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The Monday holiday almost made me lose track of setting this post to go live! Such is the power of habit--my brain is in weekend mode. The next few LHMP entries are chosen to tie in with the August podcast "Beguines, Boston Marriage, and Bed Death: Historic Archetypes of Asexual Lesbianism". This week we look at a study of modern (well, at least 1990s) asexual lesbian relationships with reference to the historic concept of Boston Marriage.

Using the records of court cases to research lesbian lives in history is a two-edged sword. On the one hand, they often present a wealth of detail not found in any other type of record unless--by miraculous luck--a personal diary or set of candid correspondence is unearthed. But conversely, court cases, by their nature, present a skewed view of people's lives. They show people in conflict and distress. They arise when relationships go bad, or were never particularly good in the first place.

The full picture of what life was like comes not just from individual details nor from the "official" opinions of professionals, but from an interaction between the two. The legal theories of what constitutes "sodomy" for a woman won't tell you what women were actually doing, but it will help us understand what the potential consequences were for them, depending on the nature of their activities. Similarly, a learned physician's opinion about whether lesbianism was a moral or a medical matter could inform what arguments could be brought to bear on how such women should be treated.

One of the regular challenges to understanding the history of lesbians, even in as defined a scope as Europe, is the accessibility of the literature--not just the languages of the primary sources, but the languages in which research is published. I will freely confess that my own access is largely limited to material published in English, though I can work my way through a German article if need be.

Velasco takes a deep look at how the historical facts of a specific individual are interpreted and rearranged to suit the entertainment and didactic purposes of later ages. From that angle, this book is strongly aligned with the underlying purpose of the LHMP: to consider how history can be used as a basis for fiction, without the fiction being constrained entirely by the history.

In 16-17th century Spain, a fictional genre emerged called the "picaresque novel". It features the adventures of a roguish protagonist, generally of low social class, who lives by his wits in the midst of a corrupt or dystopian scoiety. These works are generally written in the form of an autobiographical narrative and are episodic in nature, featuring neither an over-arching plot nor significant change or development of the protagonist as a character.

It's been a lot of fun doing a themed set of blogs and podcasts this month focusing on Sappho. The new episode is out, talking about the transmissiong of Sappho's body of work down the centuries, with examples of translations and works inspired by her poetry. I'm looking for other topics where I can coordinate publications and podcasts. And look for some changes coming to the LHMPodcast in August, with an expanded schedule and new types of content. Just as a hint: one of the new features will be interviews with authors of historically-based fiction featuring queer female characters.

This month I’m getting my fill of a particular sort of academic study that brings together parallel examinations of several related subjects (or persons) to build a layered case for the author’s conclusions. There is often a tendency to throw in a section of random leftover topics somewhere toward the end. This sounds a bit more negative than I mean it to feel -- academic writing has some rules and structures that are quite different from a more popular approach to historic topics. But it can make it hard to recommend books like this to a general reader.

Usually when I cover books of the density and length of those I'm doing this month, I break them up into multiple entries to spread out the work of reading and summarizing. But because I wanted to do this "Sappho Special," I'm doing a book a week, and it's being a big grueling (as well as making for some very long blogs). Andreadis is a very dense but readable work, though the theoretical interpretation gets a bit repetitive in later chapters. For this reason, I took more extensive notes in the first few chapters than later ones.

When Heather invited me to be guest blogger, I didn’t hesitate. It’s so nice to see there are other people like me who are interested in the place lesbians took in history and in the strength and perseverance they had to maintain just to love another woman.


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