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Thursday, April 27, 2017 - 19:33

So here's the thing: I can't be the only author who had a book released in November (or December, or January...) who felt too gobsmacked by political events to feel comfortable going all out on book promotion. (Heck, it took me most of November to get out of panic attack mode.) So I'm giving myself permission to do a 6-month anniversary book release re-boot. And to feel a bit less self-conscious about it, I'm going to make a general offer. If you had a book released last November, hit me up with the basic info about it and I'll pick one or two book every day in May to cross-promote along with my own. If anyone else wants to joint the bandwagon, be my guest! Comment here, or e-mail me or tweet me or whatever works for you.

Major category: 
Mother of Souls
Wednesday, April 26, 2017 - 07:00
photo of Abiel T. LaForge

These months are long enough it makes sense to split up the entries a bit. Here's the second half of January. There's a lot of very prefunctory entries, especially when the meetings of the Court Martial are temporarily suspended for lack of a quorum. But we get further evidence of the progress of the war and its effects on Confederate morale. And there's some additional drama around the politics of the command structure.

The Diary and Letters of Abiel Teple LaForge 1842-1878

Transcribed, edited, and annotated by Phyllis G. Jones (his great-granddaughter)

Copyright © 1993, Phyllis G. Jones, All rights reserved

January 1865


Sunday 15th

Clear and quite warm again. I have had nothing to do all day. It seems funny after being so busy lately.

I came near losing all my self-possession on Brigade Dress Parade. The ground was quite muddy where my division was formed, and in standing so long in one place while the band was Beating Off, our feet got pretty well fastened.  When the order came "To Open Ranks. To the rear open order, March," one of the men in the Rear Rank (whose duty it is to march backwards four paces) attempted to step to the rear but found his feet hopelessly fast in the mud.  He had lost his balance when he attempted to move, and to see him sprawl himself out in the mud in such a helpless manner was more then the men could stand.  I had a double duty to perform to check the laughter of the men and keep from laughing myself.  Another of the men, in pulling his foot out of the mud, pulled it out of his shoe as well.  That made one muddy stocking. He stooped down and put it on again, and then undertook to release the other foot. With this he succeeded the same as before, by pulling his shoe off and putting his foot in the mud.  The General looked over to see what we were laughing at.

There is a list of brevets in the papers today.  Captain Day and 1st Lieutenant Robinson are made brevet Majors for gallant services at Cedar Creek Oct 19th.  That shows how far you may judge of merit by Brevet.  Lt. Robinson was not within fifty miles of the fight on the 19th but away back to the rear at Martinsburg. And when I was coming off the field wounded, I saw Captain Day fully a mile to the rear, forming a line to stop stragglers.  Well, well!

Monday 16th

Warm & pleasant. Court met and adjourned for one week as there was not a quorum present.  When a Court Martial adjourns for three days or more the members are eligible to other duty during the time, so I expect to do duty in the Regiment with the rest of the officers.

Had battalion drill this P.M. Got very tired.  We must have another campaign soon or we shall all get too soft, so that we shall hardly be able to stand the hardships.  Lieutenant Munro came back from New York last night.  He will also be ready for duty soon, tomorrow perhaps.

Tuesday 17th

Cold and Clear.  Detailed as officer of the picket.  When we got out on the line, the Division officer of the day gave me charge of 3/4 of a mile of the line.  I had 23 posts, which made me four officers and one hundred and eighty four men.

A salute of 100 guns was fired in front of Petersburg. We were on the que vive to know what it was. [Note: the only reference I can find for "que vive" is as part of a French expression "Que vive X!" with the sense "Long live X!" which doesn't quite seem right here.] Shortly before dark, the Corps Officer of the Day came arround and gave us the good news that Fort Fisher, which Butler had failed to take, had succumbed to another expedition, which had been sent aganst it by General Grant. We were ordered to communicate this news to the enemy, so I mounted my horse and rode down in front of our line and gave them orders to attract the attention of the Rebel Pickets by giving three cheers, then tell them our good news.  This they done with a will.  We could see the Johnnies crowding together and apparently consulting about the news.

I expected to be fired at every moment, as I was mounted and of course was a consipcuous mark.  They did not fire however, so after I had galloped the whole length of our line and communicated the news, and set them all to making a terrible din, I came back to my reserve post. We only stay out 24 hours now and are not allowed to sleep.  So we kept a good fire and sat up.

A little after dark, some firing was heard, and shortly afterward two Rebels who had came into our lines were brought up to me. They belonged to the 16th North Carolina. They said they concluded it was about time to come over, so they came.  They were sent to Corps Head Quarters and everything was quiet again.

Soon more firing was heard, and news came that a small squad had came into the line just to our right.  Then more firing on our front and another Rebel was brought up to me.  This one had been a soldier about one year but never fired a gun.  He had went home and stayed in the woods for a while, was caught and brought back, and deserted again to his home and the woods, where he had stayed three months when he was caught again.  He was brought back and tried, was sentenced to lose one year's pay.  He said he told his Lieutenant if he must work a year without pay it would be somewhere else than in the Rebel Army.  So he came over to us.  He also was sent to Corps Head Quarters.  No more came into our Division, but came in to the right and left of us all night.

Wednesday 18th

Cloudy and cold.  Was relieved at 9 A.M.  Came in and, after breakfast, I went over to see Captain Daymon of the 10th Vermont.  Had some milk punch and a good time generally.  Got a couple of books to read and came home after promising to renew the visit.  Felt pretty sleepy all day. Think I shall couchèr early this evening. It appears about thirty deserters came into our Corps front last night.

Thursday 19th

Nothing much to do today.  Everything quiet. Prospects of a storm.  Bob and I had considerable fun about certain things, but then we have fun every day.

Friday 20th

Cox is detailed for picket. I thought I should not have any duty to perform, but it happens I was detailed to take a working party.  Was ordered to report to an officer near Fort Keen. Went there, but could not find any such officer.  I waited nearly an hour and had just started for Division Head Quarters when the other working party came up.  As they had just been relieved from picket today, I thought it was too bad to make them work another night, so I just took the tools for my detail and sent the others back to camp.

We then went out to the picket line.  I ordered the Videts advanced, so as to cover my working party, and then set them to work.  The duty was to build an abattis btween our Videts and those of the enemy.  So as to protect our picket line from those sudden little dashes which the Rebs delight in. [Note: as previously referenced see this Wikipedia entry for "abattis." I'm pretty sure I've found a reference for "videt" previously. Among my many projects, I should put together a glossary of things I've looked up!]

Some shots were fired in the dark but they went over our heads or never came near us.  I told the men to take hold with a will and we should not have to work all night.  My advice and the shots had the desired effect: they worked as if for their lives.  It was cloudy, so a pretty dark night.  I got all the work which was laid out for me done for the night. Done by ten oclock P.M. Then brought my party in [and] returned the tools to Division Head Quarters.  Stopped in our Head Quarters for an hour, then came home.

Saturday 21st

A little past midnight, a tremenduous nasty sleet commenced falling and freezing as fast as it fell. When I awoke this morning, the ground was covered with ice.  We supposed it would stop by M [i.e., noon]. but storms here are not governed by any regular rules, so it has continued without intermission all day.  I can't remember such another storm since my naisance. [Note: Abiel seems to be tossing in some regular "Frenchisms", what with "couchèr" and "naisance". Perhaps he's amusing himself with the whole "Anglo-French Hotel" thing.]  We have been pretty closely confined to our quarters all day and, of course, had to make our own fun.  Cox is laying asleep on the bunk now.  He was on picket last night and did not sleep any.  I am going to wake him up.

Sunday January 22nd 1865

Very muddy. The heavy rains of yesterday must have done the Rebs some damage, as the freshet last week destroyed some 40 miles of the Southside Rail Road.  I wrote to Annie Porter this evening.

Monday 23rd

Rainy all day.  Cox was sent out to the picket line with the 14th New Jersey, as they were short of officers.  I have been reading Moor's translation of Homer's Odyssey. Very interesting I find it. [Note: I don't see a Moor or Moore among the translations listed in the Wikipedia entry for the Odyssey, but the listing is noted to be incomplete.]

Gave Lieutenant Hepburn a lesson in French this evening. [Note: Ah, more evidence that Abiel has French on his mind.] There has been a good deal of paper exchanging until the middle of the afternoon when the Rebs took the notion of firing, which stoped it of course.  Just at dark a very heavy fire of cannon was commenced down towards Petersburg, which still continues. The heavy concussions shakes us away here.  Wrote to Beaugureau.

Tuesday 24th

Clear and pretty cold.  Received a letter from sister and one from father.  Father has been and is still quite sick, with the liver complaint and dropsy.

Wednesday 25th

Clear and cold.  Night before last and yesterday and last night there was very heavy firing in the direction of Bermuda Hundred. Some say that the Rebel Gun Boats came or attempted to come down.

Thursday 26th

Clear and very cold.  Went on picket at 8 A.M.  Cold enough standing out of doors without anything in the shape of a house.  Captain Daymond was out here building a shanty for the Division Officer of the Day. He said he expected to be on himself in a day or two, so thought it was policy to have a house to stay in.  Lieutenants Snyder (who returned Monday) and Shaw were on with me.

Friday 27th

Clear and extremely cold.  We suffered a great deal last night with the cold. It froze very had and fast all the time.  I dont know when we have had such a hard time as this tour has been.  We were relieved at 8 A.M. and came to camp.  Adjutant Robinson came back from Leave of Absence last night.  He says Major McDonald will be here in a day or two. He don't think Allen will bother us any more.  1st Sergeant Chilton returned from furlough.  They say the snow is four and five feet deep up North.  Not a flake here.

Saturday 28th

Weather more moderate. Was detailed for fatigue, but did not have to go on, as the whole detail was not required.  Captain Robertson and Lieutenant Shaw sent up their resignations but both were sent back disapproved.

Sunday 29th

The dust is being blown about by the cold wind as bad as I suppose the snow must be up North.  It creeps in through the chinks of our houses and covers everything.  Had a letter from Hibbard.  The 85th is now at Norfolk.

Monday 30th

Major McDonald came to the regiment after dark this evening and with him ex-captain Paine who has a Major's Commission to be mustered as such as soon as McDonald gets mustered as Lieutenant Colonel, which he will be tomorrow.  As soon as we found the Major had come, we got the regiment into line with a lot of candles and pine knots, so as to form a torch light procession, and moved up to Head Quarters and gave him "three times three." [Note: I'm guessing this is a triple set of "three cheers."] He made a short reply and the regiment was dismissed. [Note: Recall that back on January 9, Abiel was concerned about McDonald getting back to the regiment in time to forestall the hated Allen being put in charge. So I'm guessing that McDonald was fairly generally preferred!]

The army around us took up our enthusiasm, thinking some great news had come, and we could hear them sending cheering to the right and left of us as far as the sound would carry and they were sending it on.   After the affair was over, I returned to my quarters. Played whist until near midnight when, just as I was going to bed, the Adjutant and Quarter Master came down all out of breath and begging all sorts of pardon for not having me at Head Quarters before!  They were having a gay time there and never noticed the absence of one or two.  Well I went up!  Found the Brigade staff all there.  All our officers and all drunk or getting so.  We stayed there dancing and singing &c. until three O.C. then broke up.  I did not taste any liquor.  They are getting so now as hardly to think of offering it.  I used [to] fairly fight to keep them from making me drink.  I wrote to friend Hibbard this morning. [Note: In the continuing evidence for Abiel's attitudes towards alcohol, this continues to sound like he's leaning in the teatotal direction. As there were mentions of drinking beer (and wine?) at some point, I wonder if he makes a distinction between distilled liquor and those?]

Tuesday 31st

McDonald was mustered as Lieutenan Colonel and Paine as Major, so we now have two field officers.  I am detailed to act as member of a board of 10 officers who are to examine candidates for those meritorious furloughs which General Grant has decided shall be given to the best soldiers of each Brigade at the rate of one for every thousand.  The Board meets at 10 tomorrow.

Major category: 
LaForge Civil War Diaries
Tuesday, April 25, 2017 - 07:00

One of my readers (a fellow writer) gave me a topic that could easily turn into a book rather than just a blog, but I’ll try to keep it concise. They asked if I could talk about techniques I use for implying/showing the development or existence of a romantic relationship between characters without simply having the characters state it outright (perhaps because the characters are still working their heads around it) and without using sexual intimacy/desire (whether because the relationship is non-sexual or simply because that isn’t how I choose to depict it).

Well. This is definitely a topic I can talk about. For one, I don’t currently have any interest in writing sex scenes (even when my characters are clearly having a sexual relationship). And for another, given the social context of my historic fiction, it’s often the case that a character may not think of her feelings and emotions in sexual terms until quite some way into the relationship. Because of these two factors, readers who expect to see overt sexual desire sometimes miss the signs that are there in the text. So what are some of those signs?

One experience I use to signal the existence of romantic attraction is a hyper-awareness of the other person’s physical presence. For example, in Daughter of Mystery, one of the first clear signals of Barbara’s attraction to Margerit is during the long carriage ride down to Mintun when Margerit falls asleep on her shoulder.

“With that thought lodged in her brain, Barbara became exquisitely aware of every inch of contact between Margerit’s body and hers. Of the alternating heat and cold where Margerit’s breath caressed her wrist between the glove and the sleeve. Of the way their breathing had fallen into synchrony.”

Or the first point in Mother of Souls when Luzie allows herself to make a connection between... “An unexpected wave of loneliness washed over her. A hungry memory of touch.” ...and her awareness of Serafina’s hesitant offer, “Sometimes…sometimes the heart wants something so deeply, so desperately, and yet the only thing you have to offer is your body.” And then... “Luzie’s heart beat faster. The waiting silence between them drew out painfully. She reached out and took Serafina’s hand. It was trembling even more than her own. Serafina brought their linked hands to her lips and left a kiss where their fingers entwined, dark and light together like the keys of the fortepiano, then lifted her eyes, with a frightened look.

Ok, so that was a bit more overt than I was looking for. Hyper-awareness needn’t be physical. Jeanne is used to recognizing physical desire and comfortable with it. But it takes a while to realize that she’s falling in love with Antuniet precisely because it isn’t driven primarily by physical desire. When Antuniet has dropped out of sight in Rotenek after their first encounter at her return, Jeanne teases Barbara for a lead to her location and responds to Barbara’s skeptical question with, “’But she has so few friends now.... I seem to have risen to the top of the list.’ She met Barbara’s skeptical stare with her best imitation of a bland and innocent look, feeling oddly disinclined to admit to her interest.”

Hand-in-hand with hyper-awareness is the social awkwardness that comes when one begins to recognize the nature of the interest as romantic. Characters start misinterpreting or over-interpreting signals. They blurt out unintentionally hurtful things, meaning something else entirely. I could give another set of examples of this phenomenon but I’d rather use the space to focus on a context that is specific to my sort of fantasy-of-manners. In early 19th century society, dancing holds a special and symbolic place, both in courtship and communication. Dancing is both a meaningless social ritual and a symbolic stand-in for both courtship and for more intimate physical relations. When Margerit’s aunt voices her suspicions about Barbara’s possible sexuality, it sets Margerit to speculating on what it would mean for a woman to desire a woman, but she visualizes it in terms of dancing.

“How would a woman kiss when playing a man’s part? Differently? She looked over at Barbara obliquely and imagined what it might be like to kiss her, to be kissed by her. It had never occurred to her to imagine kissing any of her prospective suitors. She’d simply accepted that it would happen in its own time. Margerit had danced with girls—one did, after all, at family parties when no thought for careful balance had been taken. It was different dancing with men who saw you as a potential wife. There was a possessiveness in their hands, an assumption of control in the way they guided you through the figures. What might it be like to dance with a woman who danced as a man? Who treated it not as a pastime but as the allegory for a further act? And how…? What…? In her mind, she offered her hand to Barbara and led her out onto the floor as the music began.”

And after the end-of-summer ball, when the guests have gone and Margerit asks Barbara to dance with her as the musicians are noodling around before packing up, the experience that Margerit had imagined is realized--along with all the awkwardness on both sides of two people who don’t feel allowed to admit to romantic interest.

Lessons under the eye of a dancemaster were different. Barbara had schooled herself to view them as training, as a supplement to sessions with Signore Donati. She had carefully avoided thinking of them as anything more. Now Barbara’s shoulder burned where Margerit laid her hand across it and her own hand burned across the curve of Margerit’s waist. But reflexes ruled her life and she guided the two of them in graceful arcs across the empty floor. Their heads lay closely enough that Margerit’s chestnut curls brushed against her cheek and she could easily trace the profile of her upturned nose and the curve of her lips, parted with the exertion. Their bodies moved as one while the music lasted. The fiddler stopped, abruptly, in the middle of a line and they were left suspended, standing closely face to face. Barbara felt the world pause and knew that in another moment she would drown in those shining eyes, those sweet lips. Maisetra Sovitre coughed loudly from the doorway. Barbara stepped away stiffly, aware of how guilty she was acting. But Margerit was the one who was blushing hotly and rushing to say, ‘We were only having some fun, Aunt Bertrut. Did you need something?’

Dancing plays a key part in the admission of romantic interest between Antuniet and Jeanne in The Mystic Marriage. In this book, there are several instances where public dancing represents the anxieties around romantic relationships between women. As Margerit noted in an excerpt above, informal dancing between women in private spaces wasn’t considered meaningful. But towards the end of The Mystic Marriage when Jeanne dances with Antuniet at the New Years’ Ball at the palace, it’s a public declaration, though one that simultaneously has complete deniability.

The floodtide party that Jeanne arranges at Margerit’s mansion in Chalanz, falls between these two: a private space where Jeanne’s circle of “special friends” can participate in the performance of romantic dance without scandal but where the more straitlaced Akezze doesn’t feel uncomfortable in helping make up the sets (not in the way she feels uncomfortable about the sweetheart divination). Barbara and Margerit’s now easy and comfortable relationship is reflected in their dancing.

“Barbara was a very precise and proficient dancer, Margerit a hesitant and careful one, but when the figures brought the two of them together they were transformed into something wondrous. ... Barbara and Margerit were once again caught in their own private world, enjoying the freedom to join their bodies into one with no gossiping tongues to task them for their transgression. They continued swaying alone in the space after the song had finished.”

Antuniet’s emotions around dancing--and specifically around dancing with Jeanne--are just as much a part of her self-awareness as the sweetheart divination ritual is. There is the hyper-awareness: Antuniet, normally so careless of appearance, primps before the mirror before going down to the ball. The momentary panic when Jeanne asks to partner her for the opening dance, then the disappointment when the plan is interrupted. The envy and longing Antuniet feels watching Jeanne dance with others; the panic and frustration when she works up the courage to approach her and is pre-empted once again. And again the hyper-awareness and awkward panic when Jeanne finally claims her for a dance.

All the confidence of the last few dances drained away but she held out her hand for Jeanne to take and let herself be led out into the center of the floor. There was a brief confusion while their arms found their places and then the music changed. Almost, she caught that glamour that Jeanne cast over her partners. Almost, she forgot to think about where her feet should be and gave herself up to the music. But there was the close heat of Jeanne’s hand on her waist and a wistful longing in Jeanne’s eyes that seemed to demand… And then her heart raced and her balance faltered and she found herself shaking free and backing away repeating, ‘I’m sorry. Jeanne, I’m sorry. I can’t.’”

So to sum up some of my techniques for showing romantic interest or romantic relationships: hyper-awareness, both physical and mental; a disruption of ordinary behavior and responses, awkwardness or misinterpretations; and the use of metaphoric frameworks (especially ones that are recognized by the characters as metaphoric) to “show” rather than “tell” the emotions they’re feeling. There are many other possible ways to do so, but those are a few of the ones I use most often.

Major category: 
Writing Process
Monday, April 24, 2017 - 07:00
Major category: 
Full citation: 

Mills, Robert. 2015. Seeing Sodomy in the Middle Ages. The University of Chicago Press, Chicago. ISBN 978-0-226-16912-5

Publication summary: 

This is an in-depth study of the visual cues and visual representations of the concept of “sodomy” in medieval manuscripts and art, using the definition of that concept at the time, not the more specific modern sense. Mills looks at how gender and sexuality interact and challenges the perception that there was no coherent framework for understanding gender and sexual dissidence in the middle ages. The topics covered include images associated with the label “sodomite”, gender transformations and sex changes (especially in Ovid), and sexual relations in closed communities (such as religious houses). The analysis includes a consideration of the relevance of modern categories to the study of medieval culture.

Chapter 5 Orientations

I tend to turn up my skepti-meter when reading chapters like this one that overtly filter their interpretation through some sort of gimmick. In this case, the gimmick is the concept of “turning”, connecting the apparently diverse topics falling under the sodomy umbrella as being “turning” away from right behavior and toward wrong objects and actions. “Turning,” of course, is semantically connected with “orientation.” With that in mind...

This chapter focuses on the image of “turning” away from right behaviors and objects and toward wrong actions and objects. In both text and image, there is a concept of wrong behavior being “turning in circles” and therefore being unable to follow/enter the desired path or gate. Vocabulary related to this include: deviation, conversion, translation, orientation.

Mills compares this to the Foucaultian idea of the “modernity of the concept of ‘having’ a sexual orientation”, that is, of sexual orientation being a mode of being as opposed to defining sodomy as a “category of acts.” But for older “orientation” expressions, compare Brooten et. al. who identify Classical and later analogs to “sexual orientation” as a life-long innate predisposition. Mills discusses several examples of scholars who work very hard to dismiss or define away pre-modern descriptions that are analogous to a lifelong sexual orientation. Mills suggests another angle: that the idea of a fixed, lifelong orientation fails to adequately describe even the modern experience, and that it, too, is only an approximation to the reality of individual experience.

[HRJ note: Perhaps this is a useful reminder that in any age, our understanding of our own sexuality is strongly shaped by the models that society offers us. That menu of models changes slowly over time, and not all people in any give age have access to the same menu. But there’s no reason to consider the late 20th century’s “inborn, fixed, life-long sexual orientation” to have any more inherent truth value than the medieval model of “your gender identity is determined by the nature of the object of your desire.” It is a model that has utility in the current socio-political climate and that fits into current medical and cultural thinking, which explains its popularity. But that doesn't mean that it's more true than other models.]

This chapter begins by examining deliberate virginity as a type of “sexual orientation,” especially in the context of female anchorites, who seemed unusually suspect with regard to the risk of “unnatural desires.” The chapter will also look at the narrowing down of the concept of “sodomy” into the specific act of anal penetration by one man of another.

The biography of Christina of Markyate presents a prototype for the anchorite as vocation. [HRJ: very briefly, an anchorite dedicated herself to a solitary religious life, rather than being part of a convent.] She showed early signs of a strong devotion to God. Her story reads much in parallel to those of early Christian martyrs, as her (Christian) parents and community try to force her into the default paradigm of heterosexual marriage. After many acts of resistance, she convinces them to let her remain a virgin. The parallels between Christina’s experience and that of the “inborn orientation” model include that her desires were determined and fixed before her birth, that they included repeated choices to “orient” herself toward symbols of God and away from worldly marriage. This eventually included running away from her family (“translatio”).

Christina does not simply deny or suppress her worldly desires, but converts them into a desire for God. When she runs away to both escape marriage and seek union with God, she disguises herself as a man (again echoing early legends of transvestite saints) and this is framed as deliberately “becoming a man for God.” This framing echoes other misogynistic literature that equates femininity wiht a lack of self-control or with unruly lust. The orientation/purpose of cross-dressing determined whether it was sinful (unruly) or virtuous. Virginity as a profession offered some women a chance to “opt out” of performing femaleness. Mills’ point is that Christina is framed as having an inherent and unchanging disposition/orientation towards virginity, in parallel with how sexuality is (modernly) understood.

In general, women were less susceptible to accusations of sodomy. Their same-sex kisses and embraces were seen as less inherently carnal, and women’s cross-dressing provoked less outrage and gender anxiety than men’s cross-dressing (as long as no overt sexual activity were involved). See, for example, illustrated versions of Alan of Lille’s De Planctu Naturae, which depicts female-personified allegories in passionate physical embraces/kisses that carry only positive implications. These actions may even be described as a “nuptial embrace” when female-personified pairs are involved, while the same texts elsewhere condemn same-sex male relations. This contrast could be a difference in how same-sex bonds were interpreted, or it may be because the text’s target audience was male, and therefore warnings against male-male erotic activity was a practical matter, while concerns about female-female erotic activity were not immediately relevant.

A very common context for depicting physical expressions of same-sex friendship between women was the “visitation” between Mary and Elizabeth. Another conventional context was depictions of the “four daughters of God: mercy, truth, justice, peace” shown kissing and embracing each other. Mills points these out as demonstrating that depictions of female same-sex kisses and embraces cannot be assumed to imply erotics, even though the same gestures, when depicted in the Bibles Moralisés, are explicitly labeled as sexual. These positive images correspond to Traub’s category of “chaste femme love” which is assumed to be non-erotic, unlike the same physical actions between women in cross-dressing scenarios.

Shifting gears back to illustrated medieval editions of Ovid, the story of Diana and Callisto provides another context for depicting female same-sex eroticism. Here’s the basic story. Jupiter lusts after Callisto, one of Diana’s chaste nymphs. He disguises himself as Diana and persuades Callisto of the acceptability of erotics between women. His success at this becomes apparent when Callisto becomes pregnant, which is discovered by Diana and the other nymphs while bathing--providing an opportunity for artistic depictions of nudity. The bathing/discovery scene is the usual artistic focus of the Ovid moralisé manuscripts, but some also include depictions of the erotic encounter (kissing, embracing, the chin-chuck gesture) with Jupiter in disguise as Diana. Sometimes Jupiter’s true identity is signified by details of dress, posture, or stature that distinguish the false Diana from the true one, undermining the homoerotic context. As in other homoerotic encounters that are enabled by cross-dressing, these depictions of same-sex erotics must in some way reference a male/female encounter.

Mills asks whether texts about virginity address the homoerotic potential of all-female communities and concludes that they both contain and erase it by bringing it intermittently into view. (As in the Callisto story, which highlights the possibility of same-sex erotics but erases it by making the actual encounter heterosexual.)

Early modernists tend to date the eroticization of same-sex friendship to the early modern period. But at least for men, there are examples as early as the 12th century of suspicion of too-close male friendships. There have been a number of studies of this phenomenon among monks and male clergy, but no similar studies examine the overlap of love, friendship, and eroticism among nuns. Two arguments are offered for this lack of attention and concern. Firstly, that the medieval textual sources are primarily concerned with men. Second, that female same-sex friendship did not have the same public significance or power, and thus created less anxiety. Traub, for example, argues that depictions of “femme-femme love” (i.e., erotic expressions between feminine-coded figures) were not viewed as erotic because all participants are traditionally feminine.

[HRJ: Other studies argue a different framing--that the potential for anxiety came, not from female same-sex erotics, but from women intruding on male prerogatives. So the transgression in a cross-dressing homoerotic scenario came from the act of cross-dressing, not from the fact that two women were involved. Mills hints at this obliquely, but doesn’t seem to make the point directly.]

Anchorites were women who had a significant cultural/social role that challenged male dominance. Mills suggests that this is why their same-sex relationships (or their relationship to their own bodies) was policed with regard to erotic implications. Texts offering guidance for religious solitaries of both sexes address the question of sexual temptation, either with the self (masturbation) or with others.  Aelred of Rievaulx, for example, warned against same-sex passion among both men and women. The 12th century Latin original of his text addresses this explicitly, but an English translation of the 14th century leans more toward “sin that must not be named” language. Other instructional texts suggest that masturbation could lead to same-sex activity.

In late 14th century England, in addition to internal rules for behavior, religious solitaries contended with accusations by critics of the church, such as the Lollards, who accused religious women of a variety of auto- and homoerotic sins, perhaps including the implication of dildo use. (The language is vague.) The general theory at the time was that any of the carnal sins could lead to other carnal sins. E.g., indulging in either lust or gluttony would lead to the other as well. This is why we find writers like Heloise expressing the opinion that fine dining and rich hospitality to convent guests would lead to the temptation of same-sex desire among nuns. This connection between the sins of sloth, gluttony, lust, and pride are often brought into descriptions of the “sins of Sodom.”

The 13th century English instructional manual for anchorites Ancrene Wisse also targets mixing with secular friends and family and entertaining them, and warns against specifics such as “playing games of tickle” and gossiping with their maidservants. The relevant passage follows the convention of saying, “I dare not be specific for fear of giving people ideas” but the context is the danger to an anchorite’s chastity of relationships with other women.

These texts aimed at anchorites (and often at a relatively small and highly specific population) explicitly identifies them as a community with a collective identity and orientation. “You...anchorites...according to one rule...all pull as one, all turned one way, and none away from the other...for each is turned toward the other in one way of living.” (Note that this doesn’t refer to living together as a physical community, as anchorites were by definition solitary.) Versions of Ancrene Wisse were later produced in altered form either for mixed audiences, including lay people, or even for male audiences, as signaled by a shift in pronouns and gendered references. These versions were less likely to include references to same-sex erotic potential or to masturbation, but rather focused on the genitals as the “entrance for lechery” unless used within marriage. Thus the source of sin continues to be be feminized, but rather than female persons, it is shifted to female genitalia.

Though it may seem odd to have this focus on potential erotic partners when addressing anchorites, Cristina of Markyate’s life included cohabitation with various spiritual partners, both male and female. And there is other evidence that female anchorites might live in pairs, as well as reference to female servants. Some other historians have noted that the anchoritic lifestyle may have created a space in which erotic possibilities between women could be explored.

There follows a brief discussion of viewing “queerness” as a resistance to normative ways of being, as opposed to being defined by specific orientations. But Mills seems to lean towards viewing chastity as a separate “orientation” apart from homosexuality and heterosexuality. It is “queer” in the sense of turning away from normative heterosexuality, but not necessarily because of any homosexual implications. But in the specific context of anchorites, because they were rooted on a boundary between secular and monastic lives, they could become an ambiguous fault line for the division between friendship and sodomy.  The anchorhold was a “closet-like” space both in containing and concealing questionable behaviors. Both a private space and one with public visibility. There are a few pieces of legal evidence of times when this fault line cracked open, as in the 1444 trial of a religious recluse in Rottweil, Germany, who was accused of the “vice against nature which is called sodomy” with an unnamed laywoman.

The remaining portion of this chapter is devoted to the contexts and processes in which the concept of “sodomy” became equated specifically with anal penetration between men. A number of depictions from manuscript marginalia are offered. As this section isn’t relevant to the theme of this project, I haven’t summarized it in detail.

Friday, April 21, 2017 - 19:12
book cover: Ancillary Sword

I actually meant to get this review up a week ago, and then a project at work fell on me like a ton of bricks. And then I figured I'd have all week to write it up to make this week's customary Friday review slot, and then...well, let's just say that I could have gone yet another seven years without a burglary and not missed the lack. But here it is, still Friday, and I'll get the review in. I have a mental block against starting a new book until the last one is reviewed.

Ancillary Sword is the second book in Ann Leckie's "Imperial Radch" series. It's an interesting experience reading books that I have overheard being discussed as thoroughly as these have, when reading them well after everyone else in the world has done so. I'm not spoiler-averse, but it's curious to discover the contrast between the focus certain events and people have received in discussion versus the amount of page-time they received. (For example, I was a bit startled to discover how brief the stage time of translator Dlique was. But never mind.)

The joy in reading Ancillary Justice, the first of the series, was the joy of bending one's mind around a non-linear narrative in which all the usual notions of voice, character, and causation are thrown to the winds. The joy in reading Ancillary Sword (for me) was more that of a cozy mystery. If a planet can be a quaint country village. There was the same sense of teasing out the residents and relationships, of tracking down motives and means, of looking for the anomalies and inconsistencies. There is murder, or something like it, and attempted murder. There is the confrontation and revelation and confession. Given that I had absorbed the premises and assumptions of the setting in the first book, this one was far less brain-stretching. Quieter and less surprising (which is not to say predictable). We're given a number of secondary characters that we're clearly meant to become attached to, providing the right amount of worry and suspense.

The prose, as before, is smooth and polished with the sort of technical invisibility I like in a good read. The protagonist Breq is becoming more familiar and I start to see the cracks and gaps between what she is supposed to be within this universe and what she actually is...or is becoming. It is a comfortable middle book: building on what came before, encompassing a tidy independent plot arc, and yet leaving the larger question of what's happening in the Radch empire hanging for future resolution.

Major category: 
Wednesday, April 19, 2017 - 07:00
photo of Abiel T. LaForge

A recent trip to see my brother Randy in Maine gave me an opportunity to get a good image of one of the photographs we have of Abiel. (There's a reproduction of it on the hard-copy of the diaries that my mother published, but the image quality wasn't worth putting it through another generation of reproduction to use here.) He's clearly in some sort of uniform, and it isn't too bad a guess that this may have been taken at the time of his enlistment. He's just a kid. So many of them were just kids. So many of them are still just kids. It makes you ask: what are we thinking?

As previously noted, this entry jumps us back to the beginning of 1865. Although the end of the war isn't necessarily clearly in sight, the tide has definitely turned. General Sherman has just completed his "march to the sea". Within four months, General Lee will surrender. And Abiel is embarking on his new duties serving on the court martial.

After working halfway though this month, I decided to break it up into two entries.

The Diary and Letters of Abiel Teple LaForge 1842-1878

Transcribed, edited, and annotated by Phyllis G. Jones (his great-granddaughter)

Copyright © 1993, Phyllis G. Jones, All rights reserved

January 1865


Sunday January 1st 1865

Lee did not astonish the world this A.M.  neither did he surprise Grant. On the contrary this has been an unusually quiet day.  Our flag presentation which has so long been delayed came off.  The Regiment was formed in square and the adjutant brought out the beautiful banner and presented it to the commanding officer in the name of the Ladies of St. Lawrence. Then the Commandant presented it to the Regiment after which the Regiment was dismissed and the officers adjourned to Head Quarters, and of course we had a good time.  The Division General & staff and the Brigade General & staff witnessed the presentation, which was altogether a fine spectacle.  There is being considerable whiskey being drank in the army, but if there is any fist fights they are not likely to become general, for it is too cold for the men to come outdoors to fight.

Monday January 2nd

The Court Martial met today.  There is ten members.  We organized and tried one case for Desertion.  The law in Court Martial cases dose not allow us to publish what our sentence and findings are until it is published by the proper authority.  There is much about military matters to be learned by the members of a court, which they would never learn in any other capacity. Many little intricate matters which would never come to their observation about the administration of military affairs, which it is not intended to become generally known.  I find it is no light matter to sit in judgment on the life of a fellow creature and brother soldier, as we have today.

Tuesday 3rd

Commenced snowing about noon and is still at it.  Had a very interesting case to try at Court.  Also some fun.  Last night one of Barney's officers returned to the Regiment.  He is Sergeant Monroe, who I reduced to the ranks the other day.  How he is hated by the officers. I would not like to be in his place. [Note: In December, Monroe was demoted for unauthorized absence. It isn't clear to me whether he was demoted from Sergeant or to Sergeant.]

I received a reply to my communication to the Adjutant General last night. I must fill certain blanks before I can receive my pay as private of the 85th New York Volunteers.  We learn that Colonel Barney has thrown up his commission and that Major McDonald our old Commander is Colonel and Major Allen Lieutenant Colonel.  Also Adjutant Robinson is Major.  Last month I was recommended- 6.15'.18'- 3.1.16'.20".19"-3.15'.13'.13'.9.19". 19".9.15"14'- but don't believe I shall 17'.5.20"-9.20"- as 17'.15'.22"- 19".5.25".13'.15'.21".18'- fills them 8.9.19'- 15'23"14'. way. [Note: Out of a new sense of discretion, Abiel is using a simple substitution cipher: 1=A, 2=B, etc. Assuming that the 17's should be 7's this gives: "Last month I was recommended for Capts commission but dont believe I shall get it as Gov Seymour fills them his own way."  The code seems unaffected by the fact that numbers from 13-18 are marked with ' and those from 19-25 are marked with ". A later use of the cipher is slightly more complex.]

LETTER (written at end of diary page)

Head Quarters "I" Company 106th New York  Volunteers Camp Townsend Virginia

January 3rd 1865

My Dear Sister & Friends,

I concluded to write you tonight even if it is pretty late, as I have not written for over a week.

Ever since our baggage came down to us, I have been very busy finishing up my accounts for last year & I expect to be very much engaged for some time to come, as I am a member of a court martial, which has its sessions from 10 A.M. to 3 P.M. daily.  Sundays excepted.  The only time I have for correspondence or work is after its sessions are over in the afternoon, so I am afraid some of my numerous friends will be glad that I have something to do besides writing to them and boring them.

Winter has really set in upon us now, and we have experienced some very cold weather, which made all the clothes we could cover ourselves with at night very acceptable. I have often thought of that little bedroom and the numerous blankets you used to have piled upon it for me.  The baby, too, used to be piled upon it once in a while with his uncle Bijou. [Note: This must be referring to Abiel's visit on leave, rather than to his time there before enlisting.] Has the boy cut teeth yet?  If so, I hope he don't bite bad, the little cherub. Give him my kind wishes.  I hope you follow up your long dress system, how does the new one look? [Note: The phrase "long dress system" seems to carry some specific meaning. A quick Google on "dress system" turns up uses of the phrase in connection with dress reform movements in the later 19th century. But also suggestions that this may simply have been a way of referring to a set of garments worn together.]

I am sorry mother keeps so poorly.  Give her her boy's love and kind wishes,  also to Martha. Janey is getting that flesh back again that she lost the last time she was sick, I hope. When I come home, I hope she will be as stout as ever, if not stouter as than ever.  Has Josey's mare been out late at night since I came away?  She seemed very much surprised at my irregular hours when I had her.  I am sorry I created so much gossip when I was home, for it spoils a person's character too quick. [Note: I'm guessing that the "gossip" in question was related to his flirtations with a number of women, as detailed in his account of the visit.]

Your brother,   Abiel


Wednesday January 4th 1865

About an inch of snow on the ground this morning,  pretty cold too.  Court adjourned at noon today.  We only finished the case we had before us yesterday.    Our Pay Rolls came back last night for correction. Mine needed none.  I wrote to Miss 1.9'.1.3'.3 v.v. last night--took some pains, I dare say.  [Note: Perhaps thinking on that "gossip," Abiel seems to be expanding his use of a discreet cipher to references to his female correspondents. This is a slightly different version, substituting A-I for numbers 1-9 and J-R for 1'-9', which gives "aralc" or Clara spelled backwards.  Presumably Clara Crandall is meant.]  I also wrote to my dear kind friends in Andover. I expect a letter from them before long.

Thursday 5th

Rather sloppy under foot, pleasant above.  The court agreed on the sentence I proposed by which to punish the prisoner today.  I wrote to Uncle John last night.  Moved into my new shanty tonight. Cox is out on picket and I shall have to sleep here alone one night.  The Regimental Commander, the Quarter Master, and myself took our Band and went over to visit the Brigadier.  Had very good entertainment.  Came back before midnight. Good fire in my shanty when I got here,  my old servant must have been here. [Note: It's been quite some time since Abiel made any reference to his servant. I don't even know if this is a literal reference or one of his humorous notes, along the lines of, "It's so convenient to have a fire waiting for me that it's just like my old servant was here." Except that presumably he does currently have someone taking care of him. I'm not sure why I'm so obsessed with knowing more details of this relationship, except due to the echoing silence of the man's existence, and the knowledge that oblivious racism is part of the reason for that silence.]

Friday 6th

Rained nearly all day. Very muddy.  Came near getting stuck coming from the court room.  We adjourned to meet Monday.  I made out my ordnance return for 4th Quarter 1864.  Cox and I are proposing to have a good bath.  Susey should have written me before this.  She is getting to be a poor correspondent.

Saturday 7th

Pretty Cold.  I confined myself closely to business, of which I have plenty.  I was up to Head Quarters this evening.  They had the string band up there and some dancing and other fun was going on.  The Chaplain has got a leave of Absence and started home today.  He is the third officer of our regiment who is now off on leave.  Yes, the fourth, for Major McDonald has escaped from the Rebs and is now home on leave.  The Major has been promoted to Lieutenant Colonel and Colonel since he has been away. We are looking for his return anxiously.

Sunday 8th

I had to assume command of the regiment today, as Captain Briggs was detailed as Division officer of the day, and I am the senior officer left in camp.  Mounted my horse this evening and took the men out for Brigade parade.  A new Lieutenant Colonel came to us this evening. It is the gentleman we saw in Winchester--he then had a Major's commission--the one eyed Allen. We are working against him with all the faculty we have got. I telegraphed to McDonald at Ogdensburg to come to us at once and get mustered before this man can do so.  But I fear with all our efforts to the contrary he will be able to get mustered,  Oh! How heartily we hate him! He got his position through being a personal friend of Governor Seymour's.

I got a letter from Perry's & Joseph's people too, with $25.00 from Perry, which I began to need pretty badly. [Note: With regard to funds, recall Abiel's earlier complaint that he still hasn't managed to get the last of his pay as private from his former regiment. But it also seems to be the case that he sends home any pay above what he expects to need for daily expenses. So any delays or shortfalls in pay may bring him up short.]

Monday 9th

Captain Briggs was away and I had to take the Regiment out on Brigade Dress Parade.  Felt gay as a young Cock riding at the head of the regiment.  Then when Parade was dismissed, returning my sword, and riding with the Colonels up to salute the general.  Thinks I, this is getting along pretty fast for a 1st Lieutenant!  When I came back, found Captain Briggs had returned. He said I did it as well as he could himself, so I felt satisfied with myself. [Note: This and another reference to returning a sword as part of Dress Parade suggests that the sword is only borrowed for the ceremony. I'm trying to remember if Abiel purchased his own sword when he got his commission.]

The court were divided on a legal question and adjourned until the 11th to look it up.

Tuesday 10th

Rained hard last night and all day.  Lieutenant Cox and I have been at work in our shanty, putting up shelves and a table and squaring off the logs some.  So our house (which we have decided to call the Anglo-French Hotel, as he is English & I am French) is now pretty comfortable, and we begin to enjoy ourselves.

[Note: This is an interesting and rather peculiar statement. While it's true that the surname LaForge is of unmistakably French origin, Abiel's LaForge ancestors had been living in America for over a century and a half at this point. So is this a light joke simply about the name's origin? Or does Abiel genuinely think of himself as "French" in some relevant way? Back in the middle of 1864 when Abiel was taking a boat down to start active duty, he comments about how his fellow officers are "twelve men of six nations", listing the nations as Irish, Italian, German, French, English, and Scottish. Note the absence of "American" or any other non-European "nation" in the list. So he associated the twelve men (including himself) all with some specific national origin. In that context, he doesn't mention his own identification with any of the "nations", and he presents them with rather broad stage-caricature stereotypes. It makes me wonder if anyone has doing research on ethnic self-identity in mid-19th century America, and just when it was that a person like Abiel stopped thinking of himself as "French", if six generations residence wasn't sufficient.]

The question before the court yesterday was: have we a right to find a man guilty of the charge and not of the specification, and sentence him when the specification does verify the charge?  The Court has various opinions. Mine is that the court may set aside the Specification as imperfect, and be governed solely by the evidence as it bears on the charge.  The General Commanding sent back two or three of our cases for review. He made some suggestions,  a few of which we adopted and others rejected. Our authority is above his while we are on this duty.

[Note: I haven't looked deeply into the details of how a court martial works, but here is a page discussing modern practice, and it defines "charge" and "specification" thusly: "On a court-martial charge sheet there will be one or more “charges” and one or more “specifications.”  A court-martial “charge” is the Article of the UCMJ that was allegedly violated.  A court-martial “specification” is a description of the distinct alleged criminal act.  All specifications fall under the charged UCMJ Article.  So, for example, there could be one charge of Larceny under UCMJ Article 121, and several specifications under that charge that describe each specific claim of theft under that charge." So it sounds like in this case they were convinced that the defendant was guilty of some act falling under the relevant "charge" but that they did not believe the particular "specification" was correct.]

Wednesday 11th

Adjutant Hepburn showed me some letters from some young ladies to whom he introduced me while we were at Martinsburg.  I judge they are somewhat given to flatter the boyish-looking Lieutenant, as they call me.  Lieutenant Colonel Allen has went to Washington to procure an order for his muster. [Note: Recall that this is the man Abiel said they were "working against".]  He said before he went that, if we had taken the right course with him, he would have filled the vacancies with men of the Regiment, but now he will take another course,  which means that he will fill them with his own personal friends, I suppose.  Bah. [Note: So evidently the feeling is mutual.]

The Court met and were divided as ever on the question of which I spoke before.  Finally we agreed to send the proceedings up for the consideration of the General, and then adjourned over to meet the 13th.  This evening I went up to the Surgeons and had a very pleasant game of chess.  The Doctor beat me on the game.

Thursday 12th

Very cold last night; froze up hard.  And as a consequence, clear, warm & muddy today.  I sent my Quarter Master Returns for August & September off.  Now all I have to make are for October & December, 1864, which I shall have done tomorrow night, if nothing happens. Then my last year's work will all be up snug and I can play for a while. I do not make Returns for November, as I was home that month. We had Battalion Drill this afternoon. While I am on Court I do not have any of that duty to perform.  The Captain Commanding sent for me when the Regiment got out and asked me to go on drill, because if I did not, he would not have a single officer to assist him, as all the rest just came in from Picket & Guard duty.  So I went.

Friday 13th

Clear and pretty warm,  Attended Court. Had a pretty stormy debate, in which I was in the minority, as they say in Congress. "A small but very respectable minority" it was.  We only reviewed cases which we had already sentenced. When I came to camp, the regiment had just turned out for monthly inspection. I should have went out if I had got back a few minutes sooner.  We drew clothing, and Camp and Garrison Equipage this P.M.  I issued it after I returned.  I also finished and sent my Quarter Master Returns for October & December 1864.  This evening I hardly know what I shall do now, as I have been at work so hard lately upon my papers as to make a moments idleness seem almost a sin.

I received a letter from Miss Porter tonight, which was one of her funniest and most laughable productions.  She requested me not to show it to anyone, especially my lady friends.  I did show it to Lieutenant Cox however, in order that he might help me laugh over her mirth provoking sallies.  I think I must burn it as soon as answered, for if my dear Susie or any of the girls in Andover should see it, I would not hear the last of the matter in a long time.  Our forces are now building abattis in front of the picket line, so that the Johnnies cannot make those sudden dashes and capture our boys.

Saturday January 14ty, 1865

Very clear and pleasant.  General Seymour decided with me today on my definition of Desertion.  He returned one of our cases which was sent up for him to review.  All of the court but myself decided that "from the evidence adduced, they could find the prisoner only guilty of Absence without leave."  I claimed from the evidence "he was guilty of Desertion."  The General says Desertion is the crime of which he is guilty, so I am all right.

I had to take command of the regiment on Dress Parade this evening, as Captain Briggs was away.  We had a considerable fun over it after the men were dismissed.  I wrote to my dearest sister and friends at Andover, and look for a letter from her daily.  I have not heard from father in a long time.

LETTER  Head Quarters "I" Company 106th New York Volunteers, "Anglo-French Hotel"

Before Petersburg Virginia  January 14th 1865

My Dear Friends,

I am sitting in a nice comfortable shanty, on a rather uncomfortable stool, with my back to a blazing fire of pine knots, my face toward the Aurora Borealis, at least as far in that direction as Andover, where the dearest of human ties bind them at present.  Perhaps some day, when I am not looking for such an event, a "dearer tie" than any which binds me now may be formed, and I shall find that instead of Andover being the location of the loadstone to which my thoughts are constantly turning, some other place will have usurped its position in my heart.  (I don't see how it is, sister, that I should live to be twenty three years old and not be in love, do you?  It must be because we are not exposed in the army.  I added this parenthetically.) But at present, no such place looms up in my mental vision.

The cold wind is howling around outside tonight in such a manner as to make our really comfortable hotel feel very much like home.  Lieutenant Cox and I enjoy ourselves like two monarchs, indeed we are monarchs "of all we survey" when inside our hotel. In your last, you wanted to know what color we should paint our house.  Well Cox & I have decided to have it as near the color of the outside of an unhewn pine log, plastered with mud as we could get it, so it is of that color.

I had a good laugh after parade tonight.  I was the senior officer off duty and had to command the parade.  When the regiment was formed, I marched down and took my place 30 paces in front of the center. Everything went on well until the command to Dismiss the Parade.  When I found there was but one line officer on parade, & that was Cox, to see him return his sword, face to the center, march down to the front of the colors, then face me and march up and salute me (as would have been proper if all the officers had been there) without a muscle of his face changing, was more than I or any of the other officers who were behind me could stand.  I am afraid the last of that parade was not decorous. [Note: I'm easily envisioning this scene, where the dictates of military ceremony and protocol come face-to-face with the absurdities of the short-staffed company and the ad hoc nature of some of the hierarchical duties.]

Well, here I am pretty near the end of my paper and have not said a word about the boy.  Well, give the little rascal my regards and tell him to "h∼ve his self" [i.e., "behave his self"] till I come home again.  My love to mother, husband, brother, & sisters, and also Susan & the boy.

Your dutiful brother


Major category: 
LaForge Civil War Diaries
Tuesday, April 18, 2017 - 17:10

One of Alpennia's biggest fans, Shira Glassman (whose own novels are delightful fluffy stories about Jewish lesbian princesses and such) has commissioned some promo art featuring Barbara & Margerit and Antuniet & Jeanne. Check out the art on her tumblr--it's gorgeous!

Also, I got an email about a short story acceptance today, about which I'll say more when the contract is officially signed.

Major category: 
Tuesday, April 18, 2017 - 09:45

I have no idea what the occasion is or how long it will last, but Amazon currently has the paperback version of The Mystic Marriage on sale for $7.00 (less than the usual e-book price).

Major category: 
The Mystic Marriage
Monday, April 17, 2017 - 07:00

I'm always delighted to have evidence that people are using the LHMP blog as a resource as intended. (I had high hopes that it might spark interest in more people writing lesbian historical fiction--perhaps some day it will.) I received a note this past week from a teacher who had bookmarked an item on my now-deleted LiveJournal version that he wanted to assign as class reading. You can't imagine how that warms the heart! I supplied a longer list of blog links relevant to the class topic (but also suggested one or two of my source texts that might be a better assignment for that purpose). If you've ever had the passing thought, "Gee I wonder if the LHMP has anything relevant to Topic X?" and haven't been able to answer the question from your own search of the material, please always feel free to ask directly. (I'll let you know if it's outside my knowledge or is more extensive than I have time to answer.)

Major category: 
Full citation: 

Mills, Robert. 2015. Seeing Sodomy in the Middle Ages. The University of Chicago Press, Chicago. ISBN 978-0-226-16912-5

Publication summary: 

This is an in-depth study of the visual cues and visual representations of the concept of “sodomy” in medieval manuscripts and art, using the definition of that concept at the time, not the more specific modern sense. Mills looks at how gender and sexuality interact and challenges the perception that there was no coherent framework for understanding gender and sexual dissidence in the middle ages. The topics covered include images associated with the label “sodomite”, gender transformations and sex changes (especially in Ovid), and sexual relations in closed communities (such as religious houses). The analysis includes a consideration of the relevance of modern categories to the study of medieval culture.

Chapter 4 The Sex Lives of Monks

Because monasticism is assumed to preclude sex, historians often work to desexualize passionate language used by medieval monastic writers, for example, in the context of writing about friendship. Language and actions that could be interpreted erotically are depicted as purely conventional, for example, possible interpretations of kissing on the mouth. Historians may claim that the erotic implications of the texts are “projected” by modern minds onto a “less erotically pre-occupied society.” The “passionate” aspect of passionate friendship is treated as conventional expressions of the genre and not as genuine emotion.

Mills agrees that we shouldn’t view the language as arising out of a heterosexual/homosexual binary, but neither was the division between word and act necessarily that clear cut. He suggests we shouldn’t privilege genital activity as the only form of erotic desire that “counts as sexuality.” [Note: This is a concern I raised repeatedly when covering Faderman 1981.]

Both anti-clerical satires and internal church auditors attributed active sexuality to monks. The 11th century saw programs of “moral and religious revitalization” (e.g., the Gregorian reforms) that, among other things, attempted to restore original ideals of clerical celibacy. This included rules against marriage and concubinage among the clergy and monastics (of both genders). Close (passionate) friendships were also considered suspect. Mills examines these movements, not in terms of physical intimacy, but of a struggle between maintaining and failing to maintain chastity.

Saints’ lives that focused on erotic elements could produce a “counter-erotic” rather than a non-erotic response in readers. That is, an intensification of desire through the denial of that desire. Rather than ignoring the potential for pleasure (erotic or non-erotic), the stories display a pursuit of the pleasures of frustration, refusal, and pain. That is: asceticism is a type of sensual gratification on its own. (Mills has a lot of fun with word play in this chapter, e.g., coming up with the term “cloistrophobia”.)

Ascetic practices were often seen as a response to, and control of, the experience of erotic desire. They often contributed to clerical misogyny by framing temptation as female. That is, temptation is personified as an assertive and sexually voracious woman. But at the same time, other writers such as Bernard of Clairvaux presented physical love as a “translation” exercise for understanding divine love, as in the Song of Songs. Mills compares this with Boswell’s discussion of how medieval writers used Classical models of friendship to discuss same-sex (male) desire in a way that could bypass moral stigma. This type of “translation” provided a context for representing and examining same-sex desire in a monastic context.

The next part of the chapter discusses a series of sculptures at the monastic church of Vézeley in France, added when it was rebuilt in the 1220-1230s. Local legend rumored it to be the burial site of Mary Magdalene, a symbol of change and penitence. This story may have been useful to the church in attracting visits from pilgrims on the road to Compostela. [Note: I find this claim a bit odd given how far Vézeley is from Spain, but I haven't double-checked against the regular pilgrim routes coming, e.g., from Germany.]

Despite the association with Mary Magdalene, the only female saint represented in the series of sculptures on the capitals in the nave is Eugenia, one of the genre of “transvestite saints”. [As a brief background: there are a number of legends of female saints set in the early Christian period in which a woman disguises herself as a man to take up a monastic life, sometimes enduring accusations of (male) unchastity, sometimes only revealed after death. See the "transvestite saint" tag for more entries on this topic.]

Eugenia is said to have lived in the 2nd century in Alexandria and disguised herself as a man in order to enter a monastery to live a religious life, against the wishes of her father, a local judge. As a monk, she attracted the desire of a wealthy widow who came to Eugenia for healing. Spurned, the widow accused Eugenia of rape and brought her to trial before Eugenia’s father. During the trial, Eugenia revealed her gender as proof of her innocence. This action inspired others to convert to Christianity.

Attitudes toward cross-dressing could be mixed. The transvestite saints often began their disguise in one of the contexts where writers such as Hildegard of Bingen (reluctantly) condoned it, e.g., to escape danger or preserve chastity. When done in the service of chastity, cross-dressing wasn’t considered transgressive. (In many of the transvestite saint legends, the initial disguise is to escape an unwanted suitor/marriage.)

Images of Eugenia rarely focus on the cross-dressing aspects, but those that do may show a tonsured figure baring a breast. The sculpture at Vézeley is one such rare case. It shows a short-haired, tonsured figure in the act of being about to open the top of their robe, positioned between the figures of the judge and the accuser, who are depicted with clear signifiers of male and female gender respectively. In this case, we have only the potential for Eugenia to show a bare breast. Other female sculptures at Vézeley do show bare breasts: a depiction of Eve, a woman being molested by a demon, and a figure representing Lust. So elsewhere we see bared breasts associated with sin and lust, while Eugenia is shown just before the exposure, possibly representing her rejection of desire and embrace of chastity.

As noted earlier, in men, effeminacy could be seen as representing carnality and worldliness, whereas women are seen as more “perfect” and virtuous the more they reject female roles of wife and mother. Faith and virtue and even chastity are depicted as inherently “virile” characteristics. Women must “become men” to achieve spiritual perfection. In the story of Eugenia, the widow Melantia represents inappropriate desire, not only in desiring at all, but (as an older woman) in desiring a person whom she believes to be a youth, and in desiring a monk at all, but also in desiring someone who in reality is a woman. In representing Melantia as having these inappropriate desire, the monks viewing the sculpture may have been intended to turn away from not only the superficial form of the desire (male/female) but the substance of the object (someone appearing to be a young male monk).

The depiction on another nave capital at Vézeley of the abduction of Ganymede by an eagle (Zeus) is less obviously of Christian significance, although medieval depictions of this episode are not uncommon. [Mills has an extended discussion of the context in which young boys entered monasteries, and of examples of homoerotic poetry written by monks. I skip over it only because of the lack of relevance to the current project.] Mills compares the sequence and arrangement of the Vézeley capitals to the sequential illustrations of the Bibles Moralisés, particularly in how the eye is led to make multiple comparisons and connections between them. The chapter concludes with further discussion of age-difference erotics both in the monastic and secular realms in the middle ages, and how the theme of clerical pederasty has continued as both a preoccupation and a reality though the centuries into modern times.

Sunday, April 16, 2017 - 12:40

See my annotations of the 2016 Tomato Review now that I have all the plants correctly identified. The varietal tags were hidden under the foliage when I was trying to figure out which was which. This year I'll I'll do better. I selected a handful of varieties that had performed well last year, and then figured I'd try a number of new ones. (Also: my usual nursery tends to have a lot of varieties, but not necessarily the same ones every year, except for favorites.)

Based on last year's experience with the black-purple varieties, I mostly avoided them, only picking Cherokee Purple because I found the taste "interesting". I'm going with a mix of 6 cherry-type tomatoes (which tend to work well for my work lunches), 6 "solid performers" to use for sauce and drying, and 6 experimental slots. Rather than organizing them by color this time, I'm going to put the cherry types at the outside ends of the rows for easier picking and then organize the rest based on expected size to pair sprawlers with more compact plants. So here are the plants I picked up. I'll add a planting chart at the end for later reference.


Sun Gold - This was far and away my favorite from last year. An absolute must.

Austin's Red Pear - I didn't see a yellow pear, and besides which I found it a bit bland. So this is a new one to try.

Juliet - Red, oval.

Early Girl - Another repeat from last year, chosen largely on the promise of "early" producing. My notes indicate it had great flavor, too.

Blush Artisan - Described as "Elongaged, striped yellow bicolor cherry tomato." I do like a bit of color variety, so this will be a useful experiment.

Husky Cherry Red - A generic round red cherry.

Solid Standards and Paste Types

Mortgage Lifter - A repeat from last year (although of one of the ones where I got confused on identity). 

Cherokee Purple - The only of the purple/black varieties I really thought worth repeated from last year.

Bush Beefsteak - Your basic big meaty slicing tomato

Little Napoli - A Roma style, very compact.

Amish Paste - Teardrop shaped, ideal for sauce.

Giuseppi's Big Boy - Large meaty fruit. Sprawling plant. Will pair with a compact one.

Just for Fun and Experimentation

Stupice - Heirloom, early producer, relatively compact.

Pink Boar - "Striking looks, outrageous flavor that is sweet, rich and juicy...agressive grower...port wine color with metalic silver green stripes, dark red interior." Sounds intriguing.

Marianna's Peace - "Considered by many to be the world's best tasting tomato! From Czechoslovakia, beefsteak type."

Red Lightning - Red with yellow stripes. Bought purely on curiosity of the appearance.

Big Rainbow - "Heirloom, huge yellow tomatoes with red streaks in flesh and skin."

Momotaro - A Japanese variety with pink flesh. I believe I've seen this in local markets and liked them.


Using last year's numbering system (except I have a full 18 plants this time) here's how I'll be laying them out:

1. Amish Paste

2. Bush Beefsteak

3. Cherry

4. Big Rainbow

5. Red Lightning

6. Early Girl

7. Momotaro

8. Marianna's Peace

9. Juliet

10. Cherokee Purple

11. Mortgage Lifter

12. Austin's Red Pear

13. Stupice

14. Pink Boar

15. Blush Artisan

16. Giuseppi's Big Boy

17. Little Napoli

18. Sun Gold

Check back in 4-6 months for the reviews!


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