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Lesbian Historic Motif Project: Slacking off with Franco-Arabic Romances

Monday, September 12, 2016 - 08:00

I confess that one of the reasons I chose the current collection to cover this month is because, having skimmed the relevant contents, I knew I could slack off a little in terms of detailed summaries. And since I'm in the middle of an intensive novel revision process and have a major crunch on the day job, I desperately needed some slack in other parts of my life!

Full citation: 

Amer, Sahar. “Cross-Dressing and Female Same-Sex Marriage in Medieval French and Arabic Literatures” in Babayan, Kathryn and Afsaneh Najmabadi (eds.). 2008. Islamicate Sexualities: Translations Across Temporal Geographies of Desire. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. ISBN 978-0-674-03204-0

Publication summary: 


This collection of papers came out of a workshop that brought together a cross-section of scholars from various disciplines to explore aspects of same-sex practice and desire in the Islamicate world. “Islamicate” is a relatively new term coined (in parallel with “Italianate”) to describe people, cultures, and practices in regions dominated or strongly infuenced by Islam, without the implication that specific individuals are necessarily Muslim or that the cultures and practices are being considered in a religious context or that they represent “Islamic culture” in a definitional sense. The papers in this collection primarily focus on literary representation. There is no implication intended that any one study represents the Islamicate world as a whole, and the variety of representations and practices is emphasized. As is usual with a collection of this type, I have covered only those papers pertaining to women.

Amer, Sahar 2008 “Cross-Dressing and Female Same-Sex Marriage in Medieval French and Arabic Literatures”

This article was published in the same year as Amer’s book Crossing Borders: Love Between Women in Medieval French and Arabic Literatures and in terms of content is an excerpt from that longer work. For that reason, I’ve given only a brief summary of the main themes and have pointed the reader to my more extensive discussion of the book.

This article is a condensed version of Amer’s book-length study Crossing Borders: Love Between Women in Medieval French and Arabic Literatures, identifying likely Arabic sources for several medieval French romances that involve same-sex relationships (of various sorts) between women, including a cross-dressing-driven marriage between women. Although her book covers several French works, the present article focuses specifically on the several variants of the story of Yde and Olive (woman disgused as male knight marries the emperor’s daughter), comparing it with the tale of Qamar al-Zaman and Boudour (or Budur) in which a woman disguises herself as her own missing husband to go in search of him and ends up married to a princess.

Themes that are covered include the characters’ attitudes towards these marriages, how the potential (and actuality) for erotic activity between women is handled in the text, and how the disruptive relationship between the two women is resolved according to the different requirements and allowances of the two cultural/literary traditions.

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