The Rebellion of Miss Lucy Ann Lobdell | William Klaber

Lobdell KlaberThe Rebellion of Miss Lucy Ann Lobdell by William Klaber is an intersting look at gender and sexuality through the fictionalised account of a real life.

One day in 1855, Lucy Lobdell cut her hair, and put on britches.  She did it to earn men’s wages, but the changes went far beyond anything she had imagined.  The Rebellion of Miss Lucy Ann Lobdell, available in June 2013, is the account of Lucy’s extraordinary foray into the world of men and her inward journey to a new sexual identity.  It is her promised memoir, as heard and recorded a century later by William Klaber, an upstream neighbor.  Lucy promised to write a book about her “adventures in male attire,” but that book was never found.  Instead, more than a century later, author William Klaber received the gift of a satchel filled with letters and other documents concerning Lucy’s life.  Recognizing the historical importance, Klaber set out to do justice to a piece of forgotten Americana—to tell the story of what happened to Miss Lucy Ann Lobdell once she changed into pants.

Lucy Ann Lobdell was a real woman who dressed as a man in order to find work and a better life.

I have a real weakness for this sort of narrative, especially when it is a fictionalised version of real events. I hadn’t heard of Lucy Ann Lobdell before, which seems like a shame as she was a fascinating woman.

Klaber writes about her life and experiences with sympathy and kindness, even when Lucy Ann doesn’t behave all that well. His writing can be a little clumsy, but that can be forgiven as he is writing in her voice. It’s hard to critique the story as it’s based on real events, but one problem about writing real people is that the lives of real people don’t have things like foreshadowing or climaxes. They just keep going after what, in a novel, would be the natural stopping place. As a result, I struggled with the last 50 or so pages of this. I felt, that in a work of pure fiction, it would have finished earlier.

Lucy Ann Lobdell might be hard to like for many people, as she opens the book by abandoning her daughter. But her reasons are sound, she has a genuine desire to give her daughter a better life, and she can’t do that by living and working as a woman. And she can’t live and work as a man in the place where everyone knows her.

It can be hard reading, when you know that the various traumas and expereinces she suffers are ones that a real person experienced for trying to live true to herself. Klaber says he has recounted her story where there is evidence and invented things in the gaps, but it can be hard going. The epilogue, where he discusses what happened to her, is even harder.

I’d recommend it, despite or even because of that. 4 out of 5.

Provided free through Netgalley

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