Skip to content Skip to navigation


Saturday, January 20, 2018 - 23:10

Lesbian Historic Motif Podcast - Episode 18c - Book Appreciation with Kathleen Knowles


(Originally aired 2018/01/20 - listen here)

This month's author guest, Kathleen Knowles, talks about some historic novels that she particularly enjoys, including works by Mary Renault, Rebeccah S. Buck, and Justine Saracen.

(No transcript is available for this podcast.)

Major category: 
Friday, January 19, 2018 - 07:00

Another summing-up article that looks at the contents of the volume from a number of different angles. Although there is a great deal of repetition in this section of the collection, I like the focus on a deep understanding of the progression of theoretical frameworks that affected both what was studied and how it was interpreted.

Major category: 
Full citation: 

Garber, Linda. 2011. “Necessity is the Invention of Lesbians” in The Lesbian Premodern ed. by Noreen Giffney, Michelle M. Sauer & Diane Watt. Palgrave, New York. ISBN 978-0-230-61676-9

Publication summary: 


A collection of papers addressing the question of what the place of premodern historical studies have in relation to the creation and critique of historical theories, and especially to the field of queer studies.

Garber, Linda. 2011. “Necessity is the Invention of Lesbians”

Garber reviews the progress of lesbian studies from an overly exuberant "laying claim", to the development of more nuanced criteria and engagement with Foucaultian social constructionism, as well as the overlap/intersection of lesbian and transgender themes in history. The 1970s were obsessed with how broadly or narrowly to define “lesbian,” both in the past and present. The nature of premodern evidence makes a strict social-constructionist approach problematic, even as the wide net premodern historians cast makes coherent boundaries impossible. Acknowledging a Foucaultian divide around 1869 doesn’t mean accepting that as the only definition for the scope of lesbian history. Like the other summing-up papers in this collection, Garber reviews the contents of the volume in the context of these contrasts. She reiterates the political nature of historical study and the place of fantasy and invention within that political context. Is there a direct comparison to the social history of, for example, ethnic minorities? Ethnic histories work to reconstruct the nature of a provable past, whereas lesbian history is often required to demonstrate the very existence of the past it wants to study.

Thursday, January 18, 2018 - 07:00

The second category of Jae's Lesbian Book Bingo 2018 challenge is Historical Fiction. Check here for the thread with suggestions of books for this category, and for a chance to win prizes if you comment.

As I announced previously, since I don't read enough books to have a chance at filling my bingo card, I thought I'd play along by writing short fiction pieces for each square, using a historic setting and tying them all up loosely in a single overall story. But what do I do for a historical fiction category given that I'm trying to do the whole thing in a historic setting? Obviously the solution is to include something that is historical fiction for the characters in my setting! We're still following the same two characters currently, but I've switched viewpoints. (There will be more characters later, but they'll all connect up in the end.) At this point, I've sort of narrowed down the setting of the current ficlets to the Nine Years' War some time in the early 1690s. I'm dodging making too-specific references to what military action my heroines might be taken part it since I haven't pinned down a more specific date (or exactly which regiment they're with). If you're interested in more details of passing women in the military in the Low Countries and Germany in this general era, there's no better source than The Tradition of Female Transvestism in Early Modern Europe by Dekker and van de Pol.

My book Daughter of Mystery will be one of the featured book suggestions for the fantasy category, but my work fits in a lot of different categories on the bingo card. For those who might be visiting here for the fiction and brainstorming for ideas for their bingo squares, here's a brief rundown of what categories the Alpennia books and my self-published novelette fit into.

  • "The Mazarinette and the Musketter" (self-published novelette, see links below for information on all books) - LGBTQIA+ characters (bi women, trans man), historical fiction, you might possibly fit it into "women in uniform" since a Musketeer uniform is a key plot point.
  • Daughter of Mystery (Alpennia #1) - friends to lovers, butch/femme (sort of), fantasy, historical fiction
  • The Mystic Marriage (Alpennia #2) - LGBTQIA+ (one main character is demisexual), friends to lovers, age difference, fantasy, I think you could even use "workplace romance" since the romance develops in an alchemy lab, historical fiction
  • Mother of Souls (Alpennia #3) - friends to lovers, fantasy, historical fiction, LGBTQIA+ (since both women are bi), but I'd rather people didn't use it for the "women of color" square because I'd prefer people to chose own-voices books for that in preference to mine

And now, on with the fiction!

All the Stage is a World (Lesbian Book Bingo: Historical Fiction)

The only thing more miserable than standing sentry through the wet miserable night on the edge of the army camp would have been sitting inside the walls of the town we were besieging. No, even worse for everyone would come when the siege broke into open battle but I mostly avoided thinking about that before time and tried to forget it afterward. The dark was thick with the smoke of campfires and the orange glow of them was scattered across the fields like a hellish reflection of the stars above.

Lena—no, I needed to think of her only as Pieter, and I’d only called her Lena for a few days anyway. Not long enough that the name should seek to betray us like that. Pieter shuffled a few steps to keep her legs warm. Another hour at least before we’d be relieved.

A trickle of wet fell into the collar of my uniform coat and I adjusted the wide brim of my hat to send the rain somewhere less uncomfortable. “Are you cold, Pieter?” I asked.

She snorted. “Of course I’m cold, Martijn! Times like this I wish I hadn’t traded skirts for breeches.”

Skirts for breeches, a job serving beer at De Leeuw in Zendoorn for the army life, but I knew she didn’t regret the gamble. I saw it in her eyes ever time we marched past towns and rivers she’d never seen before. No matter how sore our feet were or how quickly sleep seized us when we made camp, that look of wonder and surprise never dimmed.

I moved closer and huddled against her for a little more warmth but she stepped away with a shake of her head.

“You never know who might be watching.”

She was right. As bad as it would be for anyone to guess that we were women, it would be worse if they decided we were too-affectionate men. Sharing a bedroll for warmth was one thing, but embracing while on watch was another. The pleasant tumble we’d had back in Zendoorn rarely had a chance to be repeated.

“I’ll tell you a story to pass the time,” I offered. Even the stories I’d grown tired of were new to her. “What would you like?”

“Tell me about…” She thought in the darkness for a while. “Tell me a story about people like us. Tell me that we aren’t alone. You said you’d had sweethearts before…”

I didn’t want to tell her about Mayken, not all the private memories. But… “I know a story about people like us. I saw it on a stage when I was in London. A grand story set in olden times with pagan gods and two girls just like us. Would you like that one?”

“Oh yes!”

I tried to remember everything I could about the play, all confused with shepherds and gods and comic rustics. In the end, the play had left me shaking and filled with questions.

“Once upon a time, there was a band of shepherds who had angered the god Neptune, I don’t remember why. But Neptune demanded that every ten years they must sacrifice the most beautiful and most virtuous maiden in the land. You might think that fathers would be proud to have beautiful and virtuous daughters. Neptune wasn’t the only god in the story. The virgin goddess Diana roamed the woods near where the shepherds lived, and she loved chaste girls. Or you might think that the shepherds would encourage their daughters to be a little less virtuous, if it meant they would live. And the goddess Venus was happy to encourage them in that. But men are strange creatures, so they protected their daughters’ virtue carefully and the mourned what came of it.

“There was a girl named Gallathea who was so pretty and so pure that her father was certain that she would be chosen as the sacrifice, so he took her away to the woods and commanded her to dress in men’s clothing and hide herself away until after the choice was made. Gallathea was embarrassed to wear breeches and a doublet—just like you were at first, Pieter. I still remember how you blushed looking down to see your legs showing! But she did what her father commanded and went to hide in the woods.

“And there was another beautiful virgin named Phillida.  Her father was also certain that she would be chosen to be the sacrifice. So he took her aside and said she must disguise herself as a man and hide away in the woods until Neptune had received his due. Phillida thought it was an immodest thing to do, but she obeyed her father and she, too, put on breeches and a doublet and went to hide herself.”

“Well that was a silly thing!” Pieter said. “Wouldn’t anyone notice they were gone? Wouldn’t they remember two such pretty girls and ask what happened to them?”

“Hush,” I scolded. “It’s a play. People do silly things in plays. Now let me continue. So Gallathea and Phillida chanced to meet each other in the wood, and of course each one thought that the other one was a boy. A very pretty boy.” I smiled at Pieter in that way I knew would make her blush, though I couldn’t see it in the dark. “And they fell in love.”

I couldn’t see her, but I heard her sigh—a quiet little sigh that I remembered from times when I’d touched her just so.

“Both Gallathea and Phillida, they each thought they were in love with a boy, you see? And while they’re hinting at being in love with each other, Diana’s virgin huntresses meet up with Cupid and mock him and he decides to make them all fall madly in love. Some of them fall in love with shepherds and some with Gallathea and Phillida, thinking they were men, but Gallathea and Phillida fall in love without Cupid’s help. But when they each see that the other spurns the love of Diana’s ladies, they begin to suspect that the other might be a woman in disguise.”

Pieter gave another disgusted snort. “I know you said people do silly things in plays, but why would they think that? There are lots of reasons to spurn a woman who’s chasing after you.”

“Ah,” I said, “but they both are thinking a lot about being in disguise, so maybe it just seemed more likely to them. Let me finish. Do you want a story or not?” It had worked to distract us from the cold, but now I wanted to tell Pieter how it ended.

“So Gallathea is worried that if Phillida is really a girl like her, then her love won’t be returned. But if Phillida is a boy like she seems, then falling in love puts her chastity at risk. And Phillida is thinking the same thing. And at the same time, the shepherds pick a different girl to be the sacrifice, but Neptune won’t take her because she isn’t pretty enough. And he gets mad at the shepherds for cheating him, and he’s mad at Diana for making girls all worried about being virgins and then Diana and Venus have a fight about whether it’s better to be in love or to be a virgin.”

“They don’t sound like gods, they sound like people arguing over the price of cabbages in the market.”

We both giggled at that, because it was true.

“Anyway, the fathers confess what they had done when Gallathea and Phillida come back and then the two know they’ve both fallen in love with a girl, and they’re unhappy because they think it means they can’t be together but they swear to all the gods that their love is true and they’ll never love anyone else.”

Pieter gave a little sigh again, but this time it was the kind of sigh you give when you see people being happy. I felt a bit of worry twisting up my belly, because I think Pieter thought we were in love like the girls in the play. And I…I wasn’t sure. I liked her well enough, but I wasn’t sure about being in love. Not like Gallathea and Phillida were in love.

“What happened next?” Pieter asked all in a rush.

“Venus tells everyone that love will triumph and that she’ll turn one of them into a boy so they can get married.”


There was a long silence after that. I couldn’t tell what Pieter was thinking, just that she was disappointed in how the story ended.



“Martijn…would you want to turn into a boy if it meant you could marry the girl you loved?”

I’d thought about it. I’d thought about it when I'd seen the play. I'd thought about it when I’d been with Mayken. We’d talked about getting married and me leaving the army to settle down with her. And I just…I wasn’t sure. In the army I was Martijn and Martijn was a soldier and a man. But I wasn’t sure I wanted to be Martijn for my whole life. Not even if it meant I could marry Mayken. That was why she’d stayed behind and I marched away.

I shook myself to push the memory away. “There aren’t really pagan gods, you know. They can’t do that. Only God can make miracles and God isn’t going to make that kind of miracle so it doesn’t matter. It’s just a story.”

I don’t know what I would have said after that, but I saw a lantern bobbing in the dark and two voices called out the sign. We answered with the countersign and the watch had changed.

Back in our tent, it took an hour of holding each other close to warm up enough to sleep. I lay there wondering what happened to Gallathea and Phillida after the end of the play.

(copyright 2018 Heather Rose Jones, all rights reserved)

[Continue to the next installment]

* * *

*Historic note: John Lyly’s play Gallathea was first performed in 1588. I haven’t yet pinned down the precise date of these sketches yet, but my current approximation is during the Nine Years’ War of the Grand Alliance, in the 1690s. It’s extremely unlikely that Lyly’s play was still being performed at that date, though some plays of the era did have long runs through multiple revisions and adaptations. But I’ve taken the liberty of having my character see a performance.

Major category: 
Monday, January 15, 2018 - 07:00

In my focus on the "facts and documents" end of historic research, I tend to have little patience for discussions of "theories about theories" far removed from a consideration of the lives and experiences of actual people in history. That doesn't mean that I don't value them. The study of history is far from an objective, value-neutral practice, and if we don't examine and address the subjective, value-infused context in which history is done, we end up accepting those contexts as "fact" when they are far from any such thing. Freeman's discussion here brings exactly that sort of challenge to historic theory, using the imagery of a religious transformative experience as metaphor. I've ended up enjoying reading and thinking about these theoretical articles a lot more than I expected to. And if any of you find yourselves intrigued by the summaries of them that I'm presenting here, you might enjoy reading the collection itself as well.

Major category: 
Full citation: 

Freeman, Elizabeth. 2011. “Sacramentality and the Lesbian Premodern” in The Lesbian Premodern ed. by Noreen Giffney, Michelle M. Sauer & Diane Watt. Palgrave, New York. ISBN 978-0-230-61676-9

Publication summary: 


A collection of papers addressing the question of what the place of premodern historical studies have in relation to the creation and critique of historical theories, and especially to the field of queer studies.

Freeman, Elizabeth. 2011. “Sacramentality and the Lesbian Premodern”

Where “lesbian” once signaled the avant-garde, it now is often interpreted as quietly normative, as pre-post-modern in comparison to “queer.” Freeman plays around with the semantics of “pre” and “post” for a while. She considers how the roots of historical theory are found among medievalists but that the primary texts and their analysis are often ignored by current theoreticians. She makes a comparison suggesting that lesbian/feminist scholarship occupies a similar relationship to queer theory: the concrete roots of the theory are ignored or unknown to those working in current theory. Freeman calls for a re-valuing of those roots, if only to better evaluate and critique the theory. There follows much discussion of that process of evaluation and critique. Freeman considers historical theories as “secular” but points out that this framing excludes a definition of religion as “a set of knowledge practices and embodied rituals.” From that point of view, secular modernity is a “habitus” of religion rooted in Protestantism, and conversely the critical avant-garde has a sort of sacramental approach to the concept of history as a systematic whole. In this framing, “sacramental” history includes more subjective “ways of knowing” that include desires, bodies, and fantasies. The acceptance of theory becomes like the experience of the Eucharist: a passive transformative acceptance. Can texts be treated as sacraments and experienced via transformative incorporation? Could this result not in expertise over, but community with, the past? The paper ends with an extensive discussion of how this framing would apply to the various papers in the volume.

Saturday, January 13, 2018 - 12:05

Lesbian Historic Motif Podcast - Episode 18b - Interview with Kathleen Knowles

(Originally aired 2018/01/13 - listen here)

A series of interviews with authors of historically-based fiction featuring queer women.

In this episode we talk about

  • Kathy’s interest in reading about the LGBT history of San Francisco
  • Her favorite historians, including Lillian Faderman, Martin Duberman
  • What inspired her three connected novels set in turn-of-the-century San Francisco, culminating with the Great Earthquake
  • Historic eras Kathy would like to tackle in future books, including the US Suffragist movement, post-World War II San Francisco, and the Paris salon culture of the 1920s

Kathy’s historic novels:


Bold Strokes Books Website:

Amazon Page:


  • @knowleskathy


(No transcript is available at this time)

Major category: 
Friday, January 12, 2018 - 10:10

The countdown is running to the release of Lace and Blade 4 containing my new Alpennia story "Gifts Tell Truth". Preorder links are up at all major e-book dealers. (There will also be a trade paperback edition.) Editor Deborah J. Ross is running a series of interviews with the contributors on her blog. Check it out and watch for when mine appears!

I really enjoyed having a chance to write this story of some of the early adventures of Vicomtesse Jeanne de Cherdillac. She's such a fun and complicated character to write about and has a great deal of not-yet-seen history packed full of stories. (I'll be writing another story about Jeanne's youth that has a framing story set at the end of Floodtide, which I plan to time to bring out just after that book releases--though I have no firm idea when that will be yet.) It's interesting to watch reader responses to Jeanne. Love her or hate her, she definitely provokes opinions! For me, the challenge in writing her is that she's so very different in personality from me, not only in being such an extrovert, but also in how strongly her passions and desires drive her. Once I had her settled down with Antuniet in the course of The Mystic Marriage, I eliminated the possibility of other romantic adventures for her moving forward in the timeline, but she does have a past. (Wow does she have a past!) And I suspect I could get a whole volume of stories out of that past eventually.

Major category: 
Gifts Tell Truth
Thursday, January 11, 2018 - 07:00

One of the themes that I find really valuable in this collection of essays is poking at the question of whether and why it is important to find connections between historic modes of sexuality and the modes familiar to modern producers and consumers of historic research and theory. Given how prominent and foundational Lillian Faderman has been in the field of lesbian history, I always feel a bit guilty when I describe my winces at certain of her approaches, though in this essay I think she addresses the underlying premises of those winces fairly directly. One that is stated outright in this article is "can there be lesbian identity in the absence of sexual activity?" Faderman seems to argue for a negative answer both explicitly in this article and implicitly in much of the discussion in Surpassing the Love of Men, and the obvious reason that this position makes me wince is that it erases the concept of asexual lesbians. If one erases them in the historic record, the obvious implication is to erase them in the modern experience as well. I can understand the position that the complex prototypical model for lesbian identity includes erotic desires and activity between women, but any position that requires it as a necessary defining characteristic is a position that erases my own existence.

A second point the Faderman makes in this essay--one that I'm far more on board with--is that it's important not to get too fixated on lesbian identity as publicly transgressive of social norms. To allow for women who are outwardly conforming (or at least not outwardly non-conforming) but whose lives embody emotional and erotic experiences that can only be seen as lesbian. One of themes promoted in the modern lesbian community is that the state of being a woman who loves women is inherently and existentially transgressive, no matter how it is outwardly expressed. When applying this principle to women in history, we shouldn't overlook or dismiss lesbian lives simply because they were not engaged in a public confrontation with heterosexual expectations. This is a theme that has significant effects on lesbian historical fiction. Modern readers are deeply attached to characters who are outwardly transgressive: passing women, outlaws, women in male-coded professions. Our fiction should have room for stories about the more subtle rebellions of simply existence as well.

Major category: 
Full citation: 

Faderman, Lillian. 2011. “A Useable Past?” in The Lesbian Premodern ed. by Noreen Giffney, Michelle M. Sauer & Diane Watt. Palgrave, New York. ISBN 978-0-230-61676-9

Publication summary: 


A collection of papers addressing the question of what the place of premodern historical studies have in relation to the creation and critique of historical theories, and especially to the field of queer studies.

Faderman, Lillian. 2011. “A Useable Past?”

Faderman builds on Bauer’s discussion of how conventional historic approaches erase lesbian history, but adds that an abandonment of the concept of history as “what really happened” is a surrender to that erasure. She notes her own pursuit of lesbian history as an “unabashedly political project”--a pursuit of a “useable past” that offered the modern audience connection with history. Faderman has some possibly snide things to say about how the scarcity of premodern evidence for lesbians drives post-modern scholars to “all sorts of imaginative--and sometimes rather labored--devices.” On the other side, she notes how the longing for a “useable past” leads to ahistoricity (perhaps what is elsewhere called “search and rescue” missions). She asserts how the framework of Romantic Friendship allowed her to discuss intense loving relationships between women in the 18-19th centuries without anachronistically labeling them “lesbian”. This raises the question, if “lesbian” is an unstable concept, how is it possible to discuss lesbianism in history at all?

Faderman spends a while discussing how the strict scrutiny on the precise definition of “lesbian”--both within and outside the field of lesbian history--inevitably leads to erasing the realities of women who had primary emotional bonds with other women. But conversely, she probes at the question of whether “lesbian” has lost its most crucial meaning if it doesn’t refer to sexual relations. [Note: This is the theme that regularly bothers me in Faderman’s writing, that sex is the sine qua non of the word “lesbian”.] But she also notes that looking for “lesbian-like” data only in the context of social non-conformity excludes women whose lives were superficially conventional, despite strong evidence for female same-sex emotional or erotic relationships. “If our definition of ‘lesbian-like’ is limited to women who were openly outlaws, we’re in danger of losing much that is juicy and wonderful.” She notes the class divisions in responses to lesbian-like behavior and the promising evidence that knowledge and acceptance of female same-sex love was more widespread in premodern times than we often think.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018 - 07:00

I always mean to do these book intake posts more regularly. (Maybe I have and I failed to tag them properly?) But the point when I say, "I need to get these in the spreadsheet so I can shelve them" is at least a reasonable trigger. And it's well past time that I cataloged books I picked up on my travels in Europe last year! So, in some vaguely thematic groupings:

Books bought at Worldcon in Helsinki

Sinisalo, Johanna & Toni Jerrman eds. 2017. Giants at the End of the World: A Showcase of Finish Weird. - A small book published specially for the convention. 12 stories that look like they should be very quick reads.

Barbini, Francesca T. (ed). 2017. Gender Identity and Sexuality in Current Fantasy and Science Fiction. Luna Press. ISBN 978-1-911143-24-6 - A collection of academic essays on gender and sexuality issues both in literature and in the social context of writing and publishing SFF. I read this on the plane flying back after my travels and it was perfect distracting me without requiring intense concentration. I know that sounds like a weak endorsement, but it's not!

Books bought while traveling

Groeneveld, Karen. (I think -- it doesn't really have an author credit.) 2017. In de Pan van de Middeleeuwen. Woord & Co., Lochem. ISBN 978-90-823475-5-5 -- I'm a bit of a sucker for popular-oriented historic cook books. I picked this up in Deventer in the city historic museum gift shop. It's a souvenier-type cookbook of late medieval cuisine. The recipes are all modernized and there's nothing in the way of easily-traceable sources, so it's useless for actual research in historic cuisine. But I love examples of how popular history is pitched at the general public. (It's entirely in Dutch, so my chances of treating it as anything but a souvenier and curiosity are small.)

Williams, Gareth. 2014. The Viking Ship. The British Museum, London. ISBN 978-0-7141-2340-0 -- One of my back-burner projects is a historic novel set in the 10th century involving Welsh, Icelandic, and Viking Dublin settings. I took the opportunity while at the National Museum of Ireland gift shop to pick up several useful research books. This is a brief technical guide to the structure and purposes of Viking-era ships, based on both archaeology and iconography. It will help me figure out just what sort of ship my Icelandic girl is captaining.

Griffiths, David. 2010. Vikings of the Irish Sea. The History Press, Stroud, Gloucestershire. ISBN 978-0-7524-3646-3 -- A scholarly but accessible survey of the political, cultural, and material context of Norse presence in the Irish Sea area in the 8-11th centuries, very nicely centering around exactly where and when my novel is set.

Wallace, Patrick F. 2016. Viking Dublin: The Wood Quay Excavations. Irish Academic Press, Sallins. ISBN 978-07165-3314-6 -- This would have been an extravagent purchase if it weren't so essential to the setting of some of the main action of the story. This is the definitive and copiously illustrated report of the intensive rescue excavations of Wood Quay in Dublin in the '70s and '80s, primarily providing evidence on the 10th and 11th century settlement. I can't even begin to say how useful this will be in visualizing the physical environment of my Dublin action in the story.

Schwarz, Christopher. 2015. Workbenches: from Design and Theory to Construction and Use. Popular Woodworking Books, Ohio. ISBN 978-1-4403-4312-4 -- OK, let's be clear: I have no illusions that I will ever design and build the perfect workbench in my garage and thereby enable me to create all sorts of projects easily and efficiently. I'll probably continue cobbling together work-arounds when I want to haul out the power tools. But I fell in love with this book when I saw a copy Joel Uckelman had, so I popped online and had my local bookstore in Oakland order me a copy to pick up when I got back home. (The bookstore owner said she was hard pressed to allow me to take it away with me because she hadn't finished drooling over it yet.) This is, for woodworking, like those glossy kitchen-porn magazines you pore over when you dream about remodeling your home. It's just esthetically pleasing and needn't be anything else.

Recent purchases for the Lesbian Historic Motif Project

Lesbian History Group. 1989. Not a Passing Phase: Reclaiming Lesbians in HIstory 1840-1985. The Women's Press, Ltd., London. ISBN 0-7043-4175-1 -- A collection of biographical articles on specific persons or contexts. This is one of those early "search and rescue mission" books whose main goal was to lay claim to specific persons for the lesbian team. But a couple of the articles are in my list of publications to cover, so it seemed worth picking up a secondhand copy of my own.

Bray, Alan. 2003. The Friend. University of Chicago Press, Chicago. ISBN 978-0-226-07181-7 -- Although Bray protests (perhaps a bit too much) against the reading of same-sex passionate friendships in history as being homosexual, the groundwork of evidence for how those friendships were performed and received is rigorous and extensive. His primary focus is on male friendships from the 16-19th centuries, primarily of the English-speaking world. He does cover women to some extent. (I decided to get the book after several references to it in the context of same-sex funeral monuments for women.)

Merrill, Lisa. 2000. When Romeo was a Woman: Charlotte Cushman and her Circle of Female Spectators. The University of Michigan Press, Ann Arbor. ISBN 978-0-472-08749-5 -- Sometimes a long trail of breadcrumbs leads you to conclude that there's a bakery worth visiting in the neighborhood. I'd been noting references to actress Charlotte Cushman in various contexts in LHMP publications, but when I read about several other women in her social circle (including several of her lovers) in Improper Bostonians, I decided I needed to do a podcast essay on her circle and began hunting down some books specifically to prepare for it. The blog and podcast are coming to an interesting stage where it sometimes makes sense (or at least is amusing) to plan ahead enough to coordinate a month's worth of publications leading up to the monthly podcast essay. I need to strategize when to schedule this set. I'm reading this book for the blog currently and finding it fascinating and quite a refreshing counter to claims that 19th century Romantic Friendships were definitely not erotic, no definitely not, nice women didn't do those things or even think about them, and they were blissfully ignorant of how their lives and relationships might look to a more prurient age.

Leach, Joseph. 1970. Bright Particular Star: The Life and Times of Charlotte Cushman. Yale University Press, New Haven. (no ISBN) -- An in-depth biography of Cushman. Given the date (and the male author) it will be interesting to see how much it touches on her sexuality and that of her social circle. Cushman gathered around her a group of talented, brilliant, and often homosexually-inclined women, both in her home base of Boston and at her second home in Rome. Their lives, loves, and interpersonal dramas would make excellent fodder for a historic soap opera (or inspiration for some great historical fiction!).

Miscellaneous Non-Fiction

Mercier, Jacques. 1979. Ethiopian Magic Scrolls. George Brazillier, New York. ISBN 0-8076-0897-1 -- If I'd spotted this book (and others on its topic) back when I was doing deep background research for the sort of mystical traditions Serafina Talarico might have known or heard about from her parents, I might have worked bits of the topic into the story of Mother of Souls. This book explores (with copious illustrations) a genre of talismanic magical scrolls that are part of Ethiopian Christian tradition, with examples in the book dating back to the 18th and 19th centuries. Although Serafina wasn't taught the mystical traditions of her own heritage, it's possible that she may find reason to learn more about this sort of thing in the future.

Schlabow, Karl. 1976. Textilfunde der Eisenzeit in Norddeutschland. Karl Wachholtz Verlag, Neumünster. ISBN 3-529-01515-6 (print on demand photocopy of the original text) -- I have an ethical principle that if I encounter a book that I once considered valuable enough to throw onto a photocopy machine in its entirety (we're talking out of print books here, since the labor and photocopy fees aren't really worth it for anything in print), I would buy it to expiate my sins against copyright. I could wish that this were acutally in print, since many of the photos of the textiles are less than useful in their third-hand state. This is pretty much THE definitive book on archaeological textiles in northern Europe from the Iron Age. I was using it recently as an example of the sort of book I would apply the aforementioned ethical principle to, and on a whim did a search and discovered that it had been made available in POD.

Homberger, Eric. 2016. The Historical Atlas of New York City. (3rd edition) St. Martin's Press, New York. ISBN 978-1-250-09806-1 -- I picked this up at the Museum of the City of New York back at Thanksgiving. I'm thinking it will be useful in sorting out various refernces in Abiel LaForge's diaries, especially after the war is over and he moves to NYC.

Misc. Fiction

I never seem to include ebooks when I do these intake posts, largely because I don't have a good systemtic way of tracking what I've bought since the last roundup. At least physical books sit there in a stack waiting to be entered. I do try to add ebooks to my catalog, but it's trickier.

Hambly, Barbara. 2017. Murder in July. (Benjamin January #15) -- Despite knowing that I have a hard time reading physical books these days, it's hard to let go of buying the hard copies for a series that I began collecting that way. I'm about six books behind in reading this excellent series.

Steffen, David. ed. 2017. The Long List Anthology: Volume 3. -- One outcome of the Hugo Award ballot slating mess several years ago was this project to anthologize the "long list" of nominated short works in order to honor those stories that got bumped off the ballot by the slates. Even as the power of the slates has been tempered by community reaction, the idea of the Long List Anthology has had enough appeal to succeed with this third Kickstarter-driven collection. I very much doubt I'll manage to read any of the works that I haven't already read (in preparation for the voting), but it's a project I don't mind supporting as a subscriber, and that nets me a copy.

Green Sacchi (ed). 2017. Witches, Princesses, and Women at Arms: Erotic Lesbian Fairy Tales. Cleis Press. -- Ok, so erotica isn't really my thing. I admit that. But lesbian fantasy is. And a couple authors I like are in this volume. So what the heck.

Parisien, Dominik & Navah Wolfe (eds). 2016. The Starlit Wood: New Fairy Tales. Saga Press. -- More fairy tales...a theme? This collection was much talked about (and contents much nominated) last year. But as usual, if I read it, it will be in e-book. So why did I buy a hard copy? Because it's just a physically gorgeous object. 

Major category: 
Tuesday, January 9, 2018 - 08:31

Lesfic author Jae has set up a fun reading challenge game for 2018: Lesbian Book Bingo. It's your basic genre/trope-based bingo card to encourage people to read a variety of books in 2018 and win a chance for prizes. I was invited to participate by donating some prizes and having one of my books listed in the Suggested Reading Lists. Here's the topic card for those who might want to participate, but follow the link to Jae's site to register and to participate in the topic-specific blogs (more chances at prizes!) and discussions.

Now, I don't know how many books I'll be reading that fit the bingo squares -- I barely read two dozen novels in a year as it is, and not all of them have lesbian characters. But just because I'm an overachiever and love a writing challenge, I'll be playing along by writing a short bit of fiction for each of the themes. And just to make it even more challenging, they'll all be part of a very loosely connected overall story, which of course will have a historic setting. I'll do my best not to go too far down the research rabbit holes because I do have other things I should be writing! But here's my first installment, for the "Women in Uniform" theme.

Follow the Drum (Lesbian Book Bingo: Women in Uniform)

Rat-a-tat-tat, rat-a-tat-tat. The rattle of drums had been the sound of my daydreams since I was a girl, walking to the marketplace with my mother beside the market wagon. From where we sold cabbages and onions at the edge of the cobbled square, I could just see down Heerenstraat to where the soldiers drilled in formation in the yard before the barracks. The bright flash of their coats, blue, green, and red, caught the eye and the sharp staccato of the snares called a promise of adventure waiting just a few steps out of reach.

If it had only been the local regiment marching and training, it wouldn't have stirred my blood, but the chance of where Zendoorn stood among the roads and between the great lords meant there were always troops coming and going. They settled into the barracks for a week or two, made a great show of their colors, drank their fill in the taverns, and then one morning the drums would call them away. I remember seeing one company, with the drummer boys out front beating the march, and the banners flying, and the men in their bright coats stepping in time as one as they set out on the road toward Antwerp and maybe even farther on to France. In that moment, my heart grew wings and beat in my breast to follow.

Mother boxed my ears and said, “Don’t you go mooning after soldiers like your cousin Greta!” Greta got nothing from her soldier love but a swelling belly and a lifetime of following the drum, washing and cooking for the soldiers. It wasn’t the soldiers themselves I yearned for but that promise the drums gave of somewhere to go, something to do, someone to be. Rat-a-tat-tat, rat-a-tat-tat.

When it was time for me to go out into service and save up some money for a dowry, or maybe to set myself up in trade, I got my fill of soldiers carrying beer for Mevrouw Trijn at De Leeuw. Oh, not my “fill” the same way Greta did! But the shine on the tinsel tarnished a bit seeing them up close, day after day, drinking and gambling their wages away, or spending their last coin on a night with one of the other girls who wasn’t as nice about it as I was. Trijn didn’t mind if the girls made a bit extra that way, but she didn’t require it either. The soldiers were men like any others. They marched in to town and soon they’d march out again. Most of them weren’t going anywhere but a foreign battlefield and weren’t going to be anyone but the farmer’s sons and runaway prentices they’d started as. But at least they’d have their chance, which was more than I’d have.

You got to know them, even as short a time as they were in town. Old Joost reminded me of my uncle with his tales and funny stories. Boastful Corneelijs talked big about what a hero he’d been in battle, but always had a word of encouragement for the new boys frightened at the thought of facing the guns. And then there was Martijn. I liked Martijn as soon as I brought the drinks around because he was quiet, and stopped his friends from trying to get a feel beneath my skirts, and when the others were telling rude jokes to try to get me to blush he only looked sideways at me with a crooked smile as if to say, “Never mind them, they’re just little boys.” Which was funny because he was shorter and scrawnier than the rest of them, without even a bit of hair on his lip yet. He was dark, like maybe his grandfather had been a Moor, and he had the most beautiful eyes. I liked him right off, but it felt sisterly, not like how the other girls talked about their sweethearts.

Martijn and his friends were there late into the evening, but he didn’t join in when they brought out the dice and cards. “Careful with my money,” he said, and I could understand that, though the other soldiers ragged on him horribly about it. Most soldiers spent as if they didn’t have a tomorrow. Well, and lots of them didn’t, so maybe I shouldn’t blame them. But it meant Martijn ended up sitting by himself and in a quiet moment I sat beside him and asked where he was from and who his people were. He didn’t really answer, but we talked about places he’d seen. He’d been as far away as Cologne, and once had even crossed the channel to England. He thought maybe he’d go for a sailor and see the Indies when the fighting was over. Maybe I was foolish, but I told him about how the drums made me feel, and how I’d always envied the soldiers marching away to see the world. He didn’t tease me for it, not even a bit. “But that’s for men,” I said with a sigh. “Not for the likes of me.”

It was a mistake to get friendly because the next day the word went round that Martijn’s company would be marching out on the morrow. No use in liking someone when you’ll never see them again. Martijn and his friends came back to De Leeuw that night. Most of them wanted what soldiers usually want before they leave: to get drunk and spend some time with a woman. I didn’t care for that sort of sport so I kept myself mostly in the kitchen, but as some of the girls slipped off to the upstairs rooms there was nothing for it but to carry the tankards around.

One of Martijn’s friends called out, “Hey boy! There’s your sweetheart!” and pushed him toward me so I barely kept from spilling beer over the both of us.

“Sorry,” he muttered and his face flushed even darker than before.

“Hey Martijn! We took up a collection to see you taken care of!” The man slapped a small handful of coins on the table as I set the tankards down. “You’ll see our friend treated right, won’t you Lena?”

I was used to turning matters aside with a few joking words, but it was Martijn they kept after. That wasn’t right. A man’s a man even if he doesn’t fall in bed with every woman he sees. Martijn took me aside and stared at the floor like he was ashamed while he asked quietly, “If you were to…well, you wouldn’t have to do anything? Just let them think we…”

I thought about my reputation, which wasn’t so big a thing as it might be. And I thought about the small pile of coins sitting on the table. But mostly I thought about Martijn and how he’d be marching away in the morning and wishing I could do that too. And I took him by the hand and scooped up the coins in my fist and pasted on a grin for his companions as I pulled him off toward the stairs.

When I’d closed and barred the door we both stood there feeling silly. There wasn’t anywhere to sit but on the bed and I didn’t want to do that in case he got the wrong idea.

“I’m sorry,” Martijn said. “They don’t really mean anything by it. It’s only that I have something of a reputation.”

“For being polite to women?” I said sharply. And then because it wasn’t his fault, I asked, “Have you never had a sweetheart?”

He gave me that crooked grin again. “A time or two. It’s…Lena, would you keep my secret if I told you?”

I frowned at him. What sort of secret could he mean?

“It’s only…I was thinking. Because of what you said about watching the soldiers march away to see the world."

“Women don’t do that.”

“Some of us do.”

I stared at Martijn for a long time trying to make sense of what he’d said. While I was staring at him, he shrugged off his blue uniform coat and started unbuttoning the brass buttons on his waistcoat. And just when I was finding my tongue to protest that I hadn’t changed my mind about bedding him, he…she pulled open her shirt to expose the small, round, pale brown bosoms underneath.

“Some of us wanted to see the world badly enough. We wanted to make better wages than we could doing sewing or cooking. It’s not an easy life, but the chance is there to seize if you dare to reach for it.”

Maybe it was what she said about daring to reach for it. Maybe it was not quite trusting my eyes. Maybe it was finally understanding that warmth that crept into the other girls’ voices. I reached out my hand to feel the softness that had lain hidden under the blue uniform. Martijn gave a little gasp and leaned against my palm so that I could feel the bud of her nipple harden.

“I have had a sweetheart a time or two,” she said with that crooked smile. “And they never had anything to complain about.”

By the time we came back down into the common room, only two of Martijn’s companions were still waiting for her. They gave a hoot of laughter and clapped her on the back, telling her it was long past time to get back to the barracks. Martijn came back to whisper in my ear one more time. “That should keep my disguise safe for a while. Having a close companion will keep it safer. Meet me in the lane behind the barracks before dawn. I’ll put your money to good use.”

There were a few long, cold minutes that next morning when I thought I’d been cozened. When I thought Martijn had taken my savings and left me with nothing but a kiss. Then a shadow slipped around the corner carrying a bundle of clothing. Martijn helped me dress in the unfamiliar garments quickly.

“There’ll be time enough to learn marching and all the rest. Having a uniform will be enough for now. Just keep close to me. I told the recruiting officer I’d look out for you and he made me promise to see you learned quickly.”

“I’ll learn quickly enough,” I told her.

And when the drums sounded out their rat-a-tat-tat, rat-a-tat-tat, there was one more soldier in a blue coat with brass buttons marching away down the road. A soldier with somewhere to go, something to do, someone to be

(copyright 2018 Heather Rose Jones, all rights reserved)
Major category: 
Monday, January 8, 2018 - 07:00

One of the more biting criticisms in this collection of the popularity of a "queer history" approach of a "lesbian history" approach is that the study of the history of male homosexuality has often rested on inherently misogynistic bodies of work--not merely the historic misogyny that skewed the historic record toward the experiences and opinions of men, but just as often the modern misogyny of historians whose desire to validate and elevate male homoerotic relationships in history relies on a denigration of the presence and valuing of women in society. Post-modern theories of history recognize that the study of the past is a subjective, biased practice, but that doesn't mean that all post-modern historical theories acknowledge and account for their own subjective and biased attitudes towards women. The desire for a unified theory of historic homosexuality cannot help but fail if it builds its theories solely on the evidence and experiences of men, and fails to recognize that women and men lived entirely different lives, regardless of their sexual orientation.

Major category: 
Full citation: 

Bauer, Heike. 2011. “Lesbian Time” in The Lesbian Premodern ed. by Noreen Giffney, Michelle M. Sauer & Diane Watt. Palgrave, New York. ISBN 978-0-230-61676-9

Publication summary: 


A collection of papers addressing the question of what the place of premodern historical studies have in relation to the creation and critique of historical theories, and especially to the field of queer studies.

Bauer, Heike. 2011. “Lesbian Time”

Bauer looks at the concept of periodization as it applies to sexuality and how the limitations on lesbian self-representation affect and are shaped by concepts of historic periodization, for example, the extensive debate around Foucault’s division of history relative to an acts/identity divide. By centering the writings and experiences of pre-modern women who loved/desired women, this collection calls the existence that divide into question, as well as calling into question the study of it. If the very concept of periodization and “modernity” rests on traditions that excluded and erased women’s lives, how can its conclusions about lesbian history be valid? Under the rubric of “lesbian time”, Bauer examines shared conceptual spaces that cut across conventional periodization to challenge the gendered concepts underlying it. These questions occur in parallel with similar challenges to racialized periodization.

Historians of male homosexuality draw on a long tradition of evidence made available and prominent by the gendered imbalance of historic records. Similar approaches to female same-sex history must first build an archive of historic data in order to establish a similar antiquity and tradition. Within this, the very existence of the organizing topic “lesbian” is contested.

The cyclic model of historic change evolves from and then is used to support a heteronormative and anachronistically modern concept of “family” as the basic structure. A temporality that rejects a generational model of history allows for the inclusion or even centering of other modes of relating. This includes a challenge to the importance of Foucault’s periodization based on the 19th century “scientification of sex” and demands consideration of structures outside that cultural scope. A consideration of “lesbian time” raises the question of how and by whom our notions of lesbian sexuality were shaped and transmitted. Bauer discusses how the other papers in the collection address this.

Bauer revisits a Victorian “proto-sexological” text, A Problem in Greek Ethics by John Addington Symonds, that examined classical Greek male same-sex desire from a social and philosophical angle to determine how it benefitted its social context. The work set a pattern for 19th century works affirming male homosexuality in arguing for male same-sex bonds as the ideal form of citizenship and the driver of all civilization and progress. He then makes the circular argument that women’s exclusion from social prominence meant that female same-sex desire could not similarly drive progress and thus why lesbian desire was not similarly sanctioned and therefore disappeared. [!] Symonds then argues that a shift from elevating male same-sex love to a “romantic cult of woman” resulted in the decline of civilization from the classical ideal. Thus, he simultaneously dismisses the relevance of the middle ages and of women as a class.

Bauer concludes by calling for attention to the way in which acceptance of current models of periodization similarly erase lesbian history and sexuality.


Subscribe to Alpennia Blog