From sensation to fluent identity – Lili Elbe’s life narrative between historical case and contemporary re-enactment*
From Man into Woman: Lili Elbe’s Confessions (1931) describes the Danish painter Einar Wegener’s transformation into Lili Elbe and is the first (auto)biographical narrative of a subject who undergoes gender transformation surgery. It was published in parallel versions in Danish in 1931, in German in 1932, and in English in Britain and the U.S. in 1933. In recent years, there has been a renewed interest in Lili Elbe’s life story, and the historical case has become the subject of artistic re-interpretations in several media. The novel The Danish Girl by David Ebershoff was published in the U.S. in 2000, and the Hollywood movie by the same title, directed by Tom Hooper, appeared in 2015. In 2021, a dance performance, also by the same title and choreographed by Tim Rushton, was produced by the Holstebro Dance Company. Through the different historical representations, shifts can be traced in the perception of Lili’s transition from one gender to another, from the emphasis on the surgical transformation in the original narrative to the perspective of gender-confirmation of the most recent adaptation. Furthermore, the interpretations all relate to the question of authorship and access to artistic production.
Brolin-Tani, Marie and Mette Kier. 2021. No title, introduction to the programme The Danish Girl (programme), Holstebro: Holstebro Dansekompagni.
Caughie, Pamela L. and Sabine Meyer. 2020. “Introduction” in Pamela L. Caughie, and Sabine Meyer (eds.) Man Into Woman – A Comparative Scholarly edition. London: Bloomsbury Academic: 1-44.
Caughie, Pamela L., Emily Datskou, Sabine Meyer, Rebecca J. Parker, and Nikolaus Wasmoen (eds.) Lili Elbe Digital Archive. Web. Online at: http://www.lilielbe.org (consulted 27 July 2022).
Ebershoff, David. 2000. The Danish Girl. London: Phoenix.
Fassin, Didier and Richard Rechtman. 2009. The Empire of Trauma – An Inquiry into the Condition of Victimhood. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press.
Levinson, Michael: Man into Woman: A Modernist Experimental Genre” in Pamela L. Caughie, and Sabine Meyer (eds.) Man Into Woman – A Comparative Scholarly edition. London: Bloomsbury Academic: 244-57.
Meyer, Sabine. 2011. Divine Interventions: (Re)birth and Creation Narratives in Fra mand til kvinde – Lili Elbes bekendelser. In Kvinder. Køn og Forskning Vol. 3-4, 2011.
Meyer, Sabine. 2015. “Wie Lili zu einem richtigen Mädchen wurde”: Lili Elbe: Zur Konstruktion von Geschlecht und Identität zwischen Medialisierung, Regulierung und Subjektivierung. Bielefeld: transcript Verlag.
Møller Madsen, Storm and Levy Bøgh Stray. 2021. “At skabe The Danish Girl anno 2021” in The Danish Girl (programme), Holstebro: Holstebro Danskompagni.
Pulver, Andrew. 2015. “Danish Girl director Tom Hooper: film industry has ‘problem’ with transgender actors” in The Guardian (15 September 2015).
Raun, Tobias. 2016. “The Transwoman as Model and Co-Creator – Resistance and Becoming in the BackTurning Lili Elbe” in Christian Gether, Stine Høholt, Andrea Rygg Karberg, Amalie Grubb Martinussen (eds.) Gerda Wegener. Exhibition catalogue. Copenhagen: Arken.
Raun, Tobias. 2020. “Getting the Lili We Deserve? Telling a Different Story of Lili Elbe through the Portraits of Gerda Wegener” in Pamela L. Caughie, and Sabine Meyer (eds.) Man Into Woman – A Comparative Scholarly edition. London: Bloomsbury Academic: 258-267.
Smith, Sidonie and Julia Watson. 2000. Reading Autobiography: A Guide for Interpreting Life Natrratives. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
Steinbock, Eliza. 2018. “Lili Elbe’s transmedial presence and the politics of transgender studies” in Rosemarie Buikema, Liedeke Plate and Kathrin Thiele (eds.) Doing Gender in Media, Art and Culture. Miltin Park and New York: Routledge.
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