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LHMP #112h Castle 2003 The Literature of Lesbianism: A Historical Anthology from Ariosto to Stonewall Part 8: 19th Century (third quarter)

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 8: 19th Century (third quarter)


My timing has worked out perfectly. I have one more queued-up post from Castle after this one, and I've just come to a breathing space in working on Mother of Souls (which is just about to go out to the beta-readers). I definitely think it's time to do a flurry of journal articles after this.

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In this set of works, women seem to have discovered the usefulness of fantastic and unusual imagery to disguise some rather intense eroticism in poetry. Subtle misdirection is also used in a novel to enable homoerotic scenarios. We also have a conventional work of romantic partnership. The male authors are largely sticking to sensational and decadent eroticism and misogynistic satire, with one set of poems lapsing to a more neutral, if voyeuristic, depiction.

Charlotte Brontë from Villette (1853) -- An excerpt depicting the characters engaged in cross-dressed theatricals that create a homoerotic implication.

Charles Baudelaire “Lesbos”, “Damned Women 1 (Delphine and Hippolyta)”, “Damned Women 2” (1857) -- More poems in the genre of decadent sensationalism with a male gaze.

Christina Rossetti Goblin Market (1862) -- A long poem that is strongly homoerotic, disguised in fantastic imagery.

Algernon Charles Swinburne “Anactoria” (1866), “from Lesbia Brandon (1864-67) -- Yet more decadent sapphic erotic poetry written by a man. The second piece is from a novel in which a cross-dressing man is romanced by a lesbian.

Paul Verlaine Scenes of Sapphic Love (1867) -- (Translation) A set of poems depicting love between women, quite overtly though somewhat voyeuristically.

Emily Dickinson “Her Breast is Fit for Pearls”, “Her sweet Weight on my Heart a Night”, “Going--to--Her!”, “Ourselves were wed one summer--dear--“, “Precious to Me--She still shal be--“, “The Stars are old, that stood for me--“, “Frigid and sweet Her parting Face--“, “To see her is a Picture--“ (1851-86) -- A selection of Dickinson’s more strongly homoerotic verses, addressed to an unnamed “she” who is generally taken to be Dickinson’s sister-in-law Sue Gilbert Dickinson. The emotions are expressed in poetic imagery, and open to interpretation.

George Augustus Sala translation of Martial’s Epigram VII.67 “Abhorrent of All Natural Joys” (1868) -- Yet another translation of the rather misogynistic classical Roman poetic satires on lesbian topics.

Thomas Hardy from Desperate Remedies (1871) -- A homoerotic episode from a rather convoluted novel, involving the somewhat predatory relationship of the protagonist and her employer. The lesbian aspect is somewhat diluted by the revelation that the predatory employer was previously in love with the protagonist’s father and has transferred her fixation.


Elizabeth Stuart Phelps “Since I Died” (1873) -- A fantasy in which a recently deceased woman addresses her mourning companion, with the implication that they had been lovers.

Time period: 

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