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Saturday, June 5, 2021 - 07:00

Lesbian Historic Motif Podcast - Episode 203 - On the Shelf for June 2021  - Transcript

(Originally aired 2021/06/05 - listen here)

Welcome to On the Shelf for June 2021. Happy Pride Month!

This month rather snuck up on me, what with one thing and another. I dropped the ball a bit and didn’t manage to get an author interview for this month. Fortunately, that’s not as fatal as it was back when I was doing interviews as separate shows!

But speaking of interview shows, one thing I’ve accomplished in the past month is to get nearly caught up on commissioning transcripts of all the past interview shows. I still have a bunch of them to proofread and post to the blog, but I’m very close to having full transcripts for every podcast I’ve done. And going forward, I hope to have the interviews transcribed in “real time” so they post with the rest of the transcript when the show is released. I’ve been working with several very talented transcribers, so if any of you need to hire someone for that type of work, I can make recommendations.

News of the Field & Book Shopping

This time last year, all sorts of conferences were scrambling to figure out how to pivot to online programming. This year it feels like organizations are starting to get the hang of things, and we can hope that some of the advantages of virtual conferences will be retained going forward, even as we eventually enjoy a return to face-to-face events. One of the things that ate up my time in May was virtually attending the annual Medieval Congress, normally held in Kalamazoo. If you follow my blog, you can read my notes of some of the sessions that touched on queer history. The conference book sales also accounted for my book shopping for the Lesbian Historic Motif Project in the last month. I picked up books on a lot of topics, of course, but the relevant ones are two new releases On the Queerness of Early English Drama: Sex in the Subjunctive by Tison Pugh, and  The Shape of Sex: Nonbinary Gender from Genesis to the Renaissance by Leah DeVun. They’re both a bit peripheral to the core focus of the Project, but look fascinating nonetheless. The third book is a slightly older book: Heterosyncrasies: Female Sexuality when Normal Wasn’t by Karma Lochrie which challenges some of the assumptions about normative female sexuality in the premodern period.

Another online conference that’s coming up is the Golden Crown Literary Society, held over multiple weekends in July. I took advantage of the virtual nature of the event to propose a panel on historical fiction, which was accepted. So on Sunday July 25, at 12pm Eastern Time, I’ll be part of a panel of authors talking about why historical fiction is important and why we choose to tell those stories. So if you have a membership to GCLS, I hope you’ll join Lynn Ames, Catherine Lundoff, Penny Mickelbury, Bonnie Morris, and me.

Publications on the Blog

So, I’ve mentioned a couple times that the month of May kind of landed on me like a ton of bricks, and there’s no more solid evidence of that than the fact that I didn’t post any Lesbian Historic Motif Project blog entries. I started Jen Manion’s book Female Husbands at the end of April and then…got busy. So what had been on the May schedule—that is, finishing up Manion’s book—is now rolled over into June. I’ll spare you the details of the ton of bricks that was May. Let’s just say that sometimes I have to remember that the blog and podcast are only my second job, and sometimes they have to give way. I wish I could say that they were my third job with the second one being my fiction writing, but it’s an unfortunate fact that the more immediate deadlines of the blog and podcast tend to push the writing aside and at some point I’m going to need to make a reckoning of that.

Recent Lesbian Historical Fiction

But at least other people are putting out new books, so let’s talk about them!

There’s one April book to catch up on. I’d waited to include this until I could get more information on whether it has actual sapphic content, since the cover copy is all just hints and suggestions. Katy Turton is a historian specializing in Russian history, and her novel Blackbird's Song: A story of the Russian Revolution, from Stairwell Books, takes that depth of knowledge in fictional form. It tells a story from the waning days of Tsarist Russia, when Anna forms a university friendship with two siblings—and evidently especially with the sister, Rosa—and is drawn into revolutionary action. Love, struggle, and tragedy are intertwined. It isn’t clear to me whether the story has a conventional happy ending.

I found three more May books. Kalikoi looks like a brand new publisher, specializing in books about women who love women. They have a historical title An Intimate Study by Margaret K. Mac set in Victorian England, in which Dr. Alana Brighton is looking for an artist’s model to do some anatomical studies. But the woman who signs on has some rather different interests in the doctor’s anatomy. It looks like this is a rather steamy romance.

We dip back into the medieval fantasy of Arthurian England for The Black Knight and the Lady by J M Dragon from Affinity. This is another book where the cover copy is a bit too coy about the characters, and if it weren’t that the publisher is solidly focused on sapphic fiction I might have overlooked it. After King Arthur’s last battle, a knight is entrusted with the protection of a lady returning home from Camelot. The knight conceals a perilous secret and from context I’m guessing that the secret has to do with why this book is coming out from a queer press.

Born of the Sea by Kate Castle from Dark Horse Publishing is subtitled “The Untold Story of Anne Bonny and Mary Read.” Given their popularity as characters in pirate adventure novels, I’m not sure that any story about Anne Bonny and Mary Read is left untold at this point, but if you’re the sort who can’t get enough of these real-life pirate women, then here’s another title to add to your collection.

Someone was commenting on twitter that everyone seems to want their queer novel to come out during Pride month. I haven’t necessarily seen that as a pattern for sapphic historicals in past years, but I can’t deny that this June is busting out all over with books. Ten titles! I’m going to organize them roughly in chronological order, starting out with a couple of mythic settings where I’m not familiar enough with the cultural cues to guess at a more specific inspiration.

Fynn Chen’s self-published Scarlet Dandelions: The Zither and the Sword looks like it might appeal to fans of historical C-dramas on tv. A coming of age story of two princesses that blends politics, peril, and what looks like a deliciously slow-burn romance.

Another historical fantasy with a rather different flavor is the anxiously awaited The Jasmine Throne by Tasha Suri from Orbit Books. A bitter exiled princess and a powerful priestess hiding in the role of her servant find their destinies—and their hearts—colliding. This story of empire and resistance is the first in a series set in a mythic history inspired by India.

Also set in a fantastic version of history, Kat Dunn’s Monstrous Design, from Zephyr, continues the story and characters from Dangerous Remedy, with a band of friends, allies, and lovers braving the dangers of the French Revolution and new enemies in England in a struggle that may tear them apart.

Olivia Waite gives us the third book in her semi-connected Regency romance series with The Hellion's Waltz from Avon Impulse. If you’ve loved either of her two previous books in the series: A Lady’s Guide to Celestial Mechanics and The Care and Feeding of Waspish Widows, then you won’t need any extra urging on this one. Piano teachers and silk weavers and con artists and union organizing feature in another of Waite’s romances throwing women in unexpected professions into each other’s paths.

Later in the 19th century, C.F. Frizzell gives us an American Civil War romance in Measure of Devotion from Bold Strokes Books. One woman disguises herself as a man to join the Union army. Another woman is inexplicably drawn to the soldier, having set her heart on finding a woman to love. (Both seem to have a rather modern understanding of their sexual orientations.) The battle of Gettysburg becomes the catalyst for revelations and new understandings.

We now have another story set in Tsarist Russia, and once again it seems to be more of a drama than a conventional romance. In Yvonne Zipter’s Infraction from Rattling Good Yarns Press, a sweeping cast of characters revolves around Marya Zhukova in St. Petersburg, drawn from intellectuals and litterati, spinsters and debutantes. There is at least one female same-sex romance involved but I can’t tell how prominent it is in the story.

Here’s another book where I’m having to trust the invisible Amazon keywords that there’s lesbian content—though if there is, we can read between the lines of the otherwise vague references in the cover copy. Annabel Fielding’s self-published Lying With Lions is set in Edwardian England and has a semi-gothic feel. Agnes takes a position as archivist for the ruthless, ambitious, and glamorous head of the Bryant family, Lady Helen. She finds herself thrust into a world of secrets—her own, and those she discovers in the Bryant records. I’m guessing there may be some romantic tension between Agnes and Helen. If I’ve guessed wrong, then I have no idea why this is tagged as lesbian fiction.

I love a good old-fashioned historical mystery. In Sarah Bell’s self-published The Murder Next Door, two women—discrete “companions”—become inadvertent witnesses to the circumstances of their neighbor’s murder and insatiable curiosity draws them deeper in. Set in 1912 in Leeds, England this is not only a who-dunnit but a why-dunnit, that questions the conflict between law and justice.

We finish with two books with American settings in the Roaring Twenties. Nghi Vo has previously had books in these listings with a mythic Chinese-inspired setting: The Empress of Salt and Fortune and When the Tiger Came Down the Mountain. Moving to the glittering world of the social elite, The Chosen and the Beautiful, from Tor-dot-com, is a reimagining of The Great Gatsby seen through the eyes of minor character and pro golfer Jordan Baker, written as a Vietnamese adoptee and a lesbian. Oh, and there’s magic.

The final June book is Nekesa Afia’s Dead Dead Girls from Berkley Books. In 1920s Harlem, Louise is trying not to worry that young Black girls like her are turning up dead, until an altercation with the police leaves her with an ultimatum: help solve the murders or land in jail. Although the cover copy makes no mention of it, the main character is a lesbian. It’s unclear whether there’s a romantic subplot.

And that’s it for the new and recent books – something for everyone this month!

What Am I Reading?

And what about me? In the past month I’ve read two books. Both happen to be published through Kickstarter campaigns that I supported. Patience and Esther by S.W. Searle is a graphic novel telling the delightful and relatively angst-free romance of two servants in Edwardian England, a Scottish country girl struggling to help support her family, and an Anglo-Indian woman, lonely and far from anything she considers home. The supporting cast includes a freespirited, if self-centered socialite and a group of working women and feminists in which our heroines find community and support. I was caught a bit unawares by the amount of explicit sex depicted in the pages, though I guess if I’d been familiar with the author’s work I wouldn’t have been surprised. It’s a case where the cover art and description don’t quite reflect that aspect of the content.

The other book I finished is the anthology Silk and Steel, which sprang from the premise “romantic adventure with swordswomen and princesses – or their analogues in other settings.” The content of the collection is exceedingly varied, not only in genre but in tone. I’d venture to say that if the basic premise of the book grabs you, there will be at least one story in this collection that hits smack-dab in the middle of your sweet spot and at least another handful that you’ll find very enjoyable. There was only one that was a bit of a clunker for me. The rest were just what the label promised. And the excitement around this collection gave me a thrill at what it says for the market for sapphic stories outside of lesfic circles.

Pride Storybundle

I’d like to finish up this show by taking a little advantage of my platform and telling you about a great project that I’m part of. Every year the Storybundle organization puts out a Pride Storybundle in June, with a collection of queer genre fiction at a great price. The works in the bundle are offered in all the standard formats and you have the option of directing part of your purchase price to the queer charity selected by the organizers. This year the works included in the full bundle are:

  • No Man's Land by A.J. Fitzwater – which was included in our new book listing when it came out.
  • Silver Moon by Catherine Lundoff – the first book in the Wolves of Wolf’s Point series about a pack of menopausal werewolves fighting crime and sometimes falling in love with each other. And this year Catherine has picked up the reins of organizing the Storybundle from Melissa Scott.
  • Dropnauts by J. Scott Coatsworth – Scott has been an online friend since I first bumped into him at Rainbowcon in Florida several years ago. He mostly writes gay science fiction.
  • Burning Bright by Melissa Scott –Melissa was a pioneer in writing queer science fiction all the way back in the ‘90s. This is one of her classic stories, blending science fiction and video games.
  • Highfeil Grimoires by Langley Hyde – A fantasy of magic and aristocracy featuring a gay protagonist.
  • The Four Profound Weaves by R. B. Lemberg is a Nebula and Locus award finalist set in the author’s Birdverse and explores issues of gender and identity.
  • Succulents and Spells by Andi C. Buchanan looks like a cozy little magical mystery with an herbalist witch and the more scientifically-minded woman who comes to her for help.
  • City of a Thousand Feelings by Anya Johanna DeNiro is an epic fantasy featuring two trans women as protagonists.
  • Mother of Souls by Heather Rose Jones – that’s me, of course – is from my regency-era Alpennia series, focusing on the magical power of music and the struggles of a woman who can see, but not perform, magic.
  • Blood Moon by Catherine Lundoff is the brand new second book in her werewolf series.
  • Spellbinding by Cecilia Tan features a collection of erotic short stories from her magic university series.
  • Glitter + Ashes edited by Dave Ring is an anthology of hopeful queer post-apocalyptic stories.
  • Queens of Noise by Leigh Harlen is a madcap romp of punk music and shapeshifters in a queer found-family.
  • Stone and Steel by Eboni Dunbar is an intense and dramatic conflict between a returning general and her queen, who is also her lover.
  • Skythane by J. Scott Coatsworth – A quest across planets with a gay romance threaded through it.
  • Stories to Sing in the Dark by Matthew Bright – An anthology of speculative stories with a variety of queer representation.

There you have it, a book bundle with something for every queer reader, and new authors to discover. Check out the link in the show notes for details on how to take advantage of this offer.

Show Notes

Your monthly roundup of history, news, and the field of sapphic historical fiction.

In this episode we talk about:

Links to the Lesbian Historic Motif Project Online

Links to Heather Online

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Mother of Souls
Thursday, June 3, 2021 - 08:01

Once again I"ve been invited to participate in the Pride Storybundle -- a collection of queer genre fiction, offered at an irresistable discount price! For the last Storybundle I participated in, we leapfrogged over Mother of Souls to offere Floodtide when it was still fairly fresh. But now I've circled back to offer Mother of Souls, which completes the set of Alpennia novels to date across four Storybundles. (I guess I'd better get writing on book 5!) The offer will be running all month and I'll be doing various promo, including some guest posts from other authors in the bundle.

Collage of book covers


The 2021 Pride Bundle - Curated by Catherine Lundoff

We're back again with another queer-themed bundle for Pride — five books in the main bundle and a generous eleven in the bonus, for a total of sixteen if you spring for the bonus. As has become usual, we were spoiled for choice: there are just so many writers out there for whom intelligent, nuanced queer writing is their default mode. There is never an easy way to winnow things down to a manageable number.

We've made some arbitrary decisions. You won't find stories here in which being queer means you're evil, nor any in which it's a doomed and tragic fate. There are places for the latter, but this is June, Pride Month, and we're sharing books that celebrate queerness in all its aspects. We've tried to include some newer writers — and new works — as well as reintroducing a few older ones; we've included six novels, seven novellas, an anthology and two short story collections. The bundle includes science fiction, fantasy, steampunk, urban fantasy, and more, all chosen for their queer vision. And these are visions that celebrate our multitudes, all written by authors at the top of their game. You'll find diverse character, an equally diverse range of styles, and stories that will hold you entranced until the very last word.

We don't claim that this is the (or even "a") definitive LGBTQ+ collection. The field is too large now for anyone to claim that. What we can promise is that this is a celebration of queerness, and a range of stories that shows off some of the best writers working today.

StoryBundle has always allowed its patrons to donate part of their payment to a related charity and once again we're supporting the Rainbow Railroad, a group helping LGBTQ people escape persecution and violent worldwide. If you choose, you can donate part of the bundle's price to them — a gift that can save a life. Catherine Lundoff

* * *

For StoryBundle, you decide what price you want to pay. For $5 (or more, if you're feeling generous), you'll get the basic bundle of five books in any ebook format—WORLDWIDE.

  • No Man's Land by A.J. Fitzwater
  • Silver Moon by Catherine Lundoff
  • Dropnauts by J. Scott Coatsworth
  • Burning Bright by Melissa Scott
  • Highfeil Grimoires by Langley Hyde

If you pay at least the bonus price of just $15, you get all five of the regular books, plus eleven more books! That's a total of 16!

  • The Four Profound Weaves by R. B. Lemberg
  • Succulents and Spells by Andi C. Buchanan
  • City of a Thousand Feelings by Anya Johanna DeNiro
  • Mother of Souls by Heather Rose Jones
  • Blood Moon by Catherine Lundoff
  • Spellbinding by Cecilia Tan
  • Glitter + Ashes edited by Dave Ring
  • Queens of Noise by Leigh Harlen
  • Stone and Steel by Eboni Dunbar
  • Skythane by J. Scott Coatsworth
  • Stories to Sing in the Dark by Matthew Bright

This bundle is available only for a limited time via It allows easy reading on computers, smartphones, and tablets as well as Kindle and other ereaders via file transfer, email, and other methods. You get multiple DRM-free formats (.epub, .mobi) for all books!

It's also super easy to give the gift of reading with StoryBundle, thanks to our gift cards – which allow you to send someone a code that they can redeem for any future StoryBundle bundle – and timed delivery, which allows you to control exactly when your recipient will get the gift of StoryBundle.

Why StoryBundle? Here are just a few benefits StoryBundle provides.

  • Get quality reads: We've chosen works from excellent authors to bundle together in one convenient package.
  • Pay what you want (minimum $5): You decide how much these fantastic books are worth. If you can only spare a little, that's fine! You'll still get access to a batch of exceptional titles.
  • Support authors who support DRM-free books: StoryBundle is a platform for authors to get exposure for their works, both for the titles featured in the bundle and for the rest of their catalog. Supporting authors who let you read their books on any device you want—restriction free—will show everyone there's nothing wrong with ditching DRM.
  • Give to worthy causes: Bundle buyers have a chance to donate a portion of their proceeds to the Rainbow Railroad!
  • Receive extra books: If you beat the bonus price, you'll get the bonus books!

StoryBundle was created to give a platform for independent authors to showcase their work, and a source of quality titles for thirsty readers. StoryBundle works with authors to create bundles of ebooks that can be purchased by readers at their desired price. Before starting StoryBundle, Founder Jason Chen covered technology and software as an editor for and

For more information, visit our website at, tweet us at @storybundle and like us on Facebook. For press inquiries, please email

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Saturday, May 29, 2021 - 07:00

Lesbian Historic Motif Podcast - Episode 202 – The Adventuress by Catherine Lundoff - transcript

(Originally aired 2021/05/29 - listen here)

This quarter’s original story is by Catherine Lundoff. Catherine has a long writing career covering fantasy and science fiction, historical, horror, and (under the pen name Emily L. Byrne) erotica. In addition to writing her own fiction, she teaches workshops on both the practice and business of writing and publishing. This year she’s also the coordinator of the Pride Storybundle, which both she and I will have books in. I’ll have more details about that next week in the On The Shelf episode.

Catherine’s latest novel is Blood Moon, the second book in the Wolves of Wolf’s Point series, featuring a pack of menopausal werewolves who protect their community and solve crimes. The series is published by Queen of Swords Press, yet another one of Catherine’s projects – a publishing house devoted to swashbuckling tales of derring-do, bold new adventures in time and space, mysterious stories of the occult and arcane and fantastical tales of people and lands far and near.

“Swashbuckling tales of derring-do” is an apt description of the story Catherine has for us today. Set in the Carribbean of the 17th century, this adventure features the pirate Jacquotte Delahaye and the courtesan and spy Celeste Girard as they encounter a rival adventuress, known by the code-name “Astrea”. This is the third of the Jacquotte and Celeste stories that the Lesbian Historic Motif Podcast has been delighted to host. I love the blend of peril, intrigue, flirtation, clever escapes, and solid historical settings. So set your imagination for blue seas, dark alleyways, and secret messages in “The Adventuress.”

This recording is released under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International Public License. You may share it in the full original form but you may not sell it, you may not transcribe it, and you may not adapt it.

The Adventuress

By Catherine Lundoff

“William Byam is the most fawning fair-tongu’d fellow in the world…” Celeste paused to look up at Jacquotte Delahaye over the stolen letter that she was reading from to see if the pirate captain was paying any attention to what she was reading aloud. “She has a barbed tongue, this English lady. But, listen, there is more: this Byam, he seeks to make an alliance with the Spanish king to make himself lord over this English Willoughbyland.” She stumbled slightly over the unfamiliar syllables of the colony’s name.

“Of course he does,” Jacquotte muttered. She was poring over a list of loot that her crew had taken from the English merchantman that they had captured only yesterday, but she looked up with a sigh. So far the only thing of any real value had been the bundle of letters that she had taken from their captain. For a brief moment, she wondered if anyone would pay for this information, at least until she saw the gleam in her companion’s eye.

“If I read her code aright, she says she is in danger, that this Byam may imprison her or worse soon. She must have proof of this connection to Spain—I must go and learn more. King Louis will want to know of this. Do you have pirate business in Cartagena or nearby, perhaps? If not, I can go alone. Perhaps Marie would like to accompany me.”

Celeste tapped her lovely pink lower lip thoughtfully with her finger. She was sprawled on the bed wearing a delightful lace and satin confection that made Jacquotte long to take it off as swiftly as possible. She rose and crossed the wooden floor with three strides that effortlessly adapted to the motion of the waves beneath the ship. “’Pirate business,’ as you so charmingly call it, can be done on the shipping routes that lead from Cartagena as well as those that venture near Port Royal or even Saint Martin. And we can even dabble in respectability. Bosun Miguel is eager to see how well a cargo of tobacco will sell in the markets of Paramaribo and here I can give him the chance to find out.” The pirate captain leaned down and gave her lover a rough, passionate kiss.

“Don’t you need to tell them to change course?” Celeste murmured some time later.

Jacquotte rose with a sigh and began getting dressed. “I sometimes wonder, chéri, who the actual captain of this ship is.”

Celeste watched her leave the cabin with a laugh before she rose and got dressed. Then she went to the desk to begin her own examination of the papers that Jacquotte had been studying so intently.


It was fortunate that it was a relatively short journey from Jacquotte’s hidden island base on St. Germaine to the waters of Surinam, at least from Celeste’s perspective. She wanted to find this English lady before the woman was imprisoned or found a way off the colony and back to England or wherever she planned to go next.

She spent some hours considering the writer’s likely identity, in hopes that it would help her find the other woman more quickly. The signature on the letters had been in code, like many of the references; “Astrea” was unlikely to be her true name. From her writing style, Celeste deduced that she was educated, but probably not a noble. A high-ranking servant like a governess or a companion, perhaps? Or an unmarried lady sent to the colony by her relations to find a husband in the circle of exiled nobles and men of means who had fled Cromwell’s Commonwealth?

They called such women “adventuresses,” among other things, and it amused Celeste to think that she was seeking a kindred spirit. Perhaps they might find some ground for exchanging information that benefitted them both. A shout from the deck interrupted her thoughts and she rose to exit the captain’s cabin in a flutter of long skirts.

Land was clearly visible on the horizon, complete with palm trees and a snug harbor near a beach that beckoned through the glass when she borrowed it from Jacquotte. The captain had her crew strike their privateer colors and replace them with a Dutch flag before they sailed into the shipping lanes where other vessels were likely to identify them. The visible parts of the deck and the pirates themselves had undergone a transformation into a well-armed merchant ship: unusual, but far from rare in these waters.

Celeste had transformed herself into a young colonial lady from Saint Martin and Jacquotte, more reluctantly, was turned into a respectable-looking young man who could be introduced as her brother. Marie and a few of the other pirates who had been servants in their previous lives were dressed for their parts as well and the whole party climbed into one of the small boats and disembarked in the port at Willoughbyland without incident after they anchored in the harbor.

“How much did you bribe the harbormaster?” Jacquotte asked her bosun, just loud enough for Celeste to hear her and flutter her fan up to hide her smile. The pirate captain threw her hands up in a brief gesture of disgust when Miguel answered her question in quiet, courteous tones, as befit a senior crew member on a rich merchant vessel. Having seen Miguel covered in blood with a dagger clenched in his teeth while swinging a cutlass on more than one occasion, Celeste turned away to study the crowd on the wharf to observe what she could of the locals as much to stop herself from laughing out loud at the incongruity.

The wharves were full of sailors, merchants and laborers, like any other merchant shipping port on the sea, but for the fact that so many of them were plainly English. A woman in a plain brown gown walking along the dockside in front of their ship caught her eye just then, despite the fact that the other woman was a drab bird in the sea of color and movement around her.

Their eyes met and the other woman quickly dropped her gaze and hurried away toward a side street, heading away from the wharf. “Marie, “ Celeste said thoughtfully, “ did you see that lady? The one in the plain brown gown who seemed to be in a hurry not to be noticed?”

“Oui, Mademoiselle. She became nervous when she saw you looking at her.” Marie tilted the parasol that she held over Celeste’s blonde curls. “Would you like me to see where she goes? I will meet you at the inn after that.”

Celeste nodded and took the parasol, watching as Marie vanished into the patchwork of crowds that swarmed around them. Jacquotte moved up to stand beside her, “Anything amiss?”

“Curiosity, for the most part. I am hoping that I may have caught a glimpse of our English lady, but it will depend on what Marie sees.”

“You must thank me later for insisting on bringing Marie with us when we left Saint Martin.” Jacquotte gave a throaty laugh as Celeste wrinkled her nose but nodded her agreement. “She will never make a pirate, but you will make a spy of her yet.” The captain turned and ordered their small troop of disguised pirates to pick up the baggage and follow her and they made a small parade of it toward their lodgings.


“What I don’t understand,” Jacquotte said, her voice almost plaintive, “is how, despite only being in port a few hours, you have already obtained so many invitations?” She was sprawled on Celeste’s bed, booted feet dangling off the edge, and looked as relaxed as a pirate captain in disguise could look under the circumstances.

“His Majesty’s loyal subjects are ever vigilant and eager to assist each other.” Celeste gave her a wry grin before she went back to carefully arranging the lace around her décolletage. She had not dressed to appear younger than her actual years in some time and it was proving more challenging than she had remembered. The trick was to look innocent and fresh while still appearing intelligent and witty, thus keeping the invitations rolling in.

“Indeed. And the Cardinal?”

“Is no doubt too preoccupied with his own plots to concern himself with us.” Celeste looked up triumphantly and checked the mirror. “Dinner should almost be ready, Marie is ingratiating herself with the salonnier’s servants, you have already readied several escape plans and Miguel and your crew are representing your business interests in the taverns along the wharf. We can relax and enjoy ourselves while we watch for this Englishwoman to reveal herself.”

Jacquotte stood with a sigh and put her jacket back on. She tidied her clothing and held out her arm. “My sister, shall we go down to dine?” Celeste rose with a light laugh and they exited, arm in arm.

Several hours and some social events later, Celeste found herself wishing that they had not eaten such a full meal at the inn before they left. Her stays creaked a little as their host urged ever more food and drink on them and she stifled an unrefined burp as she looked around the house. At least this one was a Frenchmen’s home and furnished with far more style than the English employed here in this strange little colony.

Jacquotte discussed trade with their host and his merchant friends as Celeste considered what they had learned so far. “Astrea” should be easier to find than she had feared; the merchant’s wives had provided her with a short list of possible suspects. The other spy’s fears were well-founded: Governor Byam was imprisoning and exiling his more vocal critics and his advisors had been making overtures to Spain.

In and of itself, Willoughbyland was too small to arouse concern in Paris, but if Spain controlled it, the impact might be far larger than the physical size of the colony: the wealth of the exiled nobles, coupled with its position on shipping lanes and access to good harbors could help seal off this part of the Caribbean to French ships. And that was not a risk to be ignored.

Jacquotte nudged her foot and Celeste started out of her thoughts and back into the conversation with a quiet apology. Pleading exhaustion from their journey, they left soon thereafter for the inn. “What, if anything, did we learn from that tedious evening? Apart form how charmingly distracted you can become during a conversation with merchant’s wives?” Jacquotte inquired in dangerously conversational tones once they were back in their rented coach.

Celeste tilted her head with an amused, coquettish grin. “Do you long for a night in the wharf taverns, my love? Brawling and drinking and dueling and perhaps being taken up by the Watch? You are better at this than you pretend. I have an idea of where to find our English lady and a much shorter list of possibilities as to her identity. What did you learn from your compatriots?”

“They had some difficulty believing that we were Dutch so I passed us off as being French, but from the Sint Maarten side of the island. Apart from that, I believe I may have found several buyers for Miguel’s beloved tobacco cargo.” Jacquotte reached out and coiled a finger in one of Celeste’s blonde curls. “And I learned that this Byam has declared himself governor for life.”

Celeste raised one eyebrow. “Why not king? Why stop at governor?”

Jacquotte shrugged. “Perhaps because it is already taken? Or because they have too many of Cromwell’s former followers in residence now to accept such a thing? They have been tolerant of religious differences and were governed through an assembly, one that elected the governor, at least until last month. Imagine Catholics, Jews, Protestants, Cavaliers and Roundheads, all living peacefully side by side like the proverbial lion and the lamb.” Jacquotte gazed into space for a moment, then added, “Why, they might be pirates!” She laughed cheerfully at the thought.

Celeste frowned at her in wonderment, trying to imagine how such a society had come to be. “Do they keep slaves for their sugarcane fields then? Or are they too at liberty?”

Jacquotte sobered. “They are not so enlightened as that. For that, they would indeed need to be pirates. Perhaps we should declare St. Germaine to be a queendom and welcome all comers?”

The sound of pistol shots and a woman’s scream outside, together with the carriage rattling to a sudden halt had the pirate on her feet in a moment. Celeste pulled the small pistol that she kept in her reticule free as Jacquotte tugged her small sword out of its scabbard. Celeste leaned forward and looked cautiously out the coach window. “Ah!” She exclaimed and unlocked the carriage door so Jacquotte could leap out.

She followed on the latter’s heels to find a woman in a cloak struggling with two men who were trying to take her off the street. One held her arm while she struck at the other, trying to break free, her breath harsh and heavy in the still night air. Celeste looked at Jacquotte and the other nodded, baring her teeth.

“I do not think that the mademoiselle wants to go with you,” Celeste said very firmly. She pointed her pistol at the man holding the woman’s arm while Jacquotte advanced on the other.

Jacquotte’s opponent muttered an oath in Spanish and drew his sword, while the one facing Celeste merely laughed. “What a charming toy, Mademoiselle! But this is not a game for foolish young ladies. Give that to me before you hurt yourself.” He smirked, the expression devilish on his long thin face. He towered over Celeste and the woman that he still held tightly by the arm and while he wore no coat of arms, his stance suggested that he was a Spanish soldier.

Blades clashed as Jacquotte and her opponent began to circle each other and a shot rang out. The Spaniard gave Celeste an incredulous stare, releasing the woman as his hands rose reflexively to his now bleeding chest. A string of oaths poured from his lips and he yanked his own pistol free of his belt. His hand trembled, but not enough, not enough, Celeste thought as she watched him wide-eyed.

The other woman struck at him, something shining in her hand. He gave a gurgling shout and swung his arm out, narrowly missing her face as she twisted his arm and struck him again. Celeste pulled her own knife out just as the woman yanked her arm free and threw him off balance. The man lurched, staggering and bleeding, toward Celeste, his arms stretched wide to seize her.

Celeste braced herself just as a motion caught her eye. Jacquotte’s blood-covered small sword flew straight as an arrow into the man’s chest and he fell with a final gurgle. Celeste whipped around to see the pirate’s foe on the cobblestones bleeding at her feet. Behind her, the inn’s coach could be heard galloping off into the night. Jacquotte uttered an oath and strode over to free her sword.

At that moment, the woman in the cloak turned and fled, her dress streaming behind her as she dashed up the alley and vanished around a corner. “Chase her!” Celeste demanded. “That’s her! It has to be!”

Jacquotte gave her a look of incredulity, but wiped her sword clean with a swift motion and ran after the fleeing woman. Celeste followed them, moving as swiftly as she could in her more elaborate dress and tight embroidered jacket. When she reached the end of the alley, Jacquotte and their quarry were out of sight and a piratical oath slipped past her lips. She looked around, wondering if she should hide here and hope Jacquotte came back or try to make her own way back to the inn.

After a long few moments, she thought she saw a landmark that she recognized and gave a cautious glance around. She could hear the Watch’s shouts growing nearer so she turned and faded into the shadows, moving in the same direction that the coach had gone.


Jacquotte found herself in what appeared to be a blind alley, her quarry nowhere in sight. She spun around, sword in hand, her gaze darting to each shadow in turn. After a moment, she walked to the end of the alleyway and paused, motionless in the deeper shadows, to wait. After what felt like an eternity, another shadow detached itself from a nearby doorway and slipped away toward the next street.

The pirate followed, sword held carefully against her leg to conceal it from the glow of the moon. There came some distant shouting from behind them: the Watch must have found the bodies. Hopefully Celeste had gotten away and returned to the inn. That dress was not made for speedy pursuits. Jacquotte bit back a smile at the thought of returning in time to help her paramour disrobe.

With an effort, she focused again on her quarry. Celeste thought that this was the woman that they sought, but was she right? Jacquotte did not fancy chasing a random streetwalker through the alleys of a strange town in the middle of the night unless there was a payoff at the end of it. She could, she realized a moment later, simply go back to the inn and say that she had lost the trail. They could look again tomorrow. Or perhaps she could get Celeste to forget this foolishness and they could enjoy themselves here for a bit, then leave for Paramaribo with the rest of the tobacco. The ships were rich in this part of the sea; they could take a merchantman or two while sailing back home.

Just a few more steps and she would go back to the inn…the woman who charged out of the darkness hit her sharply on the head with a stick and Jacquotte reeled back, nearly skewering her with her unsheathed sword. She swore vigorously and caught the woman’s arm as she tried to run away. “You fool! What are you doing? We stopped to defend you!”

“And now you are following me! How do I know that you’re not—”

“A Spanish soldier sent to assassinate or kidnap you? You don’t.” Jacquotte pulled her out into the moonlight. “Are you Astrea?”

Even in the dim light, she could see the other woman’s face pale. Then saw her expression shift. “You’re a woman!”

“Why don’t you yell loud enough for the Watch to show up and find me with bloodstains on my sword, mademoiselle?”

Astrea clapped a hand over her mouth, then dropped it with a sigh. “Very well. Let us suppose that I do use that name. Who are you and why are you following me?”

“Let us say that I am here at the request of a friend. As to who I am, I don’t believe that information would make you feel any better right now. Where are you going? If you mean to return to your lodgings, I suspect that they will be waiting for you there as well. Do you have anything there that you must have?”

“My clothes, some letters…” her voice trailed off and she reached out her hand to rest it against the bricks beside them. For a moment, it looked as if she might faint.

Jacquotte sighed heavily and impatiently. She was a pirate, not a nursemaid or a spy, but she knew that she could not just leave this woman here and return to lie to Celeste. For one thing, Celeste would know, somehow, and for another, well, that was best left unexamined. “Come with me. I will take you to meet the friend who helped rescue you. She can explain everything.”

“Everything?” Astrea arched a dark eyebrow. “She must be most unusual.”

“That she is.”


Celeste was sitting in a chair by the fire waiting for them impatiently when they got back to the inn. She leapt up to greet Jacquotte, then froze when she saw that she was not alone. “Wait, why did you bring her here? Are her rooms watched?”

“We had no reason to assume otherwise,” Jacquotte replied with a shrug. “I assured her that you could explain who we are and what our role is.” She walked over to the chair and dropped down into it, helping herself to a large swig from Celeste’s wine jug.

“You…of course, you did. Very well.” Celeste gave her a quick glare, then switched to English. “Astrea, please sit down.” She gestured toward the other chair. The woman favored her with an intense dark-eyed stare that combined exhaustion and distrust. Celeste walked over and grabbed the wine from Jacquotte’s hands. She handed the jug to Astrea, who took it cautiously and sat down slowly and reluctantly.

“I could tell you that we are a brother and sister from Saint Martin, newly arrived with a cargo of tobacco, but you already suspect that to be false. Instead, I will tell you that we have these and that we know what you are doing here.” She walked over to her trunk and pulled out a battered stack of letters, turning them so the other woman could see the broken wax seal.

Astrea blanched and stared at them in horror. Celeste could see her gaze dart around the room, looking for weapons. She must think they worked for the Spanish or for Byam himself. Celeste held up a hand. “I am Mademoiselle Celeste Adele Girard and I am here in the service of France. This is my br—” She paused as Jacquotte shook her head.

The pirate continued where she left off. “I am Captain Jacquotte Delahaye and I am—”

“A pirate!” Their guest gasped. “But how…why…” She trailed off, looking from Celeste to Jacquotte and back again, clearly seeking answers. After a moment of silence, she raised her hands in a puzzled gesture, then shrugged. “All right, you’re a pirate and a French spy, if I’m understanding this correctly. And you have my letters so I assume that you want information that you think I have. I want to make a trade.” Astrea drew in a trembling breath and crossed her arms.

“Indeed,” Celeste tilted her head and sat on the bed across from her. “One might argue, mademoiselle, that you are in no position to bargain, what with the governor being your enemy and Spanish soldiers chasing you.”

Astrea drew in a sharp breath and glared at her, “My letters were in code! You don’t know everything that I found out!”

Celeste gave her a superior smile, but Jacquotte chose that moment to interrupt them with a heavy sigh and a restless movement. “I would like to go to sleep before dawn so I will simply ask what it is you want in return for the information you think you have.”

The other woman eyed them both warily before finally fixing on Jacquotte. “I want passage to Jamaica. I have…acquaintances there that can help me get back to England. I don’t have the funds to take ship from here and, as you have pointed out, I do not believe that Byam or the Spanish would let me leave so easily. I know you have a ship in port: hide me on it and help me get to Port Royal.”

“So simple and yet so much risk for us. Is your information worth that?” Celeste practically purred her words, but one could hear the touch of menace behind them.

It was the beginning of a short negotiation, longer than Jacquotte liked, but shorter than any of them feared. Astrea provided them with additional information and some of the documents that she had obtained. “But not all of them and not my code, not until you get me to Port Royal. Then I’ll give you copies of what I have; I do need something to give my employers when I reach London.”

Celeste glanced at Jacquotte and got a sleepy nod. “Very well. You may sleep on the floor here tonight and we’ll make other arrangements in the morning.”

Astrea’s lips parted in what was clearly going to be a protest, but she stayed silent at Jacquotte’s frown. She accepted a blanket with ill grace and stayed sitting in the chair with the blanket wrapped around her. “I’ll sleep here rather than have you undo my stays, thank you.”

Jacquotte sighed and stripped out of her outer garments before climbing into the bed behind Celeste. She blew out her candle and while the two spies stared at each other by firelight, closed her eyes and was soon quietly snoring.


Getting the English spy to the ship involved some inventive planning. Marie and one of the men went to her rooms and gathered her meager possessions and spun her landlady a tale about her staying with newly arrived friends from England. Once a few shillings lined her pocket, she helped them pack Astrea’s things.

Then, there was the matter of the tobacco cargo. Miguel managed to sell most of it, though at a lower price than he had hoped. Still, it was enough to make this a profitable voyage and Jacquotte was loath to alienate the local merchants by fighting their way out, as her crew suggested. Their departure would, she thought with a heavy sigh directed at the women across the room from her, have to be done Celeste’s way.

“A pity we cannot easily disguise you as a man,” Celeste said wistfully, eyeing Astrea’s curves. She tilted her head to one side and Astrea rolled her eyes.

The Englishwoman plucked a pillow from the bed and a sash from Celeste’s clothes and proceeded to lash the former to her stomach. “There. A change of clothes, a hat, some dirt rubbed on my face to look like a sparse beard and I am a man, for the nonce. Long enough to get to your ship and even enough to pass inspection as long as no one looks too closely.” She bowed awkwardly over her newly padded middle.

“Convincing enough for me. I’m off to the ship to prepare, but I’ll be back in two hours with a cart to fetch you. Be ready.” Jacquotte nodded in a way that made it clear that this was not a request and swept out the door.

“I begin to feel as if I am in a comic opera,” Celeste said, throwing her hands up. “Very well. We will try what you suggest.”

When the cart arrived, Celeste was accompanied by Marie and a plump, pale man whose head was being eaten by an overly large hat. They were nearing the wharf when soldiers marched in from a nearby street and surrounded them. Jacquotte’s hand went to her sword, but Celeste caught her arm. “Gentleman, why do you stop us? We are simply returning to our ship.”

“And these, Mademoiselle, are part of your crew?” The biggest of the soldiers smirked, his expression suggesting such a thing to be impossible.

Celeste laughed musically. “Oh, you jest sir! No, of course not. This is my brother, my maid and my brother’s servant. We are bound for the Lynx and returning to Saint Martin and home.”

“Indeed.” The soldier swaggered closer to take a hard look at Astrea, who slouched and looked bored. She tugged her forelock under the hat and gave an awkward sitting bow, then spread her legs on the bench and scratched her inner thigh, just below the padding she had inserted in her breeches. The soldiers guffawed. “Got French fleas, do you? Well, take them away. You’re not the one we’re looking for.”

They parted and let the cart through, but the party was silent until they reached the Lynx and unloaded. As they prepared to set sail, Celeste eyed their companion. “You could almost be an actor with such an ability to disguise yourself.”

Astrea laughed. “My thanks, Mademoiselle. I have quite enough trouble being taken for a whore already.” Her face grew thoughtful. “Though perhaps I might claim the anonymity of my pen and write some of my adventures down for the stage. Mercí, Mademoiselle. You have given me an idea.” She turned and began to walk away, her steps leading her toward the Captain’s cabin where she would stay until they reached Port Royal.

“Wait,” Celeste called after her, intrigued by her shift in expression. “What is your name, your real one?”

The other woman turned and doffed her oversized hat. “Aphra Behn. Mrs. Aphra Behn, at your service. Look for it if you find yourself in London in a couple of years.”

Celeste shifted her parasol and gave her an amused sidelong glance. “Oh, I will, Mrs. Behn. I will.” She watched the other woman walk away and tried to imagine a female Shakespeare. Jacquotte caught her eye and she laughed quietly at the direction her thoughts had taken. “Why not?” She murmured to herself and climbed the stairs to the foredeck to join the captain.

Show Notes

This quarter’s fiction episode presents “The Adventuress” by Catherine Lundoff, narrated by Heather Rose Jones.

Links to the Lesbian Historic Motif Project Online

Links to Heather Online

Links to Catherine Lundoff Online

Major category: 
Thursday, May 27, 2021 - 20:11

This will be the last session I blog for this year—and just in time because the recorded sessions will be going off the web in a day or two. In the past half dozen years I’ve been delighted at how many papers there are on the history of magic, across a wide variety of cultures and practices. One of the pitfalls in writing historical fantasy is being insufficiently imaginative regarding magical elements. We get so much of our exposure to historic magic filtered through popular culture, which has all the hazards of anything picked up from popular culture. One of the ways I combat that in my own work is to go back to original sources, in all their irrational detail. And the magic papers at Kalamazoo have given me a lot of leads, as well as a passing exposure to even more magical cultures that I don’t have time to explore on my own. For the immediate topic—love magic—I’m glad to see that one of the papers addresses the issue of consent, which is most often ignored within the historic context itself.

Carved in Apples, Addressing Stars, or Encrypted: Love Magic in the Medieval and Early Modern German Tradition - Chiara Benati, Univ. degli Studi di Genova

German love magic texts are attested relatively late (14th c and later) as compared to healing charms. It’s a heterogeneous group of texts with a variety of purposes, not only attracting love but also retaining the attention of a straying partner. The love-attraction charms are usually directed at women. The name of the target is a key element, incorporated into the charm. This is combined with other physical elements. There is usually a description of the negative effects the target should feel if they don’t succumb. A sample: write certain symbols on your hand, and at a specific time and place speak the formula demanding that the person (by name) love you. A similar one, but write the symbols on an apple (while it’s still on the tree) and see that the target eats it. (Often the charms are directed at someone who is unaware of the practitioner’s interest.) Another formula involving writing the target’s name on the tongue of a frog. The previous involved very short formulas, in some cases just symbols and the target’s name, but there are also longer texts with more details of what is desired and the consequences of not responding. The desired state is described in terms similar to obsession: compulsive thoughts, inability to sleep, etc.

Charms against infidelity are often focused on periods of temporary separation. They may invoke Christ as guarantor of the partner’s fidelity. They often have a threatening tone and may use Marian analogies to describe the pain the partner will suffer if they are unfaithful. The paper goes in detail into a specific 15th c charm that includes formulas found in another magical text as well, but in this case the charm is written in a mixture of Greek and Latin letters. The parallels between the two charms indicate a connected tradition despite other differences in the texts. Speculation that the use of Greek letters may have been to disguise the magical nature of the text, in a context where users of magic were beginning to be prosecuted.

Magical Matchmaking: Third-Party Love Potions in Medieval Romances - Dr. Dalicia Raymond, PhD English, Spartanburg Methodist College

Compares examples from Tristan & Isolde and Lancelot & Elaine. By “third party” love potions she means potions created and administered by someone other than the target couple. In T&I, Isolde’s mother provides a love potion to Isolde’s handmaiden to be used in the context of her upcoming wedding, but it is accidentally consumed by her and Tristan, resulting in their mutual love and driving the plot. Isolde’s mother intended only positive outcome (that the partners in the arranged marriage would love each other). The potion is intended to be kept secret from the recipients, denying consent to the lovers. The text does not condemn the lovers or the administrator of the potion, but only the potion itself and perhaps the practice of using love potions in general.

In the case of Lancelot & Elaine, Lancelot is framed as the primary victim of the potion while Elaine’s experience isn’t particularly explored. Elaine’s father, believing Lancelot to be the prophesied father of Galahad, arranges for Brisane to make a love potion to ensure that the two has sex (because it’s the will of God). The romance presents the result as a divine plan, despite its immorality. In this case, Lancelot’s coerced desire is explicitly against his stated desires. Elaine is depicted as desiring the outcome, but not as being affected by a potion. It’s unclear whether she is aware that Lancelot has been coerced.

Summary: in contrast to love potions administered by a member of the couple, which generally have personal motivation, these third person love potions are done for political and strategic reasons and are relatively free of consequences. But what consequences there are tend to fall on the victims of the potions, not the administrators.

Reclaiming Freedom with Magic Potions - Mathilde Pointiere Forrest, Louisiana State University

[Evidently the speaker was not able to join the panel.]

Teaching "Love Magic" in the Aftermath of #MeToo - Dr. Emilee J. Howland, PhD, State Technical College of Missouri

Discussion of issues of love magic and consent in Chaucer and Mallory, both of whom faced charges of rape. A general discussion of how to teach topics that parallel evolving social concerns in the classroom. Background discussion of the #MeToo movement, especially in academia. In love magic, a person is compelled by an outside force to participate in sex—negating the person’s right to consent or not. The speaker discusses how the rape charges against Mallory and Chaucer are often presented with justification or amelioration. “It wasn’t actually rape.” “The word didn’t mean what we understand by rape.” “The charges were made by a third party, not by the woman.” These justifications may then be turned around and applied to modern contexts. How can the historic motifs and actions be put in context in ways that are both true to the history and sensitive to student circumstances and reception? Handling direct examples of assault and rape in texts requires one set of approaches. But how does love magic fit into this? How do we navigate the dynamics of consent when trickery or magic remove a character’s ability to provide informed consent? And how do those dynamics change when the outcome (e.g., production of a prophesied child) is depicted as an ultimate good? Does the end justify the means? Dealing with this material is part of the current challenge of progressive academia.

And that's it for Kalamazoo until next year! All that's left now is the unboxening of the books, which all appear to have arrived at this point.

Major category: 
Tuesday, May 25, 2021 - 19:53

It's a bit frustrating that some of the more interesting papers are the ones the authors don't want shared. But there are a lot of reasons why speakers request no social media sharing. In some cases, the images are shared that require licences for general "publication" as opposed to research purposes. In some cases, the paper is part of a research project intended for publication and general sharing would undermine the "value" as a publication. Some academics working on "hot button" topics--especially those with marginalized identities--feel the need to carefully manage their public exposure to avoid having to deal with hostile attacks in social media. (Not typically a problem in Christine de Pizan studies, but I'm speaking more generally of the conference as a whole.) The issue of conferences asking for affirmative consent for social media sharing of presentations is fairly new--within the last 4-5 years, I think, for Kalamazoo. But that mirrors the timeframe within which live-tweeting reactions to conference papers moved from an occasional entertainment to a common practice.

Unraveling the Mysteries of High-Warp Tapestries in the Works of Christine de Pizan - Earl Jeffrey Richards, Bergische Universität Wuppertal and Julia A. Nephew, PhD, Independent Scholar

The presenter has requested that their content not be shared on social media. The paper is an examination of various depictions of weaving in art to argue that a specific term that Christine uses does not refer to a weaving technique, but rather to a specific genre of content depicted in tapestries.

Christine de Pizan, from Page to Performance: The Elevated Role of Material Objects in Communicating Thought and Establishing Authority - Suzanne Hélène Savoy, Independent Scholar

The presenter has requested that their content not be shared on social media. The paper explores the use of objects referenced in Christine’s work employed as props in the speaker’s dramatized presentation of Christine’s works.

High Roofs and Shining Stones: Urban Space and the Art of Building in the City of Ladies - Shou Jie Eng, Independent Scholar

Examines Christine’s description of the building of the (metaphorical) city of ladies in the context of urban planning, as well as imagined spaces. The philosophy of urban/architectural planning has a tradition of philosophical considerations, thereby approaching the same metaphorical understanding as Christine from the other side. [This is my interpretation of what he’s saying.] Urban design and building design reflect each other at different scales with corresponding functions and meanings. He’s working from a translated edition alongside various illustrated versions of the manuscript. [I’m going to confess that the analysis is a bit too abstract for me to summarize neatly.] The overall sense seems to be a comparison of Christine’s allegorical advice on building with the advice given by architectural manuals for actual physical structures. The speaker seems a bit surprised that Christine would be so knowledgeable about functional architectural practices.

Major category: 
Monday, May 24, 2021 - 20:06

One definite advantage of watching these sessions in recorded form in the comfort of my own home is that I can take the laptop out into the garden and relax in a lawn chair while watching. These papers were all jam-packed full of details and descriptions, which don’t always make for good textual summaries. So this is just a taste of what was offered.

Lucky Charms: Instances of Protective Amulets and Trends in Byzantine Dress - Ms. Angela L. Costello, MA, Independent Scholar

Looks at jewelry and textile motifs used as protective magic, including cross-cultural influences in Byzantine practice. (The paper is being read very quickly, so it will be hard to take notes and listen carefully at the same time.) A special focus is on the “Mati” blue eye-bead against the evil eye that has been used up to the present day. Discusses various pre-Christian motifs that persisted even in the face of condemnation. E.g., coins and pendants of Alexander the Great. Generalized motif of “holy rider” representing various horseback figures. Gorgon motif on amulets used up through the late Byzantine period. Not all motifs appear on textiles, e.g., no examples of Gorgons. Always difficult to tell the intent of such motifs sort of contemporary commentary. Earlier examples may have been considered directly protective, later examples as invoking intermediaries. Cross-cultural innovations in motifs such as the holy rider can make it difficult to clearly identify magical motifs among similar themes – not all riders are “holy riders”. In clothing, even the use of individual colored threads may have magical purpose, e.g., red threads used in specific locations in tunics. Compare other uses of red threads or knots in popular magic. Emperors might wear (or have themselves depicted wearing) clothing evoking the holy rider image to represent a protective presence. Shift in Byzantine fashions to Ottoman-inspired kaftans. (Suggested this is a “protection by imitation” of the encroaching Ottomans?)

How Revealing: Attire in Late Thirteenth-Century Hispanic Texts - Marija Blašković, University of Vienna

Looks at two chivalric texts—El Cid, and the Partidas (law/customary codes)--and how clothing is used in them. Detailed prescriptions of colors for different groups in ceremonial contexts, as well as general directions about clothing and appearance. Didactic philosophical discussions of the meanings of various parts of knightly dress and armor. This detailed concern for knightly appearance is reflected in the descriptions of clothing and accoutrements in Cantar de Mio Cid. The poem also contains negative examples of clothing of non-virtuous men. These same passages generally have the details of clothing edited out in the version included in the Estoria de España. Examples from other versions included in historic chronicles with varying levels of clothing description. (There are a lot of cataloged details from various texts. In general, they tie back to the manuals on the proper appearance of knights and the importance of clothing to status.) Examples of woodcut illustrations of the tale of the Cid from the 16th century.

Quilts of Many Colors: The Paned Quilts of Henry VIII - Ms. Lisa Evans, Independent Scholar

Physical examples of pieced quilts are difficult to find before the early modern period, however inventory descriptions can be highly suggestive of colorful pieced coverlets. We are given inventory descriptions of three items from Henry VIII’s inventories whose descriptions are consistent with this type of item but highly unusual. Additional data from artistic depictions and descriptions are brought in to support a vision of what these objects may have looked like. Inventories contain both a large number of very plain quilted coverlets of linen or wool, in addition to a smaller number of luxury fabrics. Most of the high-end “paned coverlets” were of two colors only, sometimes embellished with needlework(?). None of these paned quilts survive, however later traditions in pieced, quilted coverlets suggest some of the visual possibilities. The three focal objects from the Richmond inventory are different in having 3-6 colors. We are shown some examples of colorful pieced clothing/furnishings form Asia. European examples of descriptions in literature that clearly describes coverlets pieced of multiple colorful luxury fabrics. Example of Italian domestic frescos painted in trompe l’oeiul to depict pieced wall hangings, including the hooks used to hang them. Manuscript illustrations of knightly trappings suggestive of piecing. Examples of two-color paned cloths of estate. Various examples of clothing from 16th c  Germany and Italy that appear to be colorful piecing. An acknowledgement that some of the artistic examples may be imaginative or created by painting or patterned weaving rather than piecing. Actual examples of pieced furnishings include the 14th c. Anjou Textile, the 15th c Impruneta Cushion (very colorful piecing in small complex designs). No indication in Henry VIII’s court of pieced clothing, though Anne of Cleves may potentially have introduced German fashions for paned clothing. And Anne of Cleves has a connection to Richmond, which may then have a connection to the multi-colored paned quilts in the Richmond inventory, though this is speculation. The fashion for paned quilts faded in the next century in favor of imported Indian fabrics. Later fashions in pieced quilts, including paned/striped designs seem to have been a re-invention.

Blackwork in Red, Cockatrice, and Rabbit: A Peculiar Jacobean Waistcoat-as-Bestiary - William E. Arguelles, The Graduate Center, CUNY

A study of a waistcoat with red “blackwork” designs of beasts and plants. The base fabric is a linen/wool blend and the embroidery is done in red wool. Description of the needlework techniques. Garment was reworked in the late 17th century (?to accommodate a stomacher?) resulting in some cutting and piecing of the embroidery. The motifs are embroidered across some seams, suggesting that the garment was assembled first, though in other places the embroidery ends at the seam. So a combination of approaches. A set of lacing holes appear to be added later as they sometimes pierce the motifs. Now we move on the motifs and their arrangement. There is an interplay of the mythical and the mundane with no clear order. (The speaker is badly misidentifying various floral motifs.) Beast motifs: parrot (identified as a sparrow), squirrel, rabbit, leopard, and cockatrice. Reference to a possible heraldic connection for the cockatrice. Insect motifs: butterfly in all stages including caterpillar and chrysalis. Insects are more common on the back of the garment, with beasts more on the front. The cockatrice is given the most prominence in the design. Various animal motifs repeat, though in slightly different variations, but appear to be taken from the same base pattern. Discussion of the cockatrice motifs and their significant placement on the garment’s back, while the “featured” motif on the front is the leopard. (This seems to be mostly a descriptive paper rather than having a thesis.)

Major category: 
Sunday, May 23, 2021 - 20:59

I had meant to start watching the recorded sessions from Kalamazoo last week, and then my day-job landed on my head, not to let up until 10pm Saturday night when my emergency investigation closed. So I'll be blogging the remaining recorded sessions I have earmarked this week, since the recordings are going away after that.

Dressed to Fail: Textile Signifiers in Medieval Icelandic and Welsh Texts - Dr. Sarah M. Anderson, PhD, Princeton University

The presenter has asked that their paper not be shared on social media. The title and scope has been revised from the version in the schedule.

Chrétien’s Chevalier au lion: Nudity, Tattered Clothes, and the Distress of Undress - Monica L. Wright, University of Louisiana at Lafayette

The presenter has asked that their paper not be shared on social media.

Thresholds of Fashion in the Sixteenth-Century Scottish Court - Melanie Schuessler Bond, Eastern Michigan University

General topic is how clothing represents levels of social status, as reflected in specific garments, fabrics, and dyes. In general, the correlation of garments and status is identified based on known status of specific wearers, but from this, meaningful exceptions can be identified. The data is taken from the accounts of the Regent (the Eral of Arran), and represent garments authorized from his accounts. People of the time had a detailed understanding of fabric and dye values and could interpret people’s status (or claims to it) on that basis.

Men’s “gowns” (garment) correlate with high status. Most men did not receive them. (Chart of distribution of fabric prices for men’s gowns.) The “coat” was a more general garment. Fabric prices are shown again, including distribution relative to the wearer’s rank. There is a general correlation, however notable exceptions are pages wearing expensive fabric to reflect the status of their employer.

Women’s clothing is primarily reflected by upper class individuals and so is somewhat less useful for statistics. (This paper has lots of lovely charts and graphs of data.) Women’s hoods correlated with the highest status. Women’s gowns were not as restricted to higher status in the way that men’s gowns were. A chart of the prices of dyed wools, showing the overall relative value as well as the range of value for each color. More fabric values based on variety within each general fabric type. The most expensive fabrics (e.g., cloth of gold) are not included in the inventory data and restricted to the Regent’s immediate family. Purple garments again appear primarily for the regent’s immediate family, especially in the context of wedding garments.

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Saturday, May 15, 2021 - 19:48

The conference is over, save for the sessions I've marked for viewing when they come out in video in a couple of days. (So there may be a few more blogs on those over the next week.) As a wrap-up for this, the first virtual 'Zoo, I present to you the collated, edited, and organized...

Unofficial ICMS Bingo Squares

(also applicable to other conferences)

There are 35 squares, sorted into 6 categories. This allows for randomization in individual bingo cards. It is recommended that squares be drawn from each category for good coverage. I've attempted to edit and generalize the squares to avoid poking fun at any particular demographic. Feedback on this point is appreciated. These are taken from a private chat channel I participated in with some friends during the conference, and believe me there were things that needed to be edited before appearing in public!


  • Speaker’s cat appears and becomes very affectionate
  • Unfortunate Object is visible in speaker’s zoom background
  • Barking dog, sirens, or other background noise
  • Speaker’s phone goes off during paper

Technology glitches

  • Speaker is unable to open key files
  • Speaker can’t connect
  • Speaker’s sound is muffled/poor quality
  • Speaker loses internet connection mid-talk
  • Speaker’s connection freezes

Generic Zoom Things

  • Previous speaker forgets to mute and has background conversation during paper
  • Speaker has lost track of the zoom window
  • Speaker is on mute [suggested “free square”]
  • Speaker announces, “I’m going to share my screen now” [suggested “free square”]
  • Moderator has to ask audience member to mute due to feedback/background noise
  • Closed-captioning misinterprets word in amusing or embarrassing way

It Could Happen at Any Conference

  • Moderator complains that panel discussion is not covering intended subject
  • Speaker you most wanted to hear didn’t show up
  • Speaker is missing a page of their paper and improvises
  • "This isn’t so much a question as a comment"
  • None of the panel discussion members have prepared remarks and all stare at each other in silence
  • More than one paper withdrawn from session / speaker not able to appear
  • Speaker admits to writing paper the night before
  • Paper topic is entirely different from what was originally proposed

Presiders/Presenters Behaving Badly

  • Moderator mangles presenter name or paper title
  • Moderator/respondent compliments papers with gendered language (e.g., “lovely paper” for a female speaker vs. “wonderful paper” for a male speaker)
  • Speaker boasts about and shows off library
  • Pre-session chatter among speakers is a bit more candid than is wise for a 'hot mic'
  • Speaker engages in egregious name-dropping
  • Speaker brings in personal skill/interest unrelated to topic of paper and it overwhelms the content
  • Moderator turns off video and is AWOL when speaker finishes

Zoom-Conference Interface

  • Speaker’s household member appears in background
  • Speaker emails slides to moderator in real-time due to being unable to screen-share
  • Speaker requires real-time troubleshooting for technology problems
  • Academics of a Certain Age discuss learning the ins and outs of zoom and other technologies
  • Speaker is unable to present PowerPoint and see paper text simultaneously
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Saturday, May 15, 2021 - 14:37

Nothing really strongly caught my interest in this time-slot. A couple of the session had intriguing session titles but the specific papers didn’t hit my interest-targets. I picked this one more or less at random because it had a textile-related paper. This is the last serious session of the conference. (The next time-slot is devoted to the humorous Pseudo-Society presentation.)

"Ego volo et ordino": Devotion and Women's Charitable Bequests of Textiles in Fourteenth-Century Dalmatia - Giulia Giamboni, University Of California, Santa Barbara

An analysis of bequests in wills, with consideration of the textile content and the specified purposes for them. By specifying, for example, use as vestments, women were able to “occupy space” within the church that was denied to them as women. There is a summary of existing work on this topic in various medieval contexts. This paper will look at three specific case studies.

Noblewoman who made gifts to 6 monasteries, including a garment of red silk enriched with pearls, given to a Franciscan monastery. Also gave garments of samite, fabric ornamented with precious stones, also non-textile gifts. Sometime combinations of garments, textiles, and objects were specified to be given together. There is a suggestion that the gifts were intended to be visually recognizable as her possessions, creating a personal presence.

Second example: wealthy family had donated to create Franciscan establishment and hospital. Woman from this family established school for (?girls -- unclear?) as well as donating rich textiles specified for particular uses, including liturgical garments. Also donated more ordinary fabric intended for everyday clothing for the monks, inserting herself into their personal experience.

Third example: less wealthy woman donates textiles for one specific garment to be worn while celebrating mass “in perpetuity” in the church where she will be buried.

Discussion of political symbolism, given the context – political control by Venice, with local notables aligning themselves with ?Hungary? as a form of resistance. Within this context, the donation of textiles by women to urban monastic institutions they show specific political allegiances, given that the religious institutions were actively involved in political alignments and encouraging the population to resist Venetian rule. There is a discussion of the specific political experiences of the families of the women discussed above.

"Reform Hagiography" in the Twelfth Century: Redefining Female Sanctity During the Gregorian Reform Era - Anna Katharina Rudolph, University of California, Santa Barbara

(I’m going to passively listen to this one because it’s outside my area of interest and my brain is really kind of fried at this point.)

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Saturday, May 15, 2021 - 12:29

The session title suggests a focus on material culture, although it’s organized by the International Marie de France Society, so we can expect the papers to be filtered through a literary lens. (This is the second session in a row that ended up containing only a single paper.)

Telltale Textiles: Fabric and Voice in the Lais of Marie de France - Simonetta Cochis, Transylvania University

Paper focuses on the functions of fabric in the tale of Bisclavret (a werewolf story). Examples from the text of how wolf!Bisclavret still shows nobility and gentility, even though “naked”. This is contrasted with how his wife is described as base and treasonous, despite her fine clothing. She has stolen Bisclavret’s clothing, preventing him from returning to human form(?). His clothing become “spoils” of conflict. When the clothing is returned to Bisclavret, he declines to transform back in front of witnesses, but must perform the transformation/dressing in private.

This bare outline leaves many questions around the role of the clothing. Does clothing “make the man”? Or does it have a different function.

The paper looks at using voice and performance as a way of shifting the audience’s perspective to try to access how the tale would have been understood in its original context. [Note: the presenter specializes in medieval performance, especially of the Lais. Fortunately, we are getting translations alongside the original French text performances.] “Voice” can mean both the verbal performance of the storyteller and the character-voices within the tale.

The presenter discusses the importance of reading the Lais aloud in order to gain a deeper understanding, or additional layers of interpretation, beyond what is on the page. A performer/speaker must make choices to embody only one of multiple possible readings that can remain ambiguous on the page.

Getting back to clothing, the stolen clothing represents the fragility of status, while it is the inner qualities of Bisclavret—not the status conveyed by incidentals—that earns him acceptance and praise in the court, even as a wolf.

We now move on to the romance of Lanval. There is a motif of a character reclining on/within fabric in the context of a key interaction between Lanval and his (future) beloved. Lanval goes to sleep with his head on his folded cloak—described in plain and unornamented terms—and then is taken to meet a lady reclining within a tent (on a ship?) described with rich and varied terms indicating luxury and wealth. (Now we get a discussion of analysis of theatrical technique.) The lady’s opulent tent display her nature and character, with the text building up the dramatic tension along with the build-up of the language of description as Lanval/the audience is led to meet her.

Gender and Agency in Marie de France's Domestic Spheres - Susan Hopkirk, University of Toronto

[Presenter has asked that the paper not be shared in social media. And what is more, the paper was withdrawn at the last minute.]

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