In 1809, at the age of eighteen, Henriette Faber enrolled herself in medical school in Paris and since medicine was a profession prohibited to women, she changed her name to Henri in order to matriculate. She would spend the next fifteen years practicing medicine and living as a man. Drafted to serve as a surgeon in Napoleon's army, Faber endured the horrors of the 1812 retreat across Russia. She later embarked to the Caribbean and set up a medical practice in a remote Cuban village, where she married Juana de Leon, an impoverished local. Three years into their marriage, de Leon turned Faber in to the authorities, demanding that the marriage be annulled. A sensational legal trial ensued, and Faber was stripped of her medical license, forced to dress as a woman, sentenced to prison, and ultimately sent into exile. She was last seen on a boat headed to New Orleans in 1827.
In this, his last published work, Antonio Benitez Rojo takes the outline provided by historical events and weaves a richly detailed backdrop for Faber, who becomes a vivid and complex figure grappling with the strictures of her time. Woman in Battle Dress is a sweeping, ambitious epic, in which Henriette Faber tells the story of her life, a compelling, entertaining, and ultimately triumphant tale.
Jessica Powell will be in conversation with LARB editor-in-chief, Tom Lutz. LARB will co-sponser this event.