composed the Sun King’s Memoirs, his own, and in his old age wrote an ambitious eleven-volume Histoire de l’Église. But to scholars of the 17th century, Choisy is most renowned for his flamboyant penchant for cross-dressing, a secret never concealed from his friends. In fact, his peers openly encouraged his fetish for adorning himself in women’s clothing. It is the Abbé’s confessional work, Mémoires de l’abbé de Choisy habillé en femme, which allows the contemporary reader to study the complexity of his self-representation within the textual structure of his own domestic theater. This communication will study how the private memoir, as a genre devoid of strict conventions and rules, allows Choisy to stray from the more traditional historical form of composition with the intention of writing for his own pleasure. This discussion will also examine his cross-dressing adventures in l’Histoire de Madame de Sancy and l’Histoire de Madame La Comtesse des Barres, with emphasis on theatrical role-playing and illusion