Historic Couples: Passionate Friends
The article begins with a 16th century Spanish literary interchange between two women -- ostensibly a matchmaker and her client, but one rife with same-sex expressions of desire and moving into erotic play. After a standard review of a cultural/legal context where concern over male homosexuality did not extend to a similar concern about women unless a direct challenge to male prerogatives was involved, the article examines evidence from the life and memoirs of Leonor López de Córdoba, covering the late 14th and early 15th centuries.
The general topic of this article is the use of music and musical imagery in the experience and expression of religious devotion, particularly as an embodied experience. The starting point for the thesis is the establishment of a rhetoric of embodied sensual experience of “divine music” both as a metaphor and as literal sensory perception. The author states: “I will explore just a few of the many ways in which Hildegard’s musical compositions exemplify her own conceptions of body--particularly the female body--and its central role in religious devotion.
In the 16th century Laudomia Forteguerri wrote sonnets to Duchess Margaret of Austria, five of which survive. And at least one contemporary of theirs placed the relationship between the two in the context at Plato’s myth of lovers seeking their "other half”, placing them in a list of "those who...love each other’s beauty, some in purity and holiness, as the elegant Laudomia Forteguerra loves the most illustrious Margaret of Austria, some lasciviously, as ...
In this chapter Donoghue examines texts, both fictional and biographical that examine close and long-term friendships between women. The selection here is focuses on the complexity and difficulties of real lives rather than those that idealize friendship.
In this chapter, Donoghue addresses the concept of “romantic friendship”, both as the term was use in the 18th century, and as applied by modern historians in situations when no irrefutable evidence of genital sexual activity is available. In both cases, the use of the term “friendship” tends to dismiss the strength of the bond (which frequently involved a lifelong partnership) and set up a false dichotomy between these relationships and more overtly sexual ones identified as “lesbian”.
The introduction begins with a contradiction that inspires the book’s title. In twenty years of correspondence between Queen Anne and Sarah Churchill, the Duchess of Marlborough (who were famous for their close and loving friendship), the two closed letters with phrases in which the words “passionate” or “passionately” figured prominently. And yet a comment by Sarah regarding a somewhat scandalous pamphlet described it as including “stuff not fit to be mentioned of passions between women”. Did the word “passion” have distinct and separate meanings in these two contexts?
Renaissance philosophy tackled the question of friendship: who is an appropriate friend, what behavior should a friend exhibit, what is the relationship between the love of friends and sexual desire? Given the times, the majority of texts addressing this topic were concerned with friendships between men, though a nod was often given to Sappho as a proponent of female friendships, or to the possibility of “Platonic love” between women, which is given explicit license in the Symposium as well as by Renaissance writers commenting on it, as Agnolo Firenzuola did.