Femme Friday – Literary Femmes: Bridget the Apothecary in Moll Cutpurse: Her True History by Ellen Galford

It’s sometime in Elizabethan England, and Bridget the Apothecary is basically running her father’s shop when Moll comes in, demanding to be changed into a man. Although Bridget is wary, her father orders her to start giving Moll various powders and potions in order to make money. After a misadventure that leaves Moll sodden with river water and deathly cold, she stumbles to the apothecary and Bridget puts her to bed. In the morning, Moll is back to demanding that she be made into a man. Bridget will have none of it.

Deep gratitude to Ellen Galford for loving Bridget into the femme literary canon!

           “Carry out your commission, and turn me into a man!”

            “I’ve never heard such stupidity in all my days. I’ve heard your story, and I begin to know you a little, and yet for the life of me I cannot understand why you should wish to change your sex.”

            “Mark me well, apothecary, I dislike certain lectures first thing in the morning. And I do not pay you for your opinions, but for your skill. So double the dose, or whatever will make your elixir do is work, but do it fast, for I have no more time to waste.”

            “And what if I gave you all the drugs of Arabia and the poisons of Italy and the horns of unicorns powdered and the bones of dragons? I would grow fat and rich at your expense. I could try out new elixirs till doomsday.”

            “I will make myself a man! And if you do not change me with your powders I shall find another pill-merchant who will.”

            “You won’t, Moll. Mother Nature made you a woman, and a woman you must be.”

            “Mother Nature made a mistake.”

            “What sort of mistake?”

            “Anyone as brave and strong as I am ought to e a man. Not a silly petticoated woman who bleeds and breeds and whimpers.”

            “For all your bold bravado, Moll, you’re a silly child who knows nothing of life.” I was so angry I almost struck her, then remembered in time that she could easily knock me senseless, so forebore, and simply drew her down into the bed again, for she shivered with cold and vexation. Such anger as she felt did not prevent her from clinging to me closely, for the chamber was freezing. Such anger as I felt did not prevent me from rubbing her back and shoulders, to make her warm again.

            “They say alchemists know how to transform base metal into gold. Surely changing female to male is not so different.”

            I stopped rubbing. “Are you implying that woman is base metal, and man is gold?”

            She grabbed my wrist, and then put my hand back on her back and made me rub again. “Indeed, the order of the world has made it so. Women are slaves and men are masters. And I, mighty Moll, the terror of Cheapside, the scourge of Southwark, am meant to be among them.”

            “You are as blind as you are foolish, Moll. What of Her Majesty? She’s no slave, but the bravest, wisest, most glorious of princes – and still a woman. When she was young, you know, she bled every month as you and I do.”

            “Foul treason!” cried Moll. “Her Majesty never…”

            “You’ve been mixing too much with men. The world is full of brave, strong women. If you’re too stupid to see them, it’s your loss, not mine.”

            I sat upright, and pulled the covers up around me.

            She pulled the covers down again, and pulled me with them. “Even women think I’m a freak. They treat me like a two-headed calf. They’ll have nothing to do with me.”

            “What about me?”

            “You’re an exception.”

            “Just another two-headed calf like you are, Moll. Well, if you looked farther than the end of your nose, you’d find a lot of us about. I promise you, Moll, you can be as bold and strong and free as you are now, and still be a woman, and the wisest of your sisters will love you for it.”

            “Love,” she sighed, “is also part of the problem. For when I love, and when I lust, it’s woman who’s my object. Cruel Meg of the kitchen was not the only one who smote me so. There have been two or three others since, that have tempted me. They offer friendship, but I want something more. And when I have made this known to them, they shun my company, or laugh at me for a mad, moonstruck fool. Because I’m nothing to them without a stiff bull’s pizzle and a pair of wobbling balls.”

            “The more fools they,” I said, stroking her arm. “I think perhaps you have been unlucky in your choice of women. For there are those of us who know that such machinery but gets in the way of a woman’s true pleasure.”

            “I’ve never hungered after such toys myself,” she answered, letting her hand wander over my thigh. “But they seem to be needful.” Her voice shook slightly. “I’ve never met a woman who wanted me without them.”

            “Now that proves it, Moll. You are a fool.” I kissed her over and over again, then drew her close and taught her otherwise.

 Moll Cutpurse: Her True History by Ellen Galford, Firebrand Books, 1985

Every Friday, I showcase a queer femme goddess. Suggestions welcome!

Published in: on March 10, 2017 at 3:25 PM  Leave a Comment  
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