, January 21, 2012
Albert Nobbs's story is grounded in sadness: abandonment by her birth parents, rejection/replacement, fear of men and sexual abuse, hopelessness mixed with suicidal thoughts, but a prevailing will to live and support herself as a 'male' waiter at Morrison's Hotel. The turning point in Albert's life comes unexpectedly when another male impersonator, Hubert Page, arrives at Morrison's and needs a bed for the night. Mrs. Baker, the owner, insists, as the hotel is full and she is on good terms with Page, that Albert shares his bed with Hubert for the night. What follows is both comical and tragic, as once they both agree to lie down rigidly, Albert jumps out of bed and accidently lifts her course nightshirt, allowing Hubert to see she, though gaunt, is a woman in disguise.
The reason why Albert's sexual identity was revealed so abruptly and unintentionally was brought about by a flea that Hubert had brought with her unknowingly. This event leads into a discussion in which Albert confides her story to Hubert. Hubert is all too anxious to know what prompted Albert's conversion, and observes:
"Seven years, Page repeated, neither man nor woman, just a perhapser. He spoke these words more to himself than Nobbs, but feeling he had expressed himself incautiously he raised his eyes and read on Albert's face that the words had gone home, and that this outcast from both sexes felt her loneliness perhaps more keenly than before."
The recognition of Albert's questionable sexuality and the culmination of it in sadness inspires Hubert to confess that he, too, is a she. At this point, they are both weary and fall asleep. Page leaves while Albert is asleep and, thus, Albert never gets to hear the complete reason for Hubert's conversion. Hubert did, before falling asleep, however, suggest that Albert get married: not to a man, but to a woman whom he can share his life with sympathetically, as he had done.
Albert's rational attempts to find a partner that might be sensitive to his situation turn out fruitless, and at the lowest point of dejection, he crosses paths with a female prostitute. This creates an opportunity for Albert to actualize his desire and see how someone might respond to him, but the opportunity vanishes when a male regular appears and coerces the young courtesan away. Albert's inability to act underscores his dilemma and adds to the sadness of his life. He is only discovered to be a female on his deathbed upon examination by the doctor. His secret life, therefore, was a success only in terms of his ability to "pass" as a male in society. Despite the absence of desire, secrecy, and isolation, there are also elements of humor woven into the deeply psychological study of Nobbs's multifarious character, as there often are in Moore's works in general. Essentially, this exposes the natural humanity of his characters, in addition to drawing attention to the flipside of comedy: tragedy.
I am thrilled to see the text in print and accessible. The Pickering & Chatto (Publishers), 2007, Ed. Ann Heilmann & Mark Llewellyn, _Collected Short Stories of George Moore_ is the more scholarly apparatus, but I think I paid 700 GBP's for the 5 volume collection back in 2007. Thanks to Penguin, and Glenn Close, I can finally introduce "Albert Nobbs" to my students as required reading.