A Book Review by Ms. Bob: 2835 Mayfair

| Feb 27, 2017

In light of Ms. Bob Davis’s current effort to preserve trans history by turning her massive collection of trans photos, memorabilia and books into an archive that will be available to the public we present a re-run from April of 1998. It is a review of a rare book, a detective story with science fiction overtones that was published in 1907, and features moving the consciousness of a man into the body of a woman. It’s also a satire of the type of detectives stories written at that time. To support the preservation of Ms. Bob’s collection as an archive visit her Indiegogo fundraising page. Those who wish to read the book themselves can take advantage of that 21st century device known as Amazon and purchase a reprinted copy online.

2835 MAYFAIR A Novel by Frank Richardson

By Ms Bob and Carol Kleinmaier

Background

We are always delighted when readers suggest subjects to us. This installment is in response to prodding from Elizabeth Parker. A few months ago when we said we had thought of writing “a book review, but that didn’t seem very compelling,” she took exception. Elizabeth, who sometimes signs her email massages “BookWorm,” thought a book review would be very compelling indeed.

One failing we find in many reviews is that they tell too much about the book. They tell so much of the plot which by the time you’ve finished the review, there’s no reason to read the book. We hope to avoid this by selecting a book most of our readers will never be able to read, 2835 Mayfair, an obscure novel mentioned briefly in Eonism, Havelock Ellis’ seminal work on gender.

The subject in Ellis’ work who mentions this novel is “R. M., age 66, man of science and letters, a fellow of various learned societies and engaged in official scientific work” (Ellis, p. 91). Ellis considers R.M. as much a colleague as a subject and as such, R.M.’s case study was autobiographical, not written by Ellis. R.M. says, “I felt like a woman born out of her sex, and was affected by the most passionate longing to be a woman. I could not look at a pretty girl without envying her, her beauty and her womanhood, and would gladly have changed places with almost any woman from fifteen to forty-five who was in the least attractive to me” (Ellis, p. 97).

In spite of these feelings, R.M. would have had a difficult time getting services from any current member of the Harry Benjamin Association. R.M. almost never crossdressed and was not attracted to men. Ellis, however, always considered a person’s mental and emotional state, not just their behavior. He coined the term Eonism from the name of Chevalier d’Eon (1728-1810), the most famous transgenderist in European history. He hoped it would replace transvestitism, a term he found too limiting, since it considered only behavior, not mental state.

From this perspective Ellis recognized R.M.’s feminine nature, explaining that the Eonism “here is in the affective and emotional sphere, and in this large sphere the minor symptom of cross-dressing is insignificant. The subject was a man of exceptional intellectual culture and of exceptional sympathetic sensitiveness. He possessed marked feminine affectability” (Ellis, p. 100). When R.M. commented that his “particular psychical affection is dealt with by several living novelists, especially Frank Richardson in 2835 Mayfair” (Ellis, p. 99), our interest was aroused and the hunt was on.

At first the search was fruitless. None of the book dealers specializing in gender, erotica, or gay & lesbian studies had ever heard of 2835 Mayfair. Over nine years were spent perusing bookstore shelves and catalogs without finding even a mention of the book or its author. But after a few months searching on-line, a copy of the first American edition was found at a bookstore 3,000 miles away which specialized in mystery, detective and science fiction! The proprietor said the book was published in 1907, but he had no idea if it featured crossdressing or change of sex at all. We bought the book sight unseen and found that (hooray for the www!) it was without a doubt R.M.’s 2835 Mayfair.

Before delving into the story, a few words about its equally obscure author are in order. Frank Collins Richardson was born in 1870 and attended Christ Church, Oxford. He studied law and was admitted to the bar, which is English for becoming an attorney. “But there, as he admitted, he was a failure, and he took in consequence to writing” (Times, Aug. 2, p. 5). It seems, however, that he couldn’t leave the bar behind. His first book was King’s Counsel (1902). As a writer, he received some fine reviews, mostly complimenting his wit. “His peculiar topic of humor was the subject of whiskers, which he …perhaps worked for rather more than it was worth. But his treatment of it was hailed at the time as an amusing innovation” (Times, Aug. 2, p. 5). The Daily Mail called him “a genuine satirist” and the New York Dramatic Mirror proclaimed Richardson, “the wittiest of all Anglo-American authors.” He wrote at least six other books, many of which were science fiction or fantasy with titles like: The Man Who Lost His Past, The Secret Kingdom and The Bayswater Miracle.

But Richardson was given to depression. On Tuesday, July 31, 1917, he took his own life. The next morning the housekeeper found him “dead in his flat in Albemarle Street, W., with his throat cut” (Times, Aug. 4, p. 5). Born in 1870, he was 46 years old. At the coroner’s inquest his sister, Hilda Richardson, said he was worried about his father’s illness and his own cataracts. There is the implication that he may already have lost sight in his left eye. Alexander Grey, who seemed to be Richardson’s personal secretary, testified that Richardson “preferred death to being blind” and “held the opinion that a man had the right to take his own life” (Times, Aug. 4, p. 5).

“The Coroner said that Richardson was a highly intelligent man, at times a brilliant talker, and a clever writer, as he knew, having read several of his books.… This was just the man who might take his life. He lived alone, at times had too much to drink, and was worried about his sight, about the war, and probably even about the weather.” This callous coroner, Ingleby Oddie by name, continued stating his opinion that, “It was difficult to say who was of sound mind, for there were variations of mentality and people who had a dead normal mind were very dull people,” (Times, Aug. 4, p. 5) which sounds a bit like something one of the characters in 2835 Mayfair might say.

Now to the book itself

At its core 2835 Mayfair is a detective story/murder mystery. The bookseller had that right. But the murder is ultimately explained by a science fiction-like sex change, which featured some ethically questionable medical practices. The book is almost a constant display of wit, including a satire of fictional detectives. This satire must have been much funnier in 1907, when Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes was on the best sellers list, but now it seems to go on far too long. Another drawback for the contemporary reader is Richardson’s unconscious misogyny, sexism and the class snobbery of his era.

These drawbacks aside, however, the book is wondrously easy to read. There are many cleverly turned phrases, which still bring a smile and an occasional laugh-out-loud, even after almost a century. The pace is quick and the plot’s twists are fascinating. It begins promisingly. The principal character is bachelor attorney George Harding, K.C. (king’s counsel). His best friend, the very brilliant doctor Sir Clifford Oakleigh, who will perfect a cure for cancer before the story’s over, is found dead on page 1. The corpse disappears on page 11. The disappearance of Sarah Mingey, Harding’s law clerk’s daughter, is announced on page 31. Harding, age 38, falls in love for the first time in his life on page 35 and a nonchalant Sir Clifford reappears on page 59, “Did you actually think I was dead? I suppose, really, you barristers can believe in any old thing. When a man has schooled himself to believe in the law, any other feat of credulity is child’s play, isn’t it?”

The narrative continues with more plots and sub-plots than are worth retelling. Let’s concentrate on the signs of gender play. The first striking element is that all the women are remarkably unappealing. “The maid was not even pretty. She had a face of the colour and texture of pink blotting-paper. It was of the tint often to be seen on a hard-working hand, unbecoming on the hand, unpleasant on the face” (Richardson, p. 16). When Mingey, Harding’s clerk, describes his vanished daughter, “even paternal pride would not enable him to say that she was good-looking” (Richardson, p. 32). But, perhaps Mrs. Mudge, wife of Harding’s solicitor, fares the worst. When Harding joins the Mudges for diner, the narrator observes that, “Mrs. Mudge was obviously Mrs. Mudge. She had no figure, no individuality, and no features. Neither had she any coluring. She was, indeed, so colourless as to be almost invisible” (Richardson, p. 36).

When Harding is called a woman-hater he replies, “I’m not a woman-hater. Life is only long enough to allow even an energetic man to hate one woman-adequately. If a man says he hates two women he is a liar or he has scamped his work, or he has never known a single woman worthy of his hatred. The ordinary ‘woman hater’ hates one woman and has no claim to the title. Would you call a man a football player because he has played football…once?” (Richardson, p. 23, italics from the original).

When pressed he continues, “I told you I was not a misogynist…No girl that I ever knew was so radically bad as to deserve me.” (Richardson, p. 24) To himself he admits that, “He knew that life should be duet. The confirmed soloist is regarded with mistrust. If a man declines to take a partner into his life’s business, surely that life must indeed be a dull and drab affair…Yet he had never come across a woman who could rouse in his heart any feeling warmer than the great affection he had for Clifford Oakleigh” (Richardson, p. 25).

But all this changes in Chapter VII, titled “Mainly About Love.” While having dinner at the Mudges’ Harding is introduced to Miss Clive. He is totally captivated. The most elevated prose is not equal to her beauty or intelligence. She’s everything a woman should be and more, “…simply the ideal woman” (Richardson, p. 58). The lawyer has to restrain himself from acting like a school boy in Spring. When she tells him her phone number, 2835 Mayfair, the barrister replies, “2835 Mayfair is the most beautiful telephone number in the world” (Richardson, p. 40). Everything about her is perfect, even her Christian name, Miriam, which the barrister proclaims, “‘is the most beautiful name in all the world!’ Her name seemed to him, if posible, even more beautiful than her telepone number, which was saying much” (Richardson, p. 69). When Harding finally fell in love, he fell hard.

Another crumb dropped on the path of the tranny seeker appears on Harding’s first date with Miss Clive. He arranged for her to dine with a hand-picked group of his friends: Judges, Lords and ladies of fashion, all beautiful men, beautiful women. At one point the conversation turns to Sir Clifford Oakleigh, whom Miss Clive has never met, although he’s her landlord. Oakleigh’s friend say he has everything. “I can imagine no more delightful position than his. Enormously successful, very rich, hugely popular, and unmarried. What does a man want more?” asked Mrs. Onslow-Parker. His best friend, Harding, says, “Clifford wants everything. I don’t think he will ever be satisfied.” Then Harding asks a curious question, “‘Well, you wouldn’t say there is anything effeminate about him, would you?’ ‘Good heavens, no!’ answered the Judge… ‘And yet he has told me not once, but twenty times, that he always regretted that he wasn’t a woman, for he held that women occupy the best position in life and in love,’” reports Harding (Richardson, p. 80-82).

Before the conclusion, Sir Clifford Oakleigh dies for real. His body is found in a secret cupboard in the house he rented to Miss Clive. Suspicion falls on Miss Clive. She is the only one with a key to the cupboard and Sir Clifford left her all his money. Harding rises to her defense. “At The Police-Court,” Chapter XLI, he points out that several days before the body was discovered, Miss Clive had been in an accident. She was rushed to Charing Cross Hospital and her leg amputated. “Very firmly Harding spoke. ‘Your worship, this being the state of the case, it is absolutely impossible that the defendant could have any hand in the death of Sir Clifford Oakleigh. He did not die until three days after she was admitted to the hospital’” (Richardson, p. 300).

Naturally nothing is resolved until the final chapter, XLII, “The Solution.” One day, when the color has returned to her cheeks and both parties are thinking of marriage, Miriam asks the love-crazed lawyer, “What are you thinking of?” He replies, “Well, I was thinking that you are not really a beautiful woman. That you were not, even before your illness, a beautiful woman.” Miss Clive agrees saying, “But the secret of being beautiful is to behave as though you are beautiful” (Richardson, p. 303). And then she makes an even more startling admission, “Clifford Oakleigh is not dead…I am Clifford Oakleigh” (Richardson, p. 304).

Then comes the explanation of how Clifford Oakleigh became Miriam Clive. She explains that in his practice Dr. Oakleigh, “employed mesmerism a great deal. I found I could keep a person in a comatose condition for a week. Suddenly an idea occurred to me. Would it not be possible for me to transfer my own identity into a comatose man?…And if a man, why not a woman?…I was struck by the charm of being a woman, to experience the delight of being a woman, if only for a day, a night. I would have given my soul to satisfy my curiosity. I have satisfied my curiosity. What I have done with my soul I don’t know” (Richardson, p. 306-307). Thrilled at the prospect of becoming a woman, Oakleigh puts everything in readiness, attending to details like building a second home, attached by a secret passage to his own, and waits for a body.

Miss Mingey?

When Sarah Mingey, daughter of Harding’s clerk, comes to him for treatment, Oakleigh entices her to his home and mesmerizes her. Sarah vanishes and Miriam Clive appears. Strangely, no one in the story notices that Miss Clive is Sarah Mingey, even though one newspaper printed a wood block portrait of the missing girl. The only person who sees the resemblance is Mr. Mingey, Sarah’s aged father. But this is dismissed as a hallucination brought about by grieving over his daughter’s disappearance.

What Richardson has done with Sir Clifford and Sarah Mingey science fiction scholars call “personality exchange.” It’s a technique Richardson used in at least two other books as well, There and Back and The Bayswater Miracle, though none of the sources indicate if either of these books involve change of sex. The personality exchange in 2835 MayFair is not perfect, however. In order to keep both bodies healthy, it is necessary for Oakleigh to alternate between them, living three days as Miss Clive, using Sarah Mingey’s body, and three days as himself. What happens to Sarah Mingey’s “identity” is never mentioned. That detail is apparently inconsequential. Whichever body Oakleigh isn’t using rests comatose in the secret cupboard. Then Miss Clive has her carriage accident. After three days Sir Clifford’s uninhabited body dies, begins to rot and is discovered by the police.

The book ends with Miriam, that is Sir Clifford Oakleigh in Sarah Mingey’s body, saying: “‘When I began, I thought that I would only keep up the experiment for a week or two. But I was fascinated with being a woman. I loved it. Often and often I wondered, should the worst come to the worst, should something occur like the accident, which I would prefer to be, a man or a woman. For the life of me, George, I couldn’t decide. But Fate has decided. And, I think, wisely.’ He (Harding) sat with his face between his hands, paralyzed with horror. Reflectively she said: ‘I have come out of it very well. I have lost a leg, and . . . Miss Mingey’s soul — which was scarcely an asset. But I have got you, George, haven’t I?’ ‘Yes . . . damn it,’ he replied” (Richardson, p. 310).

There are certain problems with this book for the contemporary gender community. It drips with sexism and misogyny. It also seems to be a text book proof of Janice G. Raymond’s contention of MtF transexuals are women constructed according to guidelines established by the patriarchy. Indeed, Clifford Oakleigh makes a better woman in Sarah Mingey’s body than Sarah did herself. He replaces Sarah, whose only fault seems to be lack of confidence and not dressing well, with his version of what a woman should be. Miss Clive cats that “…Miss Mingey made the worst of herself” (Richardson, p. 308). But with Clifford Oakleigh inhabiting her body she says, “If I were badly dressed I should be ugly. When I am well-dressed — as I shall be at the wedding — I shall be beautiful” (Richardson, p. 303). Also it is horrifying to think how the fate of Sarah’s soul is beneath mention.

But in spite — Raymond would say because — of this, is easy to imagine what attracted R.M. to this novel. Sir Clifford is a successful man of science and not in the least effeminate, but he is also a true femophile, a lover of the feminine, to use Virginia Prince’s term. Many a crossdresser would be attracted to the notion that to be beautiful, you need only act as though you are beautiful. Many would identify with the joy of being a beautiful woman. R.M. probably went back through the book and re-read the passages describing Miss Clive’s forays into society when every head turned her way. And there’s the appeal of the almost effortless change of sex. Effortless, but not blameless, unless you’re willing to overlook murder.

SOURCES

Bleiler, E. F. (1978) The Checklist of Science Fiction and Supernatural Fiction, Glen Rock, NJ: Fireball Books.

Ellis, Havelock (1928) Eonism and Other Studies in the Psychology of Sex. volume VII, Philadelphia, PA: F. A. Davis Company.

“Mr. Richardson’s Death,” The Times London, Saturday, August 4, 1917, p. 5c.

“Obituaries,” The Times London, Saturday, August 2, 1917, p. 5f.

Raymond, Janice G. (1979) The Transsexual Empire: The Making of the She-Male,

Boston, MA: Beacon Press.

Reginald, R. (1979) Science Fiction and Fantasy Literature: A Checklist, 1700-1974, Detroit, MI: Gale Research Company.

Richardson, Frank (1907) 2835 Mayfair, New York: Mitchell Kennerley.

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Category: Fun & Entertainment, History

About Ms. bob: Ms. Bob is Dean of Liberal Arts and the Castro Campus at City College of San Francisco. She is the former Transgender Outreach and Advocacy Coordinator at City College and board secretary of the GLBT Historical Society. She is an avid collector of books, photos, magazines and ephemera on transgender related subjects and loves to trade or purchase new items for her collection. She can be reached c/o TGForum.

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