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Millennium Hall (Sarah Scott)

18th century English utopian novel in which women bound by close friendships create a community with charitable ideals.

LHMP entry

This chapter examines the depiction of Romantic Friendship in literature, where the ideals and motivations can be easier to see than in biographies. Fictional characters sometimes found it easier to achieve the economic independence that let them realize the dream of setting up a life together. Novelist Sarah Scott wrote about such an ideal in A Description of Millenium Hall (1762) as well as achieving something close to it herself with her inseparable friend Barbara Montagu (once Scott had succeeded in separating from a brief and disastrous marriage).

Prolific 18th century writer Eliza Haywood was known for treating themes of love and passion in her fiction and plays. Although her public life included several long-term relationships with men and at least one “unfortunate” marriage, this article examines the treatment of passions between women in six of her texts. Ingrassia notes that views of female relationships in her work have tended to overlook the same-sex aspects, despite the narratives regularly offering alternatives to the standard “marriage plot”.

This article looks at the 1744 novel The Travels and Adventures of Mademoiselle de Richelieu, concerning a cross-dressing lesbian heroine who goes about Europe having adventures. Woodward examines this text in the context at other 18th c novels with similar themes that veer off from the lesbian resolution. She also considers the problem of the work’s authorship. It purports to be a translation into English by a man of a French original, written by a woman, but there are reasons to doubt several aspects of that framing.

Lanser emphasizes again that this study is not looking for historical lesbians--particularly given that the majority of the texts she examines are by men--but for ways the image of the lesbian is used public discourse.

While the Inseparable motif sometimes employs a male character to bridge the practical logistics of forming a female couple, it is more natural for a triangle of this sort to frame the man and woman as rivals for their shared object of desire. Sappho’s fragment 31 encapsulates the envy of a woman for the man who has the attention of the woman she loves. And in contrast to the common motif of-two men competing for a woman's love, when one of the rivals is a woman there is always an awareness that the playing field is badly uneven.

There are many aspects of the history of homosexuality where an assumption of parallelism between the experiences of men and women leads to erroneous conclusions about what did and didn’t exist. For men seeking sexual experiences with men, there’s a fairly well documented history of networks, meeting places, and informal associations that helped them achieve their ends.

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 18th century saw a polarization in attitudes, both in popular culture and in real life, between the "safe" de-sexualized romantic friendship (associated with educated and upper class women) and the "dangerous" sexual, gender-transgressing lesbian (associated with lower-class or socially marginalized women). Gonda looks at two women who--although their lives and careers show striking parallels--could be considered prototypes of these poles.

Lanser opens with a letter from the intellectual Elizabeth Montagu in 1750 deploring the plan of two female friends to live together as it will "hurt us all" if women "make such a parade of their affection" leading to suspicion regarding all female friendships. Lanser argues that Montagu's objection is unlikely to be to romantic friendships as such. The sister to whom the letter was addressed would later pen Millenium Hall, a celebration of separatist female friendship.

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