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LHMP #112f Castle 2003 The Literature of Lesbianism: A Historical Anthology from Ariosto to Stonewall Part 6: 18th Century (second half)

Full citation: 

Castle, Terry (ed). 2003. The Literature of Lesbianism: A Historical Anthology from Ariosto to Stonewall. Columbia University Press, New York. ISBN 0-231-12510-0

Publication summary: 


This is a massive (over 1000 pages) collection of works and excerpts of literature relevant to lesbian history. I’ve broken my coverage up in fractions of centuries that produce very roughly similar numbers of items, rather than according to the organization in the book itself.

Part 6: 18th Century (second half)


One of the aspects of this book that is really brought out by the chronological progression (shaped by the editor's choices) is the growing emergence of women's own voices, telling their own stories.

* * *

Male and anonymous authors continue to focus on lesbians in male-gaze pornography and crude sexual satire. The female authors in this group are instead writing of their own lives, whether the continuing poems on the theme of intensely romantic friendship, or the somewhat banal diaries of the most famous female romantic couple of the age, or the somewhat more transgressive (and likely sensationalized) memoirs of the cross-dressing/genderqueer Charlotte Charke.

The creation and publication of diaries and memoirs both provides unrivaled glimpses into the lives of marginalized people, and the risk (or opportunity?) of consuming a highly curated, potentially fictionalized version of their lives. Even candid, private diaries may be edited and filtered before being presented for consumption, whether by the original author, by that author's familial or literary heirs, or simply by the interests and preoccupations of an academic gatekeeper who is choosing and processing works for publication. Two such works are included here: the autobiography of actress Charlotte Charke, which was written specifically to be a professional publication and to manage Charke's public image, and the private journals of Eleanor Butler and Sarah Ponsonby, the "Ladies of Llangollen", which were written as a private record of daily life. These present an interesting contrast with external representations of lesbian lives.

Charlotte Charke from A Narrative of the Life of Mrs. Charlotte Charke (1755) -- Excerpts concerning Charke’s enjoyment of wearing male clothing and an erotic encounter with a woman while so dressed.

Anonymous from Anecdotes of a Convent (1771) -- Yet another entry in the genre of “convents are a hot-bed of lesbianism”.

Anonymous from “Dialogue between Sappho and Ninon de l’Enclose, in the Shades” (1773) -- This dialogue appeared in a scandal rag of the day and purports to be an encounter in the afterlife between the poet Sappho and the salonnière Ninon de L’Enclos. (There is no implication that Ninon had homoerotic tastes, but a clear portrayal of Sappho as primarily lesbian.)

Anonymous from The Adulteress (1773) -- A brief satirical poem, noteworthy for the unambiguous inclusion of “Tommy” as slang for a lesbian.

Giacomo Casanova from A History of My Life (1789-98) -- An erotic threesome involving Casanova and two women.

Marquis de Sade from Juliettte (1792) -- It will be utterly unsurprising to note that this excerpt involves sadistic lesbian pornography.

Eleanor Butler and Sarah Ponsonby from the journals of Eleanor Butler (1784-1821) -- Everyday lives of the most famous romantic female couple in England.

Anna Seward “Elegy Written at the Sea-side, and Addressed to Miss Honora Sneyd” (ca. 1780), from Llangollen Vale, Inscribed to the Right Honourable Lady Eleanor Butler, and Miss Ponsonby (1796) -- Poetry in the tradition of romantic sentimentality between women.


Mary Matilda Betham “In a Letter to A.R.C., On Her Wishing to be Called Anna”, “Invitation--to J.B.C.”, “A Valentine” (1797) -- More poems of romantic love between women.

Time period: 

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