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Recent Trends in Narratological Research

John Pier

The Genderization of Narrative

Monika Fludernik


This article deals with three first-person narratives in which the biological sex of the narrator and, in two cases, that of one other character in the novel is indeterminate. It is argued, however, that in two of the texts (Maureen Duffy's Love Child and Anne Garréta's Le sphinx) the probable sex of the narrator can be inferred from the gender signals of the narrative, although no definite proof can be provided. In the third case, Jeanette Winterson's Written on the Body, indeterminacy is even more pronounced, although here, too, an informed guess as to the sex of the narrator and that of A*** is made. The paper also presents the results of an empirical study conducted among students and faculty in which the gender attribution to the narrator and narratee-protagonist in Gabriel Josipovici's "The Bird Cage" was used as a test. Finally, a list of textual clues to the sex and/or gender of characters in fiction is provided

Texte intégral

1In recent years several narratologists have started to examine the significance of gender in narrative. Robyn Warhol was concerned with the more intimate narrator-narratee relationship in the nineteenthcentury novel (Warhol, 1989); Ina Schabert (1992) analysed the ambiguous and changing genderizations in Victorian fiction; and Susan Lanser (1986, 1988, 1992, 1995, 1996) has pleaded for a more extensive, and more central, integration of feminism within narrative theory, besides her concern for gender attributions to characters whose presentation in the text does not make their sex explicit (1992, 1995, 1996). Nilli Diengott (1988) maintained that the issue of gender had no place in the structuralist system of narratology. (For an excellent summary of these positions see Nünning, 1994.) My own work has looked at this issue only tangentially, in connection with second-person texts where the referent of you, the protagonist, remains unspecified gender-wise—a strategy that is employed with great skill by gay and lesbian writing, for instance (Fludernik, 1994, 1995a, 1995b). In Fludernik (1996) I also devoted a section to the discussion of gender issues and noted that the issue of default gender needs to be examined in much more detail within narrative study (section 8.5.1., 1996, 359-61). Although the greater part, of that section dealt with the establishment of default gender for the narrator in heterodiegetic texts which, I argued, operates on the basis of readers'analogical transference of authors' biological sex onto the narrator's gender (Dickens the narrator...he; Austen the narrator...she), I also briefly noted the desirability of empirical study regarding the establishment of gender attribution to narrator-protagonists. Such empirical work can be set up, for instance, by choosing texts by authors whose biological sex is unknown to the reader.

  • 1 Lanser (1996) distinguishes between sex, gender and sexuality and sees pronominal reference as a g (...)
  • 2 I wish to thank an unnamed reviewer for her (?) comments on a previous version of this paper which (...)

2A few words of explanation are here in order regarding my use of the terms gender, sex and orientation.1 Biological human sex (male, female) is constructed in narrative texts in explicit and implicit manner: explicitly by graphic physical description and masculine/feminine gender (pro)nominal expressions (he vs. she; gendered first nouns); implicitly by the paraphernalia of our heavily gendered culture (handsome vs. beautiful·, shirt vs. blouse) and by the heterosexual default structure (if A loves B, and A is a man, then Β must be a woman). Thus, except for references to body parts, the textualization of biological sex has recourse to gender categories of a linguistic and cultural nature. Homosexuality or homoeroticism derive their transgressive potential precisely from the upsetting of this genderization structure where gay men are then perceived to display'feminine'gender traits and lesbians are seen to behave like'men.'Although orientation therefore belongs to the level of sexual behaviour (not affecting biological sex itself), it disturbs the genderization structure by questioning the neat alignments of sex, gender and sexual object choice and points up most forcefully how gender is constructed culturally, and how it is actively adopted or contested by individuals in their identity profiles. Except, perhaps, in the sauna we therefore tend to ascertain biological sex from a surface of gender signs, and these gender signals may prove to be utterly confounding in the case of same-sex orientation since the system is based on heterosexual assumptions and structured in complementary asymmetrical fashion.2

3In the present paper I wish to discuss this question of gender construction in narrative. The paper has two parts. First, I analyse the findings of an empirical test that I conducted among colleagues and students in Freiburg, Basel and Berkeley. Second, I discuss three novels that allegedly have a first-person narrator and/or main protagonist whose biological sex is never resolved in the course of the book. These three novels are Maureen Duffy's Love Child (1971), Ann Garréta's Sphinx (1986), and Jeanette Winterson's Written on the Body (1992). I will conclude with some theoretical remarks on the construction of gender and with a plea for more extensive empirical research.

1. Empirical Testing and its Pitfalls

4In the summer term of 1996 I was teaching a lecture course on narrative theory in Basel, and I used this opportunity to conduct a test with the students. I also later distributed the same test to members of the English Department at Freiburg and Basel, and I tried to get some additional feedback from colleagues at Berkeley, where I spent a sabbatical in the winter term of 1996/7.

5The test consisted of a short story by Gabriel Josipovici, a prolific contemporary British author. For the test I had xeroxed the entire text (four pages) of the story. The readers were also given the title, "The Bird Cage." One set of interviewees received no information about the author of the text (they therefore had no clue as to the biological sex of the empirical author of the story); the second set were given the author's name and therefore knew the author to be male. (Since I cannot reprint the entire story for copyright reasons, I provide a summary in Appendix Β for readers unfamiliar with the text.) "The Bird Cage" (1987, first printed in Josipovici's In the Fertile Land and later reprinted in Steps) contains no explicit markings of gender either for the narratorprotagonist ("I") or for the addressee-cum-protagonist ("you"). Both sets of informants were asked to indicate the gender attributions that they had established for narrator and narratee and to give reasons for their choice (non-obligatory). Those with the anonymous text were additionally asked to specify whether they knew the story (and therefore its author) whereas those who were given the name had a question on whether they knew any other works by the same author. I additionally asked for the informants'own sex.

6My hypothesis was that those informants who did not know the author's sex would tend, by default, to read the narrator as belonging to their own sex; i. e. women would tend to regard the narrator as female, men would classify the narrator as male. In the case of those informants who knew that "The Bird Cage" was written by Gabriel Josipovici, I expected the narrator-persona to be read as male (and the you-addressee as female), irrespective of the sex of the informant. Since nobody among the informants receiving the anonymous text knew either text or author and nobody in the second set knew any other works by Josipovici, foreseen complications due to familiarity with the author and/or the text did not arise.

7The results of the test did not bear out my hypotheses. Despite a lack of explicit gender markings, the majority of readers classified the narrator as female (and the "you" as male). This was surprisingly true of even male informants who did not know the author's sex; and it was true of male and female readers alike who knew the author was a man.

  • 3 Although, owing to departmental structure, recipients of the questionnaire were about 75% male, mo (...)

8Figure 1 in Appendix A shows that, out of 58 informants (27 male and 31 female3), the majority of men and women in all categories decided that the narrator was female. On the other hand, figures for the categorization of the narrator as male demonstrate that a sizeable minority opted for this reading, and nearly one third of the informants either decided the question was irresolvable or added remarks like "Could be the other way round, too."

9The only indications, however slight, that the author's sex or the reader's may perhaps influence categorization can be found in the result that more women opted for a male narrator when the author's sex was given, and in the fact that more men opted for a male narrator when the author's name was unknown. This might allow the inference that more women, given a male author, conclude by default that the narrator will be male (although they are apt to reconsider on the basis of the story). Likewise, when the author is unknown, male readers sometimes allow themselves to project their own gender identification on the narrative persona. One could link these reactions to two clichés: the cliché of women's habitual confrontation with a dominantly male literary world in which male authors most frequently write about male protagonists; and to the cliché of men's supposedly more'intellectual'approach to problems—note that, where the author was unknown, four male informants decided that the question of the protagonists'sex was irresolvable.

10Particularly interesting were some of the "explanations" offered for a later change in categorization, and the afterthoughts appended to the questionnaire. One informant noted that he decided the "you" had to be male since the bird was referred to as "he." A second male reader thought that the author might be Lawrence Durrell and "therefore" conceptualized the narrator as male, but he later "gradually realized that the'I'was feminine." Another reader (again male) decided that the "I" had to be female because only women would read to little girls.

11This takes me to some of the reasons people gave for their analysis. Quite a few informants found the scene with the little girl at the end decisive in terms of the gender issue: the I has to be female. That the (male) you would be the one to sell the house then inclined them further to this interpretation: the you is business-like. However, one informant rejected this line of argument as too pat, contending that this was too obvious an inference and that, for that reason, the narrator had to be male.

12Discussion about their reaction with some of my colleagues also brought to light that—even more than the final scene with the child—the overall interpretative frame induced people to opt for the "narrator-isfemale" option. Most informants read the story as a prototypical story of female desertion: the partner goes away, and they never meet again. I myself had initially classified the narrator as male, on the basis of the author's sex, but it became apparent to me later on that this reaction was motivated decisively by my equally sexist analysis of the story as a story of male pursuit that ends in failure. At least subconsciously, women going on vacation to the seaside, women trying to have birds to keep them company and writing about such trivia to busy husbands who remain at home, women who convalesce at the seaside while husbands and their children need to remain in town to attend their offices and schools or kindergardens determined my reading of the text.

  • 4 Only one informant suggested that I and you might both he female, and two informants thought the t (...)

13Since there are no explicit signals of gender identification in the text, readers, I conclude, tend to utilize cultural markers for their analysis: cultural norms are projected on the situation, and their frames determine gender identification. Informants almost to a (wo)man agreed that the narrator and narratee had to be of the opposite sex,4 that there was an erotic interest between them and that the story was therefore one of desertion and disappointment in love. Readers then looked for stereotypical male and female behaviour in the text and ended up finding what they were looking for. The text, once its overall design (love story of desertion) had been determined, served to enhance and corroborate cultural preconceptions about gender attributes.

  • 5 It may or may not be in this latter sense that Josipovici regards the I as female (personal commun (...)

14I should, perhaps, briefly note what my own later and more elaborated interpretation of the story is. On the background of a detailed knowledge of Josipovici's work I have come to the conclusion that the story, like so many of Josipovici's texts, is an exercise in metafiction. At the end of the story, the narrator tells the child to turn the page of the picture book. That picture book's illustration had contained the picture of the room with the bed, the mirror and the bird cage, and it is from this representation that the story takes its beginning—the invention of the scenario that we have been reading about. It does not much matter what the gender of the protagonists is any longer; besides, the person in the room can now be read as a mere projection of the invented narrator figure. The I with the child may well be female, but she may also imagine a situation in which the you is the woman and the (male) I is addressing her.5 Such a reading skirts the relevance of the gender issue much in the way that Jeanette Winterson's novel, as we will see, transcends the relevance of the protagonist's biological sex.

15I now turn to my discussion of the three novels with genderindeterminate first-person narrators to illustrate how gender issues are (or are not) resolvable in these texts.

2. Duffy—Garréta—Winterson: The Disguised Male Narrator

16Maureen Duffy's Love Child on its jacket and catalogue distribution text alerts the reader that s/he is about to encounter a text of radical "ambiguity: of age, sex, and intention" in which the gender of the narrator and of his/her mother's lover remain a mystery. Ajax, referred to as "my mother's lover" (passim), in the entire text never has a pronominal anaphor (he/she) referring to him/her; and the first-person narrator, Kit, likewise is never explicitly identified as boy or girl (Kit might be a pet name for either sex, e. g., a familiar abbreviation for Katherine). Nevertheless, from the context there can be no doubt that both Kit and Ajax have to be male. The most important indicator for these gender attributions consists in the descriptions of the mother's clandestine assignations with Ajax in Ajax's room in the albergo: with his periscope, Kit, from the toilet of Gerry's room next door, watches his mother and Ajax having sex, and from the wording of the following passage, it is more than probable that Ajax has to be a man:

Now as if I had shaken a kaleidoscope Ajax moved into the picture so that it became unfallen Adam and Eve, Eros and Psyche. My mother lifted her arms and her lover went into them to be entwined there. I saw the strong tensing of carved marble muscles as the knee thrust to part her thighs. (124)

17Shortly afterwards, Gerry arrives and, commenting on the sounds from next door, says, "'Jesus, someone's enjoying themselves'" (125). Besides the (almost) unequivocal physical description of thighs opening to a male thrust, the heterosexual script of this passage is underlined additionally by the reference to Eros and Psyche, Adam and Eve (and, elsewhere in the book to Actaeon and Diana, Adonis and Venus), and by the stereotypical soundtrack of heterosexual love ("a soft fierce crying") which Gerry immediately identifies as the accompaniment of jouissance. Although Kit's father has male and female secretaries, Ajax (whose mythical ancestors are commented on early in the novel [4]) therefore would most likely be male; at least that is what the text suggests. Another tell-tale passage is the following: "'How do you do.'My mother's lover leapt up and shook hands like a perfect English gentleman, except that nowadays it's only elderly members of the working class who still do it, according to my father who is after all the social expert" (94). Ajax, additionally, is conceptualized by Kit as somebody to wrestle with (96)— a fact that would also tend to imply that both are men. Moreover, Ajax's definition of art as "'Pleasure comes from a release of energy, doesn't it?"'(99) could be perceived as a tell-tale masculine conception of (artistic) jouissance. Only explicit markers of femininity (and none are present in the text) could therefore still counteract the reader's classification of Ajax as male.

  • 6 See "My mother's lover has killed Ajax rather than live without the chrysolite" (214) and "I am my (...)

18Similar arguments apply in the case of Kit. The first-person narrator, who vies with Ajax for the love of his mother, and who, at the end of the novel, says that he has now become his mother's lover,6 cannot but be male. Again, the most obvious indication of this emerges from physiological references, especially from descriptions of how Kit "comes": "My hand moved faster until in a minute I too was shuddering and jerking into sleep" (20); "When I came it was so hard and fierce I thought I was going to be sick but that may have been the unaccustomed scotch in my stomach" (181). The latter passage occurs just after Kit has lain down in Ajax's bed, imaging how his mother and Ajax had earlier had sex on the same bed. Additional indications of Kit's gender are cultural rather than physiological: Kit is able to swim very well; he climbs over walls; he constructs a periscope; he smokes (in order to fool Gerry); he has enough pocket money to pay for Gerry's room at the albergo (she is led to believe that he is really bad, an addict, whereas he merely pretends to smoke in the secret of Gerry's room so he can spy on Ajax and his mother next door). Kit's sexual jealousy alone, although a possible sign of his masculinity, however, does not necessarily clinch the question of gender: a jealous girl might just as well have faked letters and driven Ajax to suicide.

19Despite the lack of formal (morphological) markers of genderization, Love Child therefore seems to be a perfectly clear case of a male first-person narrator caught in a love triangle with his mother's male lover, Ajax.


  • 7 Colvile (1994) concludes differently, though she does not argue the point: "Pour moi, 'Je' est un (...)
  • 8 See Stanzel (1984, 229-32).

20My second example, Anne Garréta's Sphinx (1986), is a more complicated case, although here, too, the textual evidence suggests (though less unambiguously) that the first-person narrator is male and that his lover, A***, is also male.7 The gender identifications in this novel are less stereotypical, and they leave space for some doubt (particularly as to the gender/sex of A***). The unnamed first-person narrator of Sphinx narrates to us (in the passé simple) the story of his love affair with A***, a story that ends, tragically, with A***'s accidental death, the death of A***'s mother, the narrator's written account of the love affair (218), and—in the present tense—the narrator's murder in Amsterdam (a typical case of "dying in the first person"8).

21The first-person narrator, a student of theology, gets to know A*** in consequence of his having witnessed an accidental death in one of the dance halls (boîtes) to which his spiritual advisor, referred to as "le Padre," first takes him. Having to stand in for the disk jockey that night, the narrator stays at L'Apocryphe and soon starts to acquire a reputation in this new métier. It is in connection with this new job that he starts to go to other clubs before his own shift starts after midnight, and it is at the L'Eden that he sees the black dancer, A***, with whom he falls in love. It is highly unlikely that a theology student who goes out to dance clubs with his spiritual advisor should be anything but male. Likewise, at the end of the text, where the narrator's refusal to hand money over to the two robbers (he has no money on him) leads to his being stabbed, there is no mention of a purse, or of a sexual threat. These are more or less the only contextual clues to the narrator's sex.

22There is, however, one grammatical signal that explicitly notes the dancer's (A***'s) masculinity. Early into the novel, the narrator remembers a conversation with A*** and quotes A***'s words: "'Tu ne me chercherais pas si tu ne m'avais pas trouvé; tu ne me désirerais pas si tu ne m'avais pas un jour tenu dans tes bras"'(10). Unfortunately, this explicit passage sounds suspiciously like a (Biblical?) quotation and not a report of A***'s words. The words occur after a long passage in which the narrator describes his past with A*** as belonging to a nightmare vision of life as hell:

A l'époque, si je me souviens bien, je décrivais le monde comme un théâtre où auraient dansé, au bal macabre des pulsions, des théories de cadavres.... la voie de l'enfer s'étoilait de sourdes lanternes; un fond d'abîme se rapprochait indéfiniment; aux parois lisses du tourbillon dans lequel je me mouvais, je discernais les images déformées de corps extatiques, dans le râle lent et rauque des tortures de la chair à vif.
Mais je glissais et ne pouvais m'éprendre, m'interrompre et faillir à mon destin de fuite fascinée. Étaitce vraiment une imposture que d'aller nier la grâce là où je ne pouvais pas croire qu'elle ne résidât pas? Était-ce une hérésie de soutenir que la lucide traversée de l'enfer est voie directe de rédemption? “Tu ne me chercherais pas si tu ne m'avais pas trouvé; tu ne me désirerais pas si tu ne m'avais pas un jour tenu dans tes bras.” (9-10)

23The passage continues with a description of A***'s body ("Ses bras, douceur intense"; "Et qui ne se fût épris de cette charpente élancée, de cette musculature comme modelée par Michel-Ange"[10]), a description that does not necessarily refer to a man's body but nevertheless— especially through the reference to Michelangelo—implies a muscular male dancer.

  • 9 On the other hand, at the narrator's first encounter with A***, Tiff takes him past the women danc (...)

24On the other hand, the narrator's other descriptions of A***, such as we get them, are preponderantly amenable to a male and female reading; one can note additionally that at A***'s death only female dancers ("danseuses" [150]) are mentioned and that a replacement for A*** is soon found (151).9 Although the latter might indicate that A*** was, after all, a woman, this tenuous conclusion cannot be said to falsify the hypothesis of A***'s masculinity.

25Another indicator of A***'s gender could be established from the fact that the narrator's desire to see Harlem and A***'s reluctance to go there (132-4) is never motivated by fear (of rape, for instance), but by A***'s unwillingness to confront his (?) origins. Moreover, the fact that the narrator comes to behave as a child substitute for A***'s mother also suggests (but, again, does not necessarily prove) that A*** was perhaps male, since the child substitute would have to be the same sex as A***.

26The ambivalent gender identification as relating to A*** is addressed by the title of the novel, Sphinx. This connects with a passage in the novel (116-8) where the narrator describes one of A***'s dance numbers which accompanies an English song entitled "Sphinx." The prophetic and mysterious tune of that song correlates with A***'s dance in which A*** is compared to a cat, a feline godhead. Although cats are usually imaged as female, the lexeme le chat is used in this passage (rather than la chatte), and no explicit markers of gender are available:

Instantanément, je revois A*** parcourant la scène et, dans l'errance féline de sa chorégraphie [sic!], donner corps à une énigmatique figure de silence, se faire torsade à la limite extrême de la désarticulation, syncopée miraculeusement sans que son geste se brise ou se heurte de saccades. Lors même que le corps s'éloigne, perdure dans l'espace une figure fantomatique demeurée là, immobile; la scène se peuple d'incarnations, d'exergues soudains, poses hiératiques enchâssées dans un cheminement pourtant sans trêve. Il y avait du chat ou de la divinité dans ce corps qui, mû par quelque inquiète volupté, exprimait dans la nonchalance du pas une languide damnation ou immémoriale fatalité faite geste. (118)

27An additional but still inconclusive piece of evidence could be noted in the reference to mirrors just before A***'s death: the narrator in the mirror sees himself as A*** (147). However suggestive, that clue cannot clinch the evidence either.

28Other erotic factors likewise fail to resolve the puzzle. The narrator has a great number of female friends—but that again does not disambiguate the situation. The general distaste for the narrator's presumed affair with A*** among his acquaintances seems to relate to A***'s skin (75-6) rather than his (?) sexual orientation. Indeed, the issue of homosexuality is never thematized in the novel, although the repeated references to hell might point to the narrator's guilty conscience. After all, the "liaison" between the narrator and A*** is generally taken to be unnatural: "Et de cette affirmation première d'un impossible assortiment de couleurs découla le sentiment général d'une union contre nature" (76). A***'s flings with other lovers are with male partners: "un Adonis de revue de mode au beau visage idiot" (103)—this is how the narrator describes one of his competitors. On the other hand, A***'s love of jewelry (155) and lack of interest in museums and reading, cannot be adduced as (implicit) evidence for A***'s femininity, either (the cliché has become more than outmoded); besides, once a gay milieu has been established, "femininity" in any case no longer counts as a viable argument one way or the other.

29To summarize: in Garréta's Sphinx gender identifications are kept deliberately vague, but the interpretation of the protagonists as a gay couple has much to commend itself. Again, although physiological and cultural evidence determines one's decisions about the matter—in Sphinx there is much less to go on by way of dress or other behavioural patterns.


30In Jeanette Winterson's Written on the Body (1992), by contrast, signals of genderization proliferate, but the result remains just as ambiguous. I will argue below that the unnamed narrator is a man (possibly), who has a quite "ordinary" heterosexual love relationship with the female protagonist, Louise. However, no definite proof for the narrator's masculinity can be provided, since much of the evidence in the text is open to diverse interpretation. If one attempts to specify the narrator's gender in this manner, one is in fact reading the novel against the grain: what the novel (or Winterson) is trying to achieve is the description of passionate love in which the issue of gender has been completely transcended and no longer matters at all, an affair in which normatively male and female patterns of behaviour, since they have become equally acceptable for men and women, have lost their significance as a determining sign of gender identification.

31Written on the Body at first also conceals the sex of the narrator's lover. The text consists of long stretches of second-person fiction in which you refers to the beloved. Only a few pages into the novel do we get a proper name for the you, Louise (20), and then the love relationship begins to lend itself to more definite visualizations. From the initial scenario of a description of unattainable desire for Louise, the text moves to a more or less chronological report about how the narrator met Louise, how she left her husband, and (all of this in the present tense of the flash-back) how the husband shows up to tell the narrator that Louise has cancer and that only he (a doctor) will be able to cure her. The separation from Louise is healed by the narrator's eventual recovering her, but the "happy ending" (190) that the narrator wonders about is "where the story starts," the story of inevitable loss: "Why is the measure of love loss?" (9, 39).

  • 10 The Carlo liaison, incidentally, does lend itself to a reading in which Carlo suddenly discovered (...)
  • 11 The scenario that Frank's disappearance evokes is that of desertion—another prototypically "female (...)

32The mystery of the narrator's sex in Written on the Body arises not merely from sheer indeterminacy; on the contrary, potential signifying markers abound in the text. Thus, the novel refers to several former love affairs of the narrator and to an almost-relationship with Gail, the owner of the bar in which the narrator takes refuge after having ceded Louise to her husband-doctor, Elgin. As far as these former love affairs are concerned, they are deliberately, tantalizingly, disorientingly ambiguous. Three of them are with men (Crazy Frank [2-4]; Carlo [43]; Bruno [52]), and both Carlo and Bruno are described as being gay. Carlo forsakes the narrator for "Robert who was taller, broader and thinner than me" (143); and Bruno is described as undergoing a religious revival in which he is taken by Jesus "[o]ut of the closet and up into your heart" (152). Both of these relationships therefore imply that the narrator is male10; yet, in the relationship with Crazy Frank such easy inferences are immediately undermined by the text, since his gender identity remains ambiguous. Although he "had the body of a bull," he wears gold hoops through his "nipples," which should have had a "deeply butch" effect (93). Since the lexeme nipples is most commonly associated with female breasts, and since "butch" is of course the current term for a "mannish lesbian" (COED), Frank's masculinity becomes questionable: is Frank a cross-dresser? On the other hand, Frank's "ambition was to find a hole [sic!] in every port" (93), and the emotional reactions of the narrator are those of a prototypical woman: "Was that what I wanted? A man whose chest jewellery rattled when he walked?" (94).11 Even more startlingly, the narrator feels about this extravagance as if (s?)he were "a convent virgin" (94).

33Then there are of course the narrator's love affairs with women (e. g., Bathsheba [16-7], who is mentioned even before Louise's name first appears in the text). Only one of these relationships (with Jacqueline) endures for a measurable period of time. There is no doubt about the narrator's ingrained (constitutional?) promiscuity; indeed, the narrator's habitual promiscuity lends additional poignancy to the experience with Louise, constituting the narrator's first really deep love relationship.

34The narrator's gender, "undeclared" as the blurb says, is an issue not only on the plot level: for most readers the kind of love relationships that are mentioned would seem to require clarification. Additionally, the undetermined or undeclared sex/gender of the narrator figure becomes an important figurative and evaluative index on the discourse level. The narrator, as we have seen, compares her(?)self to a convent virgin; at another point in the text, however, the simile deploys a male term of comparison: "There are people who say that sex isn't important in a relationship.... I had come to this feeling myself. One does after years of playing the Lothario and seeing nothing but an empty bank account and a pile of yellowing love-notes like IOUs" (20-21; my emphasis). This is, again, offset by a reference to Alice in Wonderland— very non-definitive in the context ("A curse on this game. How can you stick at a game when the rules keep changing? I shall call myself Alice and play croquet with the flamingoes" [10]). Gender attribution is even further obscured by the conclusion of that paragraph in which a series of clichés are strung together like pearls on an irregular necklace that defies authenticity: "All you need is love. Nobody ever died of a broken heart. You'll get over it. It'll be different when we're married. Think of the children. Time's a great healer. Still waiting for Mr. Right? Miss Right? and maybe all the little Rights?" (10).

35In the following I provide a list of all the indices that imply a gendered reading. Over-all, semi-explicit markers of femininity predominate in the text, although none of them are conclusive; on the other hand, among the general (very frequently "cultural") clues, masculinity wins out over femininity.

I. Textual clues suggesting the narrator is male

361. The reference frame for adultery (14-16 et passim) suggests the traditional script of "male falls in love with (married) female."

372. Women fall for the narrator in such numbers that the world would have to be a lesbian paradise for this representation to be anywhere near realistic. (Counter-argument: the narrator never expects the women to leave their husbands for him—this could indicate that the narrator is lesbian after all, but it might also simply underline the narrator's promiscuity.)

383. The homosexual element in the three love relationships with men suggests that the narrator must be male.

394. When the narrator and Elgin start a fight over Louise, the narrator hits Elgin (170-2), and Elgin kicks the narrator in the stomach. If the narrator was female, Elgin would hardly be likely to get into a serious fight with her.

405. The "Lothario" (20) role and the wooing scenes with roses and champagne imply a stereotypically heterosexual relationship of a man wooing a woman.

416. The narrator compares himself to a boyscout (58).

427. The narrator hits Jacqueline: "Now I'd shown myself to be a cheap thug in a scrap" (86). Particularly with the reference to courts and to being worthy of Louise (87), this suggests a male narrator.

II. Textual clues suggesting the narrator is female

431. The narrator compares her(?)self to a "convent virgin" (94).

442. "I shall call myself Alice" and "Mrs Right" (10).

453. The second male boyfriend is called a "butch" (93; see above).

464. Is Louise's look of "love and possession and pride" (18; my emphasis) a "male" and therefore lesbian fantasy on her part? The reference to Adam and the fig-leaf can be interpreted either way: "But you are gazing at me the way God gazed at Adam and I am embarrassed by your look of love and possession and pride. I want to go now and cover myself with fig leaves" (18-9).

475. The narrator's sympathy for the women at the Clap Clinic, especially for the "middle-aged woman in a floral print," suggests a female perspective (46); yet, the use of the word "tarts" earlier in the passage has connotations of a male rather than a female speaker (wouldn't women choose "whores" rather than "tarts" in British English?).

486. In Gail's bar the narrator has to dress in "lime-green body stockings" (141) for Christmas. Again, this is inconclusive—Gail might have a perfectionist attitude towards the proper celebration of the festive season.

497. Gail's pleasantry about her tastes could be read in lesbian terms: "Ί have to do something for a living. Can't depend on Prince Charming at my age.'She laughed. 'Or with my tastes'" (142). Note also, however, that Gail's second name is Right: "Gail Right" (142), a fact which links up with the passage about "Miss Right" (10) and again destroys the lesbian implications.

508. "Nipple" (162) may imply that the narrator is female; but then Crazy Frank's nipples had been mentioned earlier in an at least superficially "male" context (cf. above).

III. Textual clues with contradictory or equivocal readings

511. Louise is portrayed as "a Roman Cardinal, chaste, but for the perfect choirboy" (67): This appears to imply that Louise is a lesbian, in which case so must the narrator. On the other hand, this can also be read as the (male) narrator, who is bisexual, having a homosexual fantasy about Louise.

522. Deliberate equivocation occurs in the tantalizingly and frustratingly inexplicit phrase "'When I saw you [Louise] two years ago I thought you were the most beautiful creature male or female I had ever seen'" (84). Since the narrator is obviously bisexual, this fits the bill.

533. The narrator's protectiveness of Louise (159) can be male paternalism or female motherliness.

544. In the passage about Inge's breasts the narrator first seems to be male (why else should "he" be fascinated with breasts), but then the description of Inge's breasts as the narrator's "gypsy sisters" and the final line in allusion to (female, lesbian) Gertrude Stein again suggest a lesbian affair with Inge:

I can tell by now that you are wondering whether I can be trusted as a narrator. Why didn' I dump Inge and head for a Singles Bar? The answer is her breasts.
They were not marvellously upright, the kind women wear as epaulettes, as a mark of rank. Neither were they pubescent playboy fantasies. They had done their share of time and begun to submit to gravity's insistence. The flesh was brown, the aureoles browner still, nipples bead black. My gypsy sisters I called them, though not to her. I had idolised them simply and unequivocally, not as a mother substitute nor a womb trauma, but for themselves. Freud didn't always get it right. Sometimes a breast is a breast is a breast. (24)

555. The nurse's "If your habits are such that you have caught it [the clap] once it's likely that you will catch it again" (47) seems to apply to a male offender but could equally be directed at the "tarts" that the narrator had earlier noted in the waiting-room of the Clap Clinic.

  • 12 Women, of course, may use artificial mechanisms to effect penetration, tooso even if one reads the (...)

566. The narrator's description of sex with Louise has almost explicit "male" connotations, but penetration is not unequivocally described: "Eyes closed I began a voyage down her spine, the cobbled road of hers that brought me to a cleft and a damp valley then a deep pit to drown in" (82).12

577. Louise compares herself to Emma Hamilton, Nelson's mistress (85), who wet her dress to "work on" Nelson. Louise did the same thing to attract the narrator. This implies that for Louise the narrator takes the male role, but, again, it does not clinch the issue.

588. The narrator and Louise dance "like a pair of 50s homosexuals" and "we'll say she's my accountant" (73). This is difficult to read as a lesbian context but suggests, rather, that Louise is in trousers, impersonating the male accountant rather than the (female) secretary of the traditional script.

599. Whereas "my shirt" (103, 118) does not provide evidence of masculinity at all these days, the reference to the "Dutch wife" (110) metaphorically transforms the narrator into a (male) widower, but the context can equally well evoke a scenario of (female) masturbation: "In bereavement books they tell you to sleep with a pillow pulled down beside you. Not quite a Dutch wife, that is a bolster held between the legs in the tropics to soak up the sweat, not quite a Dutch wife" (110).

6010. The comparison of the love relationship with the tale of Bluebeard transforms the narrator into the (male) Bluebeard. Yet the context equally allows for a reading in which it is the narrator who unlocks the secrets of Louise's body, and it is of course the princess who finds her predecessors' (female) corpses behind the door:

  • 13 The door in this reading is the door of rationality behind which we lock away our passions as the (...)

Bone of my bone. Flesh of my flesh. To remember you it's my own body I touch. Thus she was, here and here. The physical memory blunders through the doors the mind has tried to seal. A skeleton key to Bluebeard's chamber. The bloody key that unlocks pain. Wisdom says forget, the body howls. The bolts of your collar bone undo me. Thus she was, here and here. (129-30)
In other words, the passage could be read as an inversion of the Bluebeard story, with the narrator (female) unlocking in memory Louise's body to find the corpses of their former passion—the grief and the pain of it.13

6111. In the following passage the narrator identifies with British Rail passengers rather than "customers"—and these customers buy, among other things, condoms. Does this indicate that the addressee is by definition male? And does the narrator's lack of empathy derive from her female gender (rather than merely from her ideological criticism of consumer society)?

Nowadays British Rail call me 'You the Customer' but I prefer my old-fashioned appellant, 'Passenger'. Don't you think 'I glanced at my fellow passengers'has a more romantic and promising air to it than 'I glanced at the other customers on the train'? Customers buy cheese, loofahs and condoms. Passengers may have all these in their luggage but it is not the thought of their purchases that makes them interesting. A fellow passenger might be an adventure. All I have in common with a fellow customer is my wallet. (181-2)

6212. The narrator frequently takes a distanced perspective towards men. Thus, the comparison of men with sheep and cows: "Like men in johns, cows and sheep do things in unison. I've always found it disturbing. What have gazing, grazing and micturating got in common?" (186). Likewise, in the scene where the narrator's revolutionary girlfriend Inge involves him in scaring people with a gun, only the gun intimidates the men, whereas the narrator's earlier polite "'My girlfriend has just wired up the Semtex, would you mind finishing off?'" (22) has absolutely no effect on the men "cocks in hand, staring at the brown-streaked porcelain as though it were the Holy Grail. Why do men like doing everything together? I said (quoting Inge)" (22). "Quoting Inge" necessarily fudges the issue again.

63To summarize. There are many clues that suggest the narrator of Written on the Body might be male, but none of them are entirely conclusive. The most convincing aspects are those that relate to the three relationships with (gay) men; the fight with Elgin; and—more generally— the lack of thematization of homosexuality. Elgin is worried about Louise's adultery, but there is no mention of "perversity" or "unnatural" practices (and Elgin, who is an arrogant prig, would certainly find lesbianism acutely distasteful).

64Although I have attempted to sift the evidence very carefully indeed, this approach has been quite contrary to the spirit of the text, violating its implicit norms. In actual fact the novel needs to be seen as a tour de force, as a deliberate obfuscation of the gender issue, a purpose in which it succeeds quite splendidly. The "message" of the novel is, of course, that same-sex love relationships are quite normal, and that irrespective of the sexual make-up of the partners there is always the same poignancy in real love. Nevertheless, the close analysis of gender clues, which points up the stereotypical and fictive nature of genderization, has allowed for a more comprehensive understanding of how the reader is led astray. After our analysis, I believe the current reader of the text will no longer agree with Susan Lanser's dictum that "[...] only the most conventional of readers—readers unable to imagine that a woman could wield a hammer, urinate out-of-doors, deride marriage, hit a man, or make love to other women—would insist that this narrator is gendered male. For other readers, the markings of gender in Written on the Body will be as elusive as the markings of sex" (1996: 252). The point is not, in semiotic terms, whether the narrator could not also be female, but whether the accumulation of gender stereotypes does not make the traditional script more probable in terms of the cultural clichés that the text so deliberately evokes. Lanser has a point—we must not identify with Elgin; all things are possible—but perhaps we decide for what makes most sense for us from our personal orientational norms.

3. A Typology of Gender Clues

65In this final section I would like to present a list of gender markers in narrative texts such as I have inductively established them from the analysis given above. The reference here is to gender markers that establish the biological sex of a fictional character on the plot level. Biological sex on the plot level is either male or female. Genderization, however, even on the plot level, can be varied and open to strategic change: characters may be gay or lesbian, transvestites, androgynes, or they may even be unsure about their own gender identifications. If no explicit naming devices have established referential "security," the reader has to reconstruct biological sex and gender identifications from textual clues of various sorts, most of which are cultural clues that repose on a default reading of the situation as "normal." Texts like the ones that I have analysed above deliberately subvert easy inferences from the prototypical constellations of bourgeois society, and it is for this reason that they point up in what manner cultural codes crucially determine the interpretation of ambiguous or ambivalent scenarios. Once there is some doubt as to the gender of a major protagonist, all sorts of clues acquire major importance, and much of the analysis has to proceed from (logically) shaky inferences. I find it particularly ironic that such evidence reposes on the worst (and most naïve) kinds of cultural clichés. This unintended reinforcement of gender stereotypes was already noted by Jonathan Culler when he remarked in reference to determining the gender of the authorial narrator: "Trying to infer the sex of individual narrators from the character of their reflections and judgments, though, risks conferring authority on the most tendentious stereotypes, which would come to serve as standards: this observation sounds feminine, this one masculine" (Culler, 1984: 5).

What kind of signals are there?

A. Unambiguous linguistic signals

1. Proper Names and anaphors

66Proper names, i. e., Mr/Mrs/M(is)s X, and first names usually reliably establish a character's biological sex. Problems arise when no address lexemes occur or when only the first name is given and this first name does not unequivocally provide a gender clue. In Love Child the first-person narrator Kit has such an ambiguous name, and the first names of many of the other characters in the same book would be equally disorienting if, in their case, one did not have explicit anaphoric disambiguation (he or she). In June Arnold's The cook and the carpenter (1973) proper names are gender-undeclared; e. g., one of the members of the commune is named Three. (English has a number of first names that are truly gender-ambiguous, such as Leslie; many Catholic countries employ Maria as a male name.)

67Other tricks to obscure characters'gender attributes include the substitution of names and gendered anaphors, for instance, by descriptor noun phrases and the complete avoidance of anaphoric nounphrases and possessives in reference to the main character. Thus, in Arnold's novel, the two women protagonists are consistently referred to by the descriptive noun phrases the cook and the carpenter, and anaphors are textualized by resorting to an invented pronominal morphology: na (he/she) and nan (his/her"). Duffy's "my mother's lover" functions in a similar manner so that the narrator manages to never refer to Ajax with a possessive or anaphoric expression.

  • 14 See also "Je lui souhaitai tendrement un bon sommeil et, me penchant vers elle, son parfum attira (...)

68In Sphinx another variant, the use of an initial, is utilized: A*** consistently appears as A***, and all anaphoric items refer to his (?) body parts. One sometimes has to reread twice to realize that il anaphorically relates to the noun phrase ce corps (165) several lines further up, or that it is l'âme and not A*** which is the antecedent of elle (177).14

  • 15 Quoted from Finney (1992, 169). Translation: "Where as formerly she had started to shower by turni (...)

69Even where a recognizably male or female name is provided, the fictional reality may be belied by the label. We noted in Winterson that the narrator's first male boyfriend, Crazy Frank, might conceivably be butch—in which case the name would indicate Frank's gender identification, but not necessarily her (?) biological sex. Subjects with a history of a sex-change operation provide an even more fruitful ground for textual experimentation with gendered anaphors and naming strategies. Thus, in Sarah Kirsch's "Blitz aus heiterem Himmel" ("Bolt from the Blue") the female protagonist Katherine turns into male Max—a change which is signalled by a concomitant anaphoric shift from she to he ("Während sie vorher die Brause immer zuerst auf den Bauch gerichtet hatte und dann zu anderen Partien übergegangen war, traf ihn nun das Wasser zwischen die Schultern").15

2. Agreement and Concordance

70Many languages have instituted obligatory agreement between the adjective or participle and the subject or noun qualified in this manner. Thus, Garréta's ability to write an entire novel in which neither the je nor A*** are once forced into a construction like je suis allé(e), elle m'a attendu(e) or A*** était chaud(e) is to be regarded as a major technical feat of ingenuity. She manages to find adjectives with genderindeterminate forms {drôle, malade etc.), uses either the present tense or the passé simple (A*** fut; j'allai) rather than the passé composé with its obligatory agreement after être, and—as already noted—she consistently uses possessive pronouns which in French utilize the grammatical gender of the noun phrase that they modify: son corps ("his/her body"), sa poitrine ("his/her chest").

71While French allows the liberal use of possessives, the use of possessives in English constitutes the most difficult crux of gendernonspecific writing. In fiction of the type that have been studied here, this may explain the English preference for second-person texts, since first and second-person pronouns in English allow for the consistent obfuscation of gender attribution (Fludernik, 1994).

B. Other Textual Clues

72Clues that are not grammaticalized usually relate to two major areas: gender roles in sexual relationships and cultural gender roles (jobs, clothing, acceptable behaviour).

73The default for (sexual) gender roles is heterosexuality. If a character of ambiguous gender identification evinces an erotic interest in a person of specified biological sex, the inference is that the character has to be of the opposite sex. Thus, on a naïve level the narrator of Written on the Body should be male since he(?) falls in love with Louise. Secondly, as we have seen, roles within the relationship—not merely references to the physiology of heterosexual love— constitutively define partner roles (buying flowers; beating up the wife).

74Comparisons with key texts from literature, mythology or history (Emma Hamilton, Adam and Eve, etc.) frequently provide additional clues. Thus, the repeated references to Adonis and Actaeon in Love Child provide a fairly unequivocal hint that Ajax must be male. More complex is the reference to Bluebeard's chamber in Written on the Body: it remains open to argument which character in the myth is the one with whom the protagonist enjoys an imaginary relationship.

75Cultural gender roles are even more complex and open to negotiation and change. Texts that bank on gender ambiguity frequently re-utilize and modify culturally significant gender signals. In The cook and the carpenter, for instance, June Arnold makes good use of shirts and blue jeans as items of clothing which no longer signal masculinity (indeed, the protagonists are both women). Long hair, earrings or tattoes likewise fail to definitely constrain gender attribution these days, nor are cooking and child-rearing any longer necessarily female concerns. In the texts that I have analysed, some cultural indicators, although they never establish any conclusive results, do however still plague the critic or reader intent on fixing gender identity: is A***'s reluctance to walk through Harlem a gender-specific manifestation of anxiety, or does it relate to his/her childhood experience of dire poverty? Since the narrator in Written on the Body beats up Jacqueline, is he male? Does the narrator's distanced perspective on men congregating in toilets indicate that the narrator is a woman?

  • 16 The author's e-mail number is

76Where explicit markers have been eliminated from the text, radical indeterminacy threatens. The reader is thrown into a vicious circle of speculation without issue. Whereas an explicit gender identification allows for a consoling reinforcement of cultural stereotypes, the absence of specification sometimes leads the reader to scrutinize possibly quite misleading aspects of the plot from which gender attributes are then projected. When, as in the case of Written on the Body or of Sphinx, such attributes are inconclusive, no reinforcement from the cultural script materializes, and incompatible or inconclusive pieces of evidence fail to solve the puzzle. Such refractoriness on the part of a novel(ist), refusing a very determinate gender allocation, ultimately destroys the interpretative accessibility of the text, since any evaluation of the novel needs to first establish the "facts" of the plot, and these, in our cultural understanding, crucially relate to the over-all schemata that we project on the text. Whereas Duffy, Garréta and Winterson deliberately contravene such identificational ploys on the reader's part and manage to suggest that, in the presence of passionate love, gender identification may be irrelevant, insignificant or distracting, in other texts the refusal to specify gender allocation can become very disturbing indeed. In the early parts of The cook and the carpenter, for instance, the reader's visualizations of what the text is about are significantly hampered by her inability to categorize characters'relationships with one another. Arnold's text therefore foregrounds the fundamental cognitive dependence on gender patterning, whereas Garréta and Winterson seek to overthrow the power of such classifications, arguing that passion knows no gender boundaries (or boundaries of race). The subject of gender, it can therefore be argued, is handled quite differently in these novels. The gender markers themselves are, however, part of a restricted inventory which I have here tried to discuss in some detail. It would be of great interest to me to learn of further texts that thematize gender ambiguity, and I look forward to getting some feedback from readers of this article.16

Appendix A





Male informants: total 27
Female informants: total 31

Appendix B: Summary of "The Bird Cage"

77The story consists of an address by the unnamed "I" to an unnamed "you." It starts with the lines: "So you are in the house at last. How well you describe the room. The sea. The window. The bird in the cage. The mirror. And then in the mirror the cage, the window and the sea." In the second and third paragraphs the I decides to go visit the you. The second section of the story starts with the I announcing that "I will catch the train this afternoon," and continues to fantasize about the scenario that the you has painted in the letter: In the second paragraph, however, we get: "I am here now and you are gone. I came and we were together and now you are gone." This is followed by two paragraphs in which the narrator is quite happy to be alone at the seaside, but in the final paragraph of section two regret for the you's absence emerges.

78In the third section (one paragraph) the I tries to phone the you in the flat, but has a failure of nerves and puts down the receiver again.

79In the fourth section the narrator leaves the house at the sea without seeing or speaking to the you again. Back in the town, the narrator receives new letters from the you and refuses to answer them since the you has not provided a satisfactory explanation: "And now you write as if nothing has happened. [...] As if I had never been and you had never gone and left me there, for a day or two you said, while you dealt with urgent matters in the town. What is the meaning of your letter?" In the next, fifth, section the I refuses to follow or even answer renewed invitations to the seaside by the you. In the sixth section, the I speaks of the you begging for an answer, of selling the house, but still refuses to give in: "You say you want to see me and beg me to answer. How can I write a letter like that?" (These passages, incidentally, are almost verbatim evocations of Josipovici's novel Contre-jour [1986], so that a knowledge of Josipovici's oeuvre would indeed have a manifest influence on readers'interpretation of the story.)

80In the seventh section (three paragraphs) the you writes to say the house has become dilapidated. The I still refuses to react to these letters and indulges in fond memories of the room at the seaside and the you's description of it. There is then the first mention of "my little girl" looking at the picture "you had drawn," followed by a philosophical meditation on cages: "I don't think you see that we are all in cages, but the cages are our lives." In the final section the child is asked to turn the page and "look at another picture."


Works Cited

Primary sources

Arnold, June, 1973. The cook and the carpenter: a novel by the carpenter. Plainfield, VT: Daughters, Inc.

Duffy, Maureen, 1971. Love Child. New York: Knopf.

Garréta, Anne, 1986. Sphinx. Roman. Paris: Grasset.

Josipovici, Gabriel, 1987. "The Bird Cage." In: In The Fertile Land, Manchester: Carcanet, 31-34. Repr. Steps, Manchester: Carcanet, 1990, 235-38.

Winterson, Jeanette, 1992. Written on the Body. London: Vintage

Secondary sources

Colvile, Georgiana M., 1994. "Plaisir et chorégraphie de l'intre-texte: Sphinx d'Anne Gsrréta." In: Brami, Joseph et al., ed.., Regards sur la France des arrées 1980. Le Roman. Stanford, CA: Anma Libri, 110-25.

Culler, Jonathan, 1984. "Problems in the Theory of Fiction." Diacritics, 14, 2-10.

Diengott, Nilli, 1988. "Narratology and Feminism." Style, 22. 1, 42-51.

Finney, Gail, 1992. "Crossing the Gender Wall: Narrative Strategies in GDR Fictions of Sexual Metamorphosis." In: Fehn, Ann, Ingeborg Hoesterey, and Maria Tatar, eds., Neverending Stories. Towards a Critical Narratology. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Fludernik, Monika, 1994. "Introduction: Second-Person Narrative and Related Issues." Style, 28. 3, 281-311.
1995a. "Erzähltexte mit unüblichem Personalpronominagebrauch: engl, one und it, frz. on, dt. man." In: Kullmann, Dorothea, ed., Erlebte Rede und impressionistischer Stil. Europäische Erzählprosa im Vergleich mit ihren deutschen Übersetzungen. Göttingen: Wallstein, 283-307.
1995b. "Pronouns of Address and Odd'Third Person Forms: The Mechanics of Involvement in Narrative." In: Green, Keith, ed., New Essays on Deixis.Amsterdam: Rodopi.
1996. Towards a Natural Narratology. London/New York: Routledge.

Lanser, Susan S., 1981. The Narrative Act. Point of View in Prose Fiction. Princeton, NJ: Princeton Univ. Press.
1986. "Toward a Feminist Narratology." Style, 20. 3, 341-363.
1988. "Shifting the Paradigm: Feminism and Narratology." Style, 22. 1, 52-60.
1992. Fictions of Authority. Women Writers and Narrative Voice. Ithaca, NY: Cornell Univ. Press.
1995. "Sexing the Narrative: Propriety, Desire, and the Engendering of Narratology." Narrative, 3. 1, 85-94.
1996. "Queering Narratology." In: Mezei, Kathy, ed., Ambiguous Discourse. Feminist Narratology & British Women Writers. Chapel Hill, NC: Univ. of North Carolina Press, 250-61.

Nünning, Ansgar, 1994. "Gender and Narratology. Kategorien und Perspektiven einer feministischen Narrativik." Zeitschrift für Anglistik und Amerikanistik (ZAA), 42. 2, 101-21.

Warhol, Robyn R., 1989. Gendered Interventions. Narrative Discourse in the Victorian Novel New Brunswick: Rutgers Univ. Press.

Schabert, Ina, 1992. "The Authorial Mind and the Question of Gender." In: Lehmann, Elmar, and Bernd Lenz, eds., Telling Stories. Studies in Honour of Ulrich Broich on the Occasion of his 60th Birthday. Amsterdam: Grüner, 312-28.

Stanzel, Franz Karl, [1979] 1984. A Theory of Narrative. Trans. Charlotte Goedsche. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press.


1 Lanser (1996) distinguishes between sex, gender and sexuality and sees pronominal reference as a gender question:
[...] for the purposes of this essay I will use the term "sex" to designate the formal identification of a represented human entity as male or female. I will use "gender" to designate characteristics constructed in and by texts that implicate—but do not prove—a male or female identity by drawing on cultural codes that conventionally signify masculinity or femininity: codes such as proper names and metonymic references to clothing, activities, and behaviors. And I will use "sexuality" to designate erotic orientation or identity particularly with respect to object choice. I am assuming that readers routinely attribute a sex to narrators and characters and that they do so both through explicit linguistic markers such as "he" or "she" (or "the man" and "the woman"), through gendered codes that vary historically and culturally hut are nonetheless present at least in all language cultures of the so-called West, and sometimes also through presumptions of (hetero)sexuality. (251-2)

2 I wish to thank an unnamed reviewer for her (?) comments on a previous version of this paper which led me to add this paragraph.

3 Although, owing to departmental structure, recipients of the questionnaire were about 75% male, more women than men reacted to the questionnaire.

4 Only one informant suggested that I and you might both he female, and two informants thought the text might be a kind of dialogue, and that the referents of/and you might not refer consistently to the same subjects.

5 It may or may not be in this latter sense that Josipovici regards the I as female (personal communication).

6 See "My mother's lover has killed Ajax rather than live without the chrysolite" (214) and "I am my mother's lover now" (215).

7 Colvile (1994) concludes differently, though she does not argue the point: "Pour moi, 'Je' est un homme et A*** une femme" 111.

8 See Stanzel (1984, 229-32).

9 On the other hand, at the narrator's first encounter with A***, Tiff takes him past the women dancers to the men's rooms ("les loges... des danseurs") and A*** emerges from one of the doors ("sortant de la sienne" [20]).

10 The Carlo liaison, incidentally, does lend itself to a reading in which Carlo suddenly discovered his homosexual leanings, so that the necessary inference about the narrator's masculinity no longer follows.

11 The scenario that Frank's disappearance evokes is that of desertion—another prototypically "female" script as we already noted in connection with the Josipovici story.

12 Women, of course, may use artificial mechanisms to effect penetration, tooso even if one reads the passage as alluding to penetration, this does not necessarily determine the narrator as male. (Thanks to Gordon Collier for the suggestion.)

13 The door in this reading is the door of rationality behind which we lock away our passions as the body locks away our souls. The passage, however, can also be read as an allusion to Charles Ludlam's play Bluebeard (1970) in which the Paustian hero Bluebeard attempts to create a third sex behind the doors of his laboratory, also referred to as the "House of Pain." Compare:
Bluebeard: How do you know when you unlock any door in life that you are not entering a House of Pain? (Ludlam 138)
Thanks go to Stephen Shapiro for alerting me to this reference.

14 See also "Je lui souhaitai tendrement un bon sommeil et, me penchant vers elle, son parfum attira mon attention. Comment s'appelait-il déjà et à quoi me faisait-il songer?" (21-2), where il refers to son parfum·, and "Je regardais à la dérobée son épaule où la tête venait reposer; déportée latéralement, elle m'offrait à voir le méplat d'une pommette" (173), where elle refers to la tête.

15 Quoted from Finney (1992, 169). Translation: "Where as formerly she had started to shower by turning the spout on her tummy and only later went on to the rest of her body, now the jet first hit him between the shoulder blades."

16 The author's e-mail number is

Table des illustrations

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Légende Male informants: total 27Female informants: total 31
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Professor of English Literature at the Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg. She is the author of The Fictions of Language and the Languages of Fiction (Routledge, 1993), a study of free indirect discourse and related forms of speech and thought representation in literary and non-literary language, and of Towards a 'Natural' Narratology (Routledge, 1996). She has edited a special issue on second-person fiction (Style 28. 3, 1994) as well as two volumes of essays (Hybridity and, Postcolonialism: Twentieth-Century Indian Literature, Tübingen: Stauffenburg 1998; and Das 18. Jahrhundert, Trier: WVT, 1998). Other publications include theoretical articles on narrative theory, historiographical metafiction and linguistic problems such as deixis and the historical present tense, as well as interpretative studies of selected work by James Joyce, Sherwood Anderson, Thomas Pynchon, Eugene O'Neill, W. B. Yeats, George Eliot and Charlotte Perkins Gilman. Work in progress includes a project on the development of narrative structure in English literature between 1250 and 1750 as well as articles on the Middle English saints' legend, on the image of the prison in English literature, on expatriate Indian literature in English, and studies of William Godwin, Edmund Burke and Thomas Otway. Author's address: Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg, English Department, D-79085 Freiburg im Breisgau/Germany

© Presses universitaires François-Rabelais, 1999

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