Friday, January 1, 2010

What is Middlesex?

To me, Middlesex is the title of a book written by Jeffrey Eugenides, but I wanted to know where the word itself came from. In the book, Middlesex is the name of a Detroit suburb where the family of the main character (Cal Stephanides) lives.

It is also used in reference to Cal’s sexuality and gender. Born as a genetic male who appeared female, Cal is raised as Callie. When Cal/Callie reaches puberty, however, it becomes clear that she isn’t like other girls her age and decides to live as a male. The term “Middlesex” in this book is best used to describe someone who lives “betwixt and between”.

After doing a little research, I found that Middlesex was also the name of a historic county of England. Southern England was divided into four Saxon tribes: Wessex (West Saxons), Sussex (South Saxons), Essex (East Saxons) and Middlesex (the central Saxons). Of course, the British had no intention of implying the “sex” suffix of the word as anything sexual.

Eugenides play on the word is entertaining and works well for his book. I wonder if there are others who have used the word “Middlesex” in this way and whether or not this was before or after Eugenides’ use. I wasn’t able to find much, but if you have any input, feel free to post it here.

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