• Alan Bray

Anne-Marie's Adventure

Some readers have expressed surprise over Anne-Marie dressing as a man and fighting at the battle of Austerlitz. This part of The Hour of Parade is related to a book I read a while back, The Cavalry Maiden by Nadezhda Durova. Durova was twenty-three in 1806 when she decided to join a Cossack regiment in male disguise. She writes: "I went over to the mirror, cut off my curls, and put them away in a drawer. I took off my black satin dressing gown and began putting on my Cossack uniform. After I had tied the black silk sash around my waist and put on the high cap with the crimson crown, I spent a quarter of an hour studying my transformed appearance...I was certain that nobody would ever suspect my sex."

The funny thing is that others did suspect, but the military authorities allowed Durova to enlist. She fought as a trooper in a number of battles, although denied that she ever killed anyone. Her story reached the ears of the Tsar, who met her and gave her a commission as an officer—knowing she was a woman. She continued to serve through Napoleon's invasion of Russia in 1812. In later life, back in her feminine identity, she wrote a memoir, which is out of print now, I believe.

I've learned that Durova's experience was not unique. A number of women fought as men, not only in Europe's armies, but in the American Cicil War. Dressing as a man was a way for women to escape the restrictions on their gender.