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17th c

LHMP entry

The chapter begins with a survey of the types of published materials that led Lanser to identify the late 16th century as a shifting point in the discourse around sapphic topics. In 1566 a Swiss writer provides an account of a French woman who disguised herself as a man, worked as a stable groom and then a wine grower, married another woman, was eventually unmasked, and was executed. He notes “how our century can boast that beyond all the evils of the preceding ones” and explicitly disclaims any connection between events such as this and the “tribades in ancient times”.

Riffing off the title of Foucault's The History of Sexuality, Lanser turns the underlying question around. Rather than questioning what historic sources can tell us about human sexuality, she asks what the discourse about human sexuality can tell us about history. This book focuses on published discussions or treatments of “sapphic” themes in the 16-19th centuries.

(by Rose Fox)

Chapter 4 is "Classic Amazons: Performing Gender in Goethe's Weimar." Weimar was small and poor, far from major trade routes, with an enormous "dominating" palace. Krimmer doesn't mince words, drawing an analogy between the “great palace” and “shabby town” and the “acclaim for Weimar's male writers” versus the “obscurity of Weimar's female writers”. "In order fully to understand the gender concepts inherent in Weimar Classicism, we must read canonical works alongside marginalized texts by women writers of the time."

(by Rose Fox)

The book is primarily about Germany, but it touches on a lot of international issues. Chapter 1 analyzed two German novels about French women who cross-dressed to fight in wars. For my purposes, the most useful bit was a list of actual female French soldiers who wore men's uniforms. [Yay, more research to do!]

(blogged by Heather Rose Jones)

This chapter focuses primarily on the history of women participating in military contexts in male dress, whether actual disguise was the intent or not.

Starts off with Joan of Arc, as usual.

Chapter 5

Rather than arising from male fantasies as some suggest, the ballads are rooted in actual working class experience. Three features are key contributors to the context in which they arose. There was a general expectation of physical strength and toughness from working-class women. There was a context of near constant warfare and the routine participation of women in military contexts, as well as a somewhat less rigid and regimented structure to the military. And there was a general preoccupation with disguise and cross-dressing.

“Travesty” comes literally from “cross-dress” with the theatrical term later picking up its sense of general transgression. Anyone familiar with theater and opera from Shakespeare onward is aware how popular it was to include gender disguise in its many forms and consequences. The two most common expressions both revolve around anxiety about female-female desire: a woman disguised as a man who attracts female romantic attention, or a man disguised as a woman to gain intimate access to a woman who then worries about the ensuing “wrong” erotic attraction.

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.

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