Esther Brandeau / Jacques La Fargue: Performing a Reading of an Eighteenth Century Multicrosser

Susan Heather MacLean Hermant

Research output: ThesisDoctoral thesis 2 (Research NOT UU / Graduation UU)


How can we research and retell colonial era stories of transgression in service of queer, feminist and decolonial worldmaking? This dissertation argues for deploying multiple genres of research practice to answer this question. The argument is performed through attention to the case of Esther Brandeau / Jacques La Fargue, known as the first, or among the first Jewish people to arrive to Canada. They did so in 1738 as a purportedly female Jewish subject passing as a Christian male, after years working across France as, or often as, male. Doubly outed at or en route to Quebec City and held for a year in New France, they are deported for refusing to convert to Christianity and thereafter disappear from the record.
This first major scholarly project centring this eighteenth century figure enters Brandeau / La Fargue into gender crossing histories; complicates the story's place in Canadian culture; offers it as a rich case within Atlantic and Diaspora studies; puts forth a focus on gender in Sephardic Jewish and converso diasporic studies of the colonial period; contributes to scholarship on transgender themes in children's literature; and proposes links between literary Sephardism, queer Indigenous and settler colonial studies. Methodological innovation yields insights at the intersection of historical practice and performance; and new archival evidence is uncovered. The case is established as an antecedent to contemporary discourse about belonging, difference and settler colonialism. An intersectional orientation provides a path for leveraging the story's “queer disruptive potential.” The research contributes to Gender, Queer, Canadian, Atlantic, Jewish and Diaspora Studies, Queer Historiography, Arts Practice as Research and Performance Studies.
In Part I, “multicrossing” is elaborated as passing across multiple, simultaneous co-inscribing axes of signification. Through analysis of anachronies of moving between the 18th and 21st centuries, and an analysis of eruptions of the story within Canadian culture, the story's visibility is shown to be conditional and coincident with moments of preoccupation with national belonging. Analysis shows how sociopolitical forces constrain accounts of Brandeau / La Fargue as multicrosser. In Part II, the roles of desire and haunting in historical research are attended to through immersion in archival labour. Narration of this research process and its findings serves to elaborate a “heretic methodology”—a queer historiography where error, doubt, desire and haunting enable production of a texture of the historical subject's living in the absence of conclusive evidence. This reveals how affective connection can be operationalized in historical practice, and how transtemporal touch underpinning queer historiography produces “on the ground.” In Part III, the author's historical reenactments of Brandeau / La Fargue further our understanding of the relationship between body, memory and historical knowledge. The relationship between the performance practice of historical reenactment, and the performative nature of historical research is elaborated.
An overarching contribution is “multigenre,” an epistemological intervention featuring dramatically different yet interinanimate research approaches and genres of outcome, distinct from inter- and transdisciplinarity. Multigenre offers one answer to the project's central concern: how to retell colonial era stories as queer, feminist, decolonial gesture.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Utrecht University
  • Wekker, Gloria, Primary supervisor
  • Mak, G.A., Supervisor, External person
  • Buikema, Rosemarie, Supervisor
Award date26 Apr 2017
Publication statusPublished - 26 Apr 2017


  • Esther Brandeau
  • queer historiography
  • historical reenactment
  • gender passing
  • Jewish Canada


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