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Embarrassed by being mistaken for a woman

Embarrassed by being mistaken for a woman

King, Andrew ORCID: 0000-0003-2348-4231 (2021) Embarrassed by being mistaken for a woman. In: Victorian inclusion and exclusion: Victorian popular fiction association, 13th annual conference, 14-16 July 2021. School of Humanities and Social Sciences, University of Greenwich, University of Greenwich, London. (Unpublished)

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It may seem surprising at first that a project devoted to histories of the conception of “work” as mapped by the nineteenth-century periodical press ( would be able to offer a paper for a panel on “queering the Victorians” but it is only surprising if one regards the queer as outside the mainstream or hegemonic. In the world of stage performance, and particularly Victorian and Edwardian music hall, the gender ambiguities of cross dressing were entirely standard. This paper takes as its representative case study a famous magician, Percy Thomas Tibbles, who was active from around 1898 to the 1930s, and who from the 1920s onwards became involved also in the gambling industry. The paper will suggest that the queerness that one of Tibbles’s stage personae embodied was a pro-imperialist, capitalist apology, far from a radical undermining of hegemonic beliefs and practices. The paper seeks thereby to complicate a too general celebration of queerness as inherently subversive.
Tibbles had two stage names: the British gentleman “Selbit” (Tibbles backward with the central b removed and the name by which he is usually remembered now), and the “Wizard of the Sphynx,” “Joad Heteb,” a sexually ambiguous figure sometimes, as Selbit’s own periodical The Wizard tells us, “mistaken for a woman”. The two personae sometimes shared the same billing (see e.g. Torquay Times, and South Devon Advertiser, 13 March 1908, p. 4), and had complimentary but related functions in the entertainment industry. Selbit’s magic tricks often performed a mock violence on women – he is most famous for having invented the trick of sawing women in half; dressed as a European capitalist, he performed on stage the magic of capital (as Francesca Coppa has sagely pointed out) including various disappearing and reappearing coin tricks. Ultimately Tibbles as Selbit apologises for capital and misogyny by showing that all their problems are imaginary. Joad Heteb, by contrast, represents an older tradition of magic coming from an elsewhere: in a black wig and dark makeup, Tibbles as Joad Heteb dressed after “the quaint old-world appearance of his ancestors who wore skirts and their hair long.” (The Wizard, vol. 1 no. 5, January 1906, p. 79). His tricks involved domestic items associated with the feminine, but he was also famous for his “Egyptian bricks” which seemed to teleport across space. I will argue that, as the figure of Joad Heteb who flaunts sexual ambiguity, Tibbles becomes an apologist for extractionist imperialism and the consumption of colonial imports. Unlike Selbit, Joad Heteb disappears by 1910, the anxieties he addresses either dissipating or becoming too great to be dealt with in this manner.

Item Type: Conference Proceedings
Title of Proceedings: Victorian inclusion and exclusion: Victorian popular fiction association, 13th annual conference, 14-16 July 2021
Uncontrolled Keywords: magic, gender, trans*, queer, stage performance
Subjects: P Language and Literature > PN Literature (General) > PN0441 Literary History
P Language and Literature > PR English literature
Faculty / School / Research Centre / Research Group: Faculty of Liberal Arts & Sciences
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Last Modified: 02 Aug 2021 09:26

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