Lesbian Historic Motif Podcast - Episode 48a - On the Shelf for July 2020 - Transcript
(Originally aired 2020/07/04 - listen here)
Welcome to On the Shelf for July 2020.
How are you all holding up through the quarantimes? Are you finding enough fluffy comfort reads to get you through? Or are you surviving on unleashed rage alone...against all the shitty things going down in the world?
For me, the rhythms of my life keep turning upside down. It used to be I had no time for television and now I’m binging costume dramas on Netflix. I used to complain that my commute meant I rarely saw my house in daylight except on weekends, and now I rarely leave the property except for my daily bike ride. There have been two main beneficiaries of my day-job shifting to home: my yard and garden is in the best shape it’s been since I bought the place almost ten years ago, and I’ve made massive progress on a piece of needlepoint I started in college and left languishing for decades, barely started.
But I’m finally getting my reading brain back for the history blog, at least.
Publications on the Blog
June seems to have been the month for the blog to cover articles that I’ve already included in a different form. It started with a primary source article on John or Eleanor Rykener, a 14th century English transvestite prostitute, who raises a lot of questions about medieval categories of gender, though Rykener is tangential to the topic of female same-sex love.
Anna Klosowska’s study of same-sex encounters in medieval French literature, in Queer Love in the Middle Agesis a bit more literary criticism than history for my taste. And the two relevant articles in the collection Queering the Renaissanceare mostly rehashing material I’ve already looked at, especially Valerie Traub’s article ,which turned into a chapter in her book The Renaissance of Lesbianism in Early Modern England, previously covered in the blog.
June closed with a re-visitation of a different type: Catherine Crawford’s European Sexualities 1400-1800is intended as a college textbook on the history of sexuality and lightly skims through many familiar topics.
I had a whole theoretical schedule set up for the next several months which is being messed up by my inability to go to a library. So July is going to start with a spontaneous substitution of an image from an early 17th century Armenian astrology manual which shows two women having sex. With the help of the woman who posted the image on twitter, I’ll be able to give it a little context. After that comes a very brief survey of the relevant contents of Kuefier’s History of Sexuality Sourcebook, followed buy a couple of articles on non-European material -- one on case studies of lesbian or transmasculine women in 19th century Russia, and one on female same-sex “love suicides” in early 20th century Japan.
No new hardcopy book purchases, for the blog, which is probably just as well, given how much I have stacked up. But I did pick up an e-book copy of Ruth Morgan and Saskia Wieringa’s study of contemporary female same-sex traditions in Africa: Tommy Boys, Lesbian Men, and Ancestral Wives.
2021 Fiction Series
Since the year is half-gone, it’s time to confirm that yes, I’ll be continuing the LHMP fiction series in 2021. I’ll be continuing this year’s modification in accepting historical fiction with certain types of fantastic elements as well as regular historical stories. There’s a full explanation of the call for submissions on the website -- see the show notes for a link -- but the short version is that I’ll be buying four short stories of up to 5000 words at the benchmark rate of 8 cents per word. The story should be set in some actual specific time and place, any where in the world, before 1900. And the central character should identify as a woman who feels attraction or desire for other women, although the story itself need not be a romance. And, in fact, if the central plot is the formation of a romantic couple, the story should have some other strong non-romantic plot element as well. I accept submissions from all genders and orientations, and I especially welcome submissions by marginalized authors.
Check out the full description on the website and start brainstorming. Submissions will be open in January, as usual, and expect me to keep talking about it from now until then.
This month’s author guest hasn’t been recorded yet and I’m superstitious enough not to announce names until I have the recording in the can. But I put out a call for authors interested in appearing on the show and have some really great guests lined up for the next half year.
I didn’t have an essay topic picked out yet, but in writing up this script, I think I’ll be inspired by that Armenian astrology manual and talk about historic theories of how astrology and the balance of humors affected one’s sexual desires. In some ways, it’s an analog of modern ideas about innate sexual orientation.
Recent Lesbian Historical Fiction
Are you ready for the recent, new and forthcoming books? We have eight titles to talk about this month. Two of them are books published in May that didn’t turn up in my search until now--both of them set around World War II.
Love, Wherever it Fallsself-published by Katherine Chandler is the sort of cross-time story that could be an entire genre by itself, in which a contemporary woman finds correspondence that reveals a historic same-sex romance.
In pre-war 1936, two women fall in love and begin a long-distance love affair between London and Paris. Seventy years later they help an overwhelmed 21st century woman make a decision. After the death of the writer Cleo Brierley her great-niece inherits a remote stone cottage nestled deep in the wilds of Dartmoor. In the attic she finds a worn cardboard box containing diaries and love letters dating from the mid 1930s. She begins reading and a story of passion, joy, heartbrea,k and resilience emerges as Cleo grows from a naive young woman inevitably towards and through the Second World War.
Do you like horse stories? This next one might be up your alley: I Love You, Nora Whisperedby Kathy L. Salt from Triplicity Publishing.
England, 1948. Nora Lakes suffers from post polio syndrome and very low self-esteem. She has spent her entire life in the chaos of her huge family, always feeling less than and without any future dreams. When her sister Martha manages to get her a job at Waterhouse Acre Stables, she can hardly believe it. She had never imagined that anyone would have employed her, damaged as she is. She also never imagined she would meet anybody like Katherine. Katherine Waterhouse was born with a silver spoon in her mouth. She has a mean streak and doesn't like people in general. What she does like, is horses. She wants to be a professional rider but growing up in a conservative house where her choices are limited by her sex, Katherine has always been trapped in her role as a woman. Nora and Katherine - two women with very different backgrounds, drawn to each other with an intensity neither of them are prepared for. Do they stand a chance?
There are three June books, the first two of which are very short--barely novelettes.
Budding Romanceself-published by Lara Kinsey has a Victorian setting.
A budding romance between a sweet-talking gardener and a spinster headmistress blooms to full flower in this steamy lesbian love story. On the cusp of the 20th century, France is where libertines indulge poetic desires. Dorothea has fled the structure of dreary old England for a place in the sun. She’s opening a school for elegant young ladies, but it’s an experienced lady gardener who has caught her eye. Madame Laurent works with her hands, but it’s her words that cultivate Dorothea’s fallow heart.
I somehow missed the precursor to Resurrectionist: The Diary of Doctor Du, Book Two, self-published by M.S. Linsenmayer, probably because it isn’t tagged as having queer content. This is a very tongue-in-cheek fantasy historical with a protagonist that I might guess started life as a gender-flipped version of real-life Elizabethan astrologer and alchemist John Dee.
Imprisoned for crimes she absolutely committed, Astrologer Jan Du plots her escape, determined to save the world from the Horrible Demonic Armies... oh who am I kidding, it's Jan. She mostly just wants a decent sandwich before her just and well deserved execution. So join her now as she battles drunken wyverns, vegetarian demons, and the worst threat of all: the 16th-century legal system.
Another historic fantasy that came out in June is A Matter of Blood (The Unlikely Adventures of Mortensen & Spurlock Book 2)by Lucy True (aka Jea Hawkins) from Persephone Press. The first book in the series came out just a month earlier, so this may be something in the way of a serial?
It takes little effort to save the world from power-obsessed madmen when you’ve been doing it for years. For once, however, it’s not an artifact hunt that has Alice Mortensen vexed. It’s her beloved Nora’s mother, Lady Spurlock. With their dissimilar Aetheric natures called into question, Alice and Nora undertake a journey halfway around the world for answers. Whether by railway, steamer, or airship, Alice and Nora will not rest until they can allay Lady Spurlock’s concerns about their union. Nor will they realize the unimaginable discovery or danger to which their inquiries will lead until a chance meeting leads to a long overdue reunion… All our heroines want is a happy ending, but will they encounter too much danger—and not enough cake—to save the day in the finale to their unlikely adventures?
I found three July releases, all of them from mainstream publishers.
Girl, Serpent, Thornby Melissa Bashardoust from Hodder & Stoughton is based on Persian legends. Trust me when I tell you that the cover copy gives you entirely the wrong impression of where the romantic relationships go in this book.
There was and there was not, as all stories begin, a princess cursed to be poisonous to the touch. But for Soraya, who has lived her life hidden away, apart from her family, safe only in her gardens, it’s not just a story. As the day of her twin brother’s wedding approaches, Soraya must decide if she’s willing to step outside of the shadows for the first time. Below in the dungeon is a demon who holds knowledge that she craves, the answer to her freedom. And above is a young man who isn’t afraid of her, whose eyes linger not with fear, but with an understanding of who she is beneath the poison. Soraya thought she knew her place in the world, but when her choices lead to consequences she never imagined, she begins to question who she is and who she is becoming...human or demon. Princess or monster.
The Care and Feeding of Waspish Widows (Feminine Pursuits 2)from Harper Collins is the follow-on to Olivia Waite’s immensely popular The Lady’s Guide to Celestial Mechanics.
When Agatha Griffin finds a colony of bees in her warehouse, it’s the not-so-perfect ending to a not-so-perfect week. Busy trying to keep her printing business afloat amidst rising taxes and the suppression of radical printers like her son, the last thing the widow wants is to be the victim of a thousand bees. But when a beautiful beekeeper arrives to take care of the pests, Agatha may be in danger of being stung by something far more dangerous… Penelope Flood exists between two worlds in her small seaside town, the society of rich landowners and the tradesfolk. Soon, tensions boil over when the formerly exiled Queen arrives on England’s shores—and when Penelope’s long-absent husband returns to Melliton, she once again finds herself torn, between her burgeoning love for Agatha and her loyalty to the man who once gave her refuge. As Penelope finally discovers her true place, Agatha must learn to accept the changing world in front of her. But will these longing hearts settle for a safe but stale existence or will they learn to fight for the future they most desire?
And lastly, Emma Donoghue -- who, in her academic guise, is a significant reason the Lesbian Historic Motif Podcast exists -- has a new novel out: The Pull of the Starsfrom Little, Brown and Company. Some day I dream of having Emma Donoghue as a guest on the podcast.
Dublin, 1918: three days in a maternity ward at the height of the Great Flu. A small world of work, risk, death, and unlooked-for love, by the bestselling author of The Wonderand ROOMIn an Ireland doubly ravaged by war and disease, Nurse Julia Power works at an understaffed hospital in the city center, where expectant mothers who have come down with the terrible new Flu are quarantined together. Into Julia's regimented world step two outsiders -- Doctor Kathleen Lynn, a rumoured Rebel on the run from the police , and a young volunteer helper, Bridie Sweeney. In the darkness and intensity of this tiny ward, over three days, these women change each other's lives in unexpected ways. They lose patients to this baffling pandemic, but they also shepherd new life into a fearful world. With tireless tenderness and humanity, carers and mothers alike somehow do their impossible work.
What Am I Reading?
And what am I reading? I’m still having trouble concentrating on books, but I finished N.K. Jemisin’s The City We Becamein audiobook, which is a gripping fantasy of the living avatars of New York City in their struggle to be born. It’s very queer-inclusive and I highly recommend the audio version to get the real feel of the voices. I’m halfway through the audiobook of The Deepby Rivers Solomon, inspired by the song of the same name by the band Clipping, headed by Daveed Diggs. It’s an alternate fantastic history of the water-dwelling descendents of enslaved Africans thrown overboard during the Atlantic crossing.
But I may have some actual text-on-the-page books consumed by next month because I have couple of fluffy romances lined up and they feel like just my speed. What have you been reading lately?
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