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Wednesday, September 13, 2023 - 19:52

I actually had hopes for this article once I started reading it but, well, to sum up: "Goldberg manages the feat of discussing the exclusion of women from literary history without actually managing to include them."

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Goldberg, Jonathan. 2014. “English Renaissance Literature in the History of Sexuality” in The Cambridge History of Gay and Lesbian Literature ed. E.L. McCallum & Mikko Tuhkanen. Cambridge University Press, New York. ISBN 978-1-107-03521-8

Publication summary: 

A collection of articles meant as a critical reference work on literature across time and space that might be considered “gay and lesbian literature.” Only articles with lesbian-relevant content will be blogged in detail.

Chapter 9 - English Renaissance Literature in the History of Sexuality

This article starts out with the question, “what is literary history?” It points out that, however approached, literary history, has traditionally, avoided considerations of gender and sexuality, while focusing either on literary personalities and influences, or literary context. But this article isn’t so much concerned with literary history itself, but with the history of literary history, opening with a consideration of how Sir Philip Sydney’s Defence of Poetry and George Puttenham’s Arte of English Poesie approach the subject, but how questions of gender and sexuality are implicitly embedded in those works.

[Note: I can’t help but notice that, in this collection generally, if the article is not overtly framed in a specific cultural context, it defaults to English history.]

Sydney muses on a concern that poetry should be a trumpet call — inspiring masculinity — and that he finds love poetry unmoving and feminizing, a pervasive theme at the time that a man’s desire for a woman feminized him.

Puttenham, on the other hand, writes — not a defense of the worth of poetry — but a manual for how to produce it, and how to use the role of poet to succeed at social politics. He, too, touches on the claim that poetry — especially the use of poetry to please and flatter a female monarch — risks emasculation.

Goldberg help these discourses and the historical study of the relations between authors, exclude women from consideration, except is an abstract image that the men are negotiating around.

[Note: Never as actual poets themselves. In fact, Goldberg manages the feat of discussing the exclusion of women from literary history without actually managing to include them.]

The article continues from this point to discuss male poets, and the homoerotic themes in their work and lives.

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Tuesday, September 12, 2023 - 07:26

I'm happy to discover that my predictions about the (lack of) f/f content in some of these articles aren't entirely accurate. This article has a few interesting tidbits and leads on a couple more sources, including the dissertation that provided the quoted material. (I think I can pull copies of dissertations through ProQuest if I go on campus -- which I haven't done since before Covid.)

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Arvas, Abdulhamit. 2014. “From the Pervert, Back to the Beloved: Homosexuality and Ottoman Literary History, 11453-1923” in The Cambridge History of Gay and Lesbian Literature ed. E.L. McCallum & Mikko Tuhkanen. Cambridge University Press, New York. ISBN 978-1-107-03521-8

Publication summary: 

A collection of articles meant as a critical reference work on literature across time and space that might be considered “gay and lesbian literature.” Only articles with lesbian-relevant content will be blogged in detail.

Part II - Renaissance and Early Modern; Chapter 8 - From the Pervert, Back to the Beloved: Homosexuality and Ottoman Literary History, 11453-1923

This chapter concerns Early Modern Ottoman, poetry, primarily about love, and primarily about love between men. This is not solely love of adolescent boys, but a wide array of male beloveds. Changes in cultural influences, especially westernization in the 19th century, reframed this dynamic as perverse. The focus of the article is Istanbul and relations between men, but one section of the article looks at female poets, and female same-sex topics.

The article surveys of the themes and genres of same-sex love poetry, including catalogs of beauty, lyric poetry, treatises on the intersection of medicine and eroticism, and humorous disputes on the superiority of one type of love object over another. One dynamic in the 19th century reframing of Ottoman love poetry was the western stereotype of Ottoman men as sodomites. (There was also a fascination in Western culture with the idea of lesbianism in the harem.) These perceptions affected western studies of Ottoman literature, including the imposition of heteronormative readings onto overtly homosexual poems, i.e., seeing them as abstract and metaphorical. Another approach was to attribute homoerotic culture to the consequences of a gender-segregated society. All these approaches get in the way of studying Ottoman literature on its own terms.

[Note: although the generic beloved in these discussions is often described as a “boy”, the texts often focus on a beloved who is just beginning to grow a beard or mustache, and some clearly indicate a mature man. This doesn’t discount pottential age and power imbalances, and the fact that love objects were often enslaved people, and so had questionable rights over their own bodies.]

Ottoman literary scholarship has rarely touched on female same-sex relations, but early travelogues regularly referred to the topic, often attributing the practice to gender segregation. Some hints on the topic can’t be found in medical or debate literature, though from the point of view of men writing for men.

The article includes several quotes from a 16th century text describing women who use masculine presentation and dildos in their sexual relations with women, but generally ignore the possibility of non-penetrative sex between women.

From the 16th century writings of Deli Birader Gazali: “In big cities, there are famous dildo women. They put on manly clothes, they ride cavalry horses, and they also ride kochis [covered wagons] for fun. Rich and noble women invite them to their houses and offer them nice shirts and clothing. These women tie dildos on their waist and grease them with almond oil, and then start the job, dildoing the cunt.”

There is a brief review of female poets, some of whose work hints at addressing a female beloved, though the language is typically ambiguous.

The article concludes with a discussion of how, in the 19th century, with increasing Western influence, as well as anti-Sufi movements, homoerotic literature became less prevalent. The article ends with something of a call to revive older concepts and vocabulary as part of modern sexuality discourse to avoid the ways in which stigmatizing concepts have shaped modern Turkish sexuality vocabulary.

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Sunday, September 10, 2023 - 16:07

Having finished reading the entire first section of this collection (ancient & medieval topics), out of 7 articles, one focuses specifically on female topics (Sappho), one includes a proportionate amount of female content (the medieval article) and 5 articles focus solely on male topics, either because of the specificity of the genre being discussed or because "there isn't much data on women and it's not what I study anyway."

I'm taking a slightly different approach to blogging this content than I have previously in similar situations. Rather than just listing the chapters/articles that don't have anything relevant, I'm creating an entry with a brief discription but not creating the usual "blog envelope." So you can read those entries by clicking through to the LHMP entry, then on the righthand sidebar, select "whole publicaton on one page."

If I had to guess from the article titles and authors, the Renaissance/Early Modern section will have 1 out of 5 articles with any relevant content, the section on "Enlightenment Cultures" is harder to guess at, so we'll see. And I think the last three sections of the book will all fall outside the temporal scope of the LHMP. So I may finish up this collection pretty quickly, except for the part where I have to read everything to see if there's anything relevant. (Sigh.)

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Lochrie, Karma. 2014. “Configurations of Gender and Sexuality in Medieval Europe” in The Cambridge History of Gay and Lesbian Literature ed. E.L. McCallum & Mikko Tuhkanen. Cambridge University Press, New York. ISBN 978-1-107-03521-8

Publication summary: 

A collection of articles meant as a critical reference work on literature across time and space that might be considered “gay and lesbian literature.” Only articles with lesbian-relevant content will be blogged in detail.

Chapter 5 - Configurations of Gender and Sexuality in Medieval Europe

Reading pre-modern literature in terms of gender and sexuality requires abandoning, modern sexual categories, even when continuities can be identified. The chapter begins with a review of major historians that shaped the study of medieval (homo)sexuality. It discusses the complicated structure of medieval, thinking around gender and sexuality. Discussion of specifics, primarily focuses on male homoerotic relations with brief nods to female relations. There is discussion of same-sex friendship in religious communities, such as beguines and convents, including poetry, between nuns, expressing erotic desire, and mention of the legends of cross-dressing saints. There is also a brief survey of secular literature, such as Le Livre de Manieres, Iphis and Ianthe, Yde and Olive, and the Romance of Silence.

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Friday, September 8, 2023 - 07:20

The chronology of this volume starts out with Sappho and I was a bit relieved to recognize the name of the author tackling the topic. This brief chapter packs a great summary of Sappho's work and legacy into a small space!

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Full citation: 

Andreadis, Harriette. 2014. “The Sappho Tradition” in The Cambridge History of Gay and Lesbian Literature ed. E.L. McCallum & Mikko Tuhkanen. Cambridge University Press, New York. ISBN 978-1-107-03521-8

Publication summary: 

A collection of articles meant as a critical reference work on literature across time and space that might be considered “gay and lesbian literature.” Only articles with lesbian-relevant content will be blogged in detail.

Part I - Reading Ancient and Classical Cultures, Chapter 1 The Sappho Tradition

This chapter begins with a discussion of what is known about Sappho, her poetry, and her reputation among her contemporaries in ancient Greece. The tragically fragmentary nature of the written legacy of her work is traced, including the nine volume collection lost in the 9th century and the recovery of fragments of her work from papyrus sources in the late 19th and 20th centuries.

New work of Sappho is still being discovered up to the current date. However, due to this long gap in familiarity with her actual work, Sappho’s reputation throughout most of Western history has been based on secondhand accounts of her poetic reputation and myths about her personal life.

Only two nearly complete poems that were transmitted by other writers, the Ode to Aphrodite, and the poem, beginning “That man seems to me…”, formed the basis for translations, reinterpretations and pastiches in western languages beginning around the 16th century. Besides that, Sappho’s image was largely based on the fictional Sappho of Ovid’s Heroides, the one who was said to have given over the love of women for the ferryman Phaon, for whose sake she committed suicide.

This fictional tradition combined with the difficulty historic cultures had in reconciling the two faces of Sappho—the famous poet and the lover of women—resulted in a tradition of two Sappho’s: one desexualized and chaste and one promiscuous and lesbian. In the tradition of “there can be only one,” Sappho became the sole icon of female poetic excellence, erasing the existence of other female poets, which had the side effect of associating, female poetics with questionable sexuality.

By the early modern period, Sappho had split further into three images: the renowned poet, the example of transgressive sexuality, and the mythologized, suicidal abandoned woman of Ovid. The modern era has added a fourth image: that of the heroic lesbian pioneer and proto-feminist muse.

The next section of the article discusses the themes and content of Sappho’s poetry, and the traditions of translation that inspired an entire industry of versions of Sappho’s small oeuvre. Part of this tradition has always been, especially for male translators, to reconfigure the gender of the poetic voice such that Sappho is instead expressing desire for a male beloved, or to imply that the poetic voice of the poem is male, thus removing same-sex desire from the equation. This section includes a fairly extensive catalog across the centuries of poets who have translated or reworked Sappho’s most complete fragments. Only in the 20th century has Sappho’s legacy largely been picked up by female authors, retaining the same-sex context of the content.

The next section traces the historic reflections of Sappho’s image as a poet, as well as her transgressive sexuality, which was largely viewed negatively before recent times. Then we have a section tracing the development and legacy of the Phaon myth, and how it affected the image of Sappho, especially in the early modern period. Finally, the article closes with a section entitled “Sappho as Modern Lesbian Heroine,” which looks at the reclamation of Sappho as a positive figure, while also as an image of female homoeroticism. This is the era in which the use of “lesbian” and “sapphist” to indicate female same-sex eroticism became widespread.

Thursday, September 7, 2023 - 08:11

For unknown reasons, I'm feeling energized and inspired to get up at my "commute alarm" time on non-commute days to work on personal projects. So let's start working though this collection.

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McCallum, E.L. & Mikko Tuhkanen. 2014. “Introduction” in The Cambridge History of Gay and Lesbian Literature ed. E.L. McCallum & Mikko Tuhkanen. Cambridge University Press, New York. ISBN 978-1-107-03521-8

Publication summary: 

A collection of articles meant as a critical reference work on literature across time and space that might be considered “gay and lesbian literature.” Only articles with lesbian-relevant content will be blogged in detail.


The introduction discusses the definition of “gay and lesbian literature” and the problem of organizing a volume like this, in the context of a series that primarily focuses on nation, era, or genre. It discusses the focus on expressions of same sex desire, while at the same time problematizing the definition of “same-sex”. There are problems with using terms like homosexuality, much less gay and lesbian, with respect to cultures outside the relatively modern Western context in which those terms developed. As a result, the chapters in the book are sometimes in conversation with existing debates about the nature of gay historiography. The discussions do not focus solely on authors that might today be identified as gay or lesbian, but also on works that suggest same-sex eroticism, regardless of the identity of the author. The discussions recognize the distinctness that may exist between lesbian and gay literary history, and individual chapters may focus on one or the other, or treat them in separate sections of the same article. The authors of the individual chapters take a variety of approaches to terminologies, whether to use “gay” and “lesbian” in an ahistoric overarching sense, or to focus on culturally specific terms, or to avoid labels entirely. The book definitely does not work on the assumption that there is a single tradition of gay and lesbian literature. Although the chapters are grouped in sections identified by various historical eras, this is not meant to suggest a strict chronology regarding the content, but rather may indicate eras in the development of gay and lesbian literature within different cultures. Chapters vary enormously with regard to specificity and focus.

Monday, September 4, 2023 - 16:53

OK, I'm doing something unusual here. I'm going to blog the entirety of The Cambridge History of Gay and Lesbian Literature, but I'm not going to do it now. But I can't do only the article on gothic literature in my usual format, because I don't know how many individual entries I'll be writing and everything will get out of order. So here's what will eventually be the blog on that article outside of the normal LHMP framework, and then I'll tuck it into the usual format after I've worked on the rest of the book. That's likely to be a fairly quick exercise (for a rather thick book) because more than half the book focuses on the 20th century, and out of the 17 earlier articles, at least 9 of them look like they're solely male-focused. (Sigh.) So in the interests of finishing up my gothic reading, here you go.

Bruhm, Steven. 2014. “The Gothic Novel and the Negotiation of Homophobia” in The Cambridge History of Gay and Lesbian Literature ed. E.L. McCallum & Mikko Tuhkanen. Cambridge University Press, New York. ISBN 978-1-107-03521-8


Although this article is placed in the “Enlightenment Culture” section of the book, this survey article begins with references to several modern horror/gothic works that connect the themes of hidden supernatural terrors with hidden sexualities. But despite the modern recognition of how these themes are connected, and despite the graphic depiction of a wide range of “forbidden” sexualities featured in the historic gothic genre, male homosexuality is startlingly absent in historic gothic works (though not in historic pornographic works). Examining this problem, Bruhm notes that in 19th century gothic works, homosexuality is hinted at with innuendo or vague threat and is concealed under symbolic tropes. To illustrate this, he focuses on two works: Matthew Gregory Lewis’s The Monk: A Romance and J. Sheridan Le Fanu’s Carmilla.

In The Monk, the apparently pederastic desire between the head of a monastery and the mysterious, attractive young novice is resolved away from homoeroticism when the novice is revealed to be a woman in disguise, after which the story turns to more traditional heterosexual gothic transgressions when the abbot sexually assaults and murders a second woman who turns out to be his sister. The looming threat of male homosexuality is vaguely present, but never directly articulated, then is resolved by the gender reveal followed by the quite directly articulated heterosexual sexual transgressions. Homophobia inserts itself in the “unspeakability” of the (illusory) same-sex desire.

In Carmilla, by contrast, the looming threat is the vampire Carmilla who insinuates herself into the life and bed of the young woman, Laura, caressing her both in dreams and in reality, and stealing both her innocence and life by drinking her blood. Carmilla represents, not simply lesbian desire, but sexual liberation in general. Nor is she entirely unsympathetic, adopting gothic tropes of the orphan cast alone in the world on the kindness of strangers. But at the same time, Carmilla embodies the icon of the aristocratic, languorous predator who features in decadent literature largely as a male fantasy. Here, homophobia appears in the framing of Carmilla and Laura’s relationship as predatory (as well as in the opinions of literary critics who sometimes insist that the story’s lesbianism is not about lesbianism, but is a symbolic stand-in for something else entirely).

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Monday, September 4, 2023 - 15:47

My heart leapt when I ran across the article that was a preliminary to this book and then the book itself. Surely this would be foundational to my discussion of lesbian gothic literature! Well, it's definitely useful in organizing some of my thoughts, but the focus of the book is on lesbian genre literature of the 1970s through 1990s so it neither covers early gothic literature with lesbian themes, nor current lesbian gothic novels. Still and all, useful reading.

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Palmer, Paulina. 1999. Lesbian Gothic: Transgressive Fictions. Cassell, New York. ISBN 0-304-70154-8

This is one of several articles that I’m reading for the podcast on lesbian gothic literature. These articles will not necessarily focus on pre-20th century material.

Note the publication date (1999) which means that this study of lesbian gothic literature will be far from up-to-date, and will reflect a previous generation’s ideas and experiences (as well as not reflecting the boom in queer literature that the e-book revolution has enabled). The introductory material suggests that the study’s scope will focus strongly on what today might be classified as paranormal (witches and vampires) rather than more classical gothics.

She notes the difficulty of defining exactly what the gothic genre is, but quotes one definition as the intersection of themes of inheritance and claustrophobia. From its origins structured around tropes of archaic settings, suggestions of the supernatural, the experience of terror, and the popular motif of the naïve heroine and wicked villain, the genre expanded in the 19th century to encompass vampires, ghosts, the search for illicit knowledge, and the figure of the “wanderer.” By the 20th century, Palmer’s definition of the scope of the gothic seems to include most of the genres of horror, thrillers, and the paranormal. Gothics often appear to challenge realist viewpoints in embracing the supernatural and social or sexual transgression, while at the same time often reinforcing the values of the dominant culture. From its roots, there have been separate strands of the “female gothic,” focusing on women trapped in a castle or mansion, and a gothic flavor more associated with male authors involving persecution, guilt, obsession, and dislocation.

From there, Palmer moves on to explore what she means by “lesbian gothic” within this study. Rather than gothic tropes being used to “decorporealize lesbian desire” (per Terry Castle’s The Apparitional Lesbian), these works written in the 1970s to 1990s [note the book’s publication date] “emply them to explore…erotic female relations and their transgressive dimension.” [Note: in choosing this timeframe, Palmer is focusing on stories that do not feel a need to conceal the lesbian nature of the characters and themes.] In the context of the early history of gothics, she notes that (especially) female authors treated themes that lent themselves well to lesbian contexts, including women’s problematic relationship to their bodies, the inherent transgressiveness of female sexuality, and the complications of female friendships and antagonisms, including mother/daughter relations. Women “haunting” other women is a common trope. Also noted is the contradictory role of the figure who is both courageous heroine and persecuted victim. The focus of gothic fiction on creating an emotional response in the reader blends easily with the depictions of repressed emotions and desires. There are structural parallels to closet/coming-out narratives in the themes of secrets, frustrated desire, shame, and persecution. The family/domestic sphere is depicted as a source of danger and claustrophobia, and heterosexual family structures are often viewed as threatening and the peril that must be escaped.

In traditional gothics, the lesbian-coded figure is typically assigned the role of villain and predator, but in contemporary lesbian gothics she becomes a protagonist, or the point of view shifts such that her vengeful and predatory actions are vindicated. Traditional gothics typically focus on an ominous history, either in terms of a family legacy or the physical reality of crumbling ancient monuments. History is the enemy. But lesbian gothics may be concerned with rediscovering and reclaiming a history that had been denied.

The individual chapters of Palmer’s book examine specific works within specific genre themes: the witch, the ghost, the vampire, and the thriller.

[Note: Palmer’s book has a certain historic interest as a study of the state of lesbian genre fiction as of the late 1990s, and an example of an academic work taking that field seriously as a subject of study. I personally found it a bit too all-encompassing to have a coherent take on the concept of “lesbian gothic,” at least from a current viewpoint. But the introductory material has been quite useful.]


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Monday, September 4, 2023 - 12:21

This one isn't very useful for my purposes, but what the heck.

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Yiannitsaros, Chirstopher. 2010. “’I’m scared to death she’ll kill me: Devoted Ladies, feminine monstrosity, and the (lesbian) Gothic Romance” in The Irish Journal of Gothic and Horror Studies 8: 41-52.

This is one of several articles that I’m reading for the podcast on lesbian gothic literature. These articles will not necessarily focus on pre-20th century material.

The author makes a connection between themes prominent in the “coming-out story” (i.e., secrecy, guilt, persecution, and the fragmentation of the self) and the dominant themes of gothic fiction. Similarly there are connections in the reframing of the domestic sphere from a place of love and security to a site of secrets and maltreatment. As a genre rooted in marginality (of taste, politics, and sexuality) he argues that there is an inherent connection between gothic literature and representations of homosexuality.

From this starting point, the author takes a deep dive into Molly Keane’s 1934 novel Devoted Ladies which, he argues, is a parody of the gothic genre, focusing on a lesbian relationship that is simultaneously presented as ordinary and everyday, and as inherently flawed, unequal, and monstrous. Their relationship is eventually disrupted by the “femme” partner’s refocusing on a heterosexual relationship and the murder of the butch partner by a third party who wants to prevent her from interfering.

The connections the author makes with gothic literature primarily involve more recent work, such as Du Maurier’s Rebecca, and similarly recent formulations of the gothic genre.

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Monday, September 4, 2023 - 11:52

Let's see if I can get back into the blogging thing and catch up on all the gothic-related reading I want to do for a gothic themed podcast. A number of the articles I've collected for this are not ones I'd blog purely for the Project, so I may be skimming more briefly than usual.

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Parker, Sarah. 2008. “’The Darkness is the Closet in Which Your Lover Roosts Her Heart’: Lesbians, Desire and the Gothic Genre” in Journal of International Women’s Studies, Vol. 9, Issue 2: 3-16.

This is one of several articles that I’m reading for the podcast on lesbian gothic literature. These articles will not necessarily focus on pre-20th century material.

It’s always a good reminder to “check the publication date” when reading academic studies of popular culture. This article, having been written in 2008, can’t reflect a more up-to-date range of lesbian gothics. But perhaps more to the point, it focuses almost entirely on two specific works: Djuna Barnes’ Nightwood (published 1936) and Sarah Waters’ Affinity (published 1999), so it reflects an even older approach to lesbian themes in gothic fiction (while still addressing modern fiction rather than fiction from the origins of the gothic genre).

This context comes out in the analysis of how gothic fiction uses the exploration of “unconscious fantasies and forbidden desires” to make lesbian desire legible and to “counter the repressive  effects of ‘lesbian panic’” – a theory circulating at the time that much women’s fiction (of the time) was fixated on a negation of lesbian possibilities because they disrupted the gender economy in which women’s value derived from their value to men.

In discussing the characteristics of the gothic genre (and how it lends itself to articulating lesbian desire), Parker focuses on the themes of boundaries (“from the physical limitations of the domestic space – castle walls, prisons, locked chests – to the ancestral ‘line’ of the aristocratic family”) and how gothic texts allow the reader a “safe” encounter with transgressing those boundaries, but representing repressed desires via fantastic and supernatural elements. Thus, the gothic is structured by patriarchal order even as it uses transgressions against that order for its emotional impact. (For example, the regular threat of incest and its literary punishment.) Passion and desire may be experienced because the text inevitably contradicts, erases, or diffuses their experiential reality.

In Nightwood and Affinity, Parker argues, the lesbian desire that is at the heart of the story is this threat to patriarchal order that provides the reader with a pervasive sense of threat that—in these cases—is allowed to persist and be realized. In Affinity (as in many historic female-authored gothic novels) the apparently supernatural elements that contribute to the atmosphere are revealed as rational in the end. The character who fills the role of “lesbian predator” is allowed her own happy ending, even as the nominal protagonist is victimized by her.

[Note: I’m less able to follow the discussion of Nightwood, and overall this article has only tangential relevance to the gothic theme I’m currently exploring.]


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Saturday, September 2, 2023 - 07:00

Lesbian Historic Motif Podcast - Episode 267 - On the Shelf for September 2023 - Transcript

(Originally aired 2023/09/02 - listen here)

Welcome to On the Shelf for September 2023.

It feels like I just did one of these, so I guess time is flying. September is supposed to feel like autumn, but that’s not how my part of California rolls. Instead we glance around nervously and hope that maybe this year won’t be a bad fire year—then we knock on wood to fend off jinxing things. Of course, lots of parts of the world are dealing with a regular fire season now. Instead of winter, spring, summer, and autumn, my part of California has rain, green, heat, and fire season.

My facebook memories feed has been showing me a constant stream of my last two overseas trips for Worldcon, which is usually scheduled around now. It’s been making me yearn for next year when I’ll be traveling across the pond again for that event. I’m already starting to make lists of people and places I’d like to see.

As usual, I’d like to remind folks that we’ll be running a fiction series again next year on the podcast, and the Call for Submissions is up on the website. Tell everyone you know who might be interested in writing a sapphic historical short story.

Once again, I have two author interviews at the end of this episode. It isn’t intentional to double-up, but that’s just how the contacts are working out. I hope I can keep it up, since I really enjoy hosting authors on the show. I’m always interested in being contacted about interviews, especially in the context of book releases, but I also love talking to people about non-fiction relating to sapphic history or historical fiction.

Book Shopping!

The book shopping was plentiful this month—not specifically books for the blog (which, you’ll note, I haven’t said anything about lately because I’m on an inadvertent blog vacation) – but several works for deep background research for my own projects or for historical fiction projects in general.

First up is the chunky and luxurious exhibition catalog The Tudors: Art and Majesty in Renaissance England, by Elizabeth Cleland and Adam Eaker. This was created to accompany an exhibition that’s currently in San Francisco, but which many of my friends saw when it was in New York previously. It focuses mostly on the life of the court with portraits and rich furnishings.

While I was picking the catalog up in the museum bookstore, I also snagged Ruth Goodman’s How to be a Tudor: A Dawn to Dusk Guide to Tudor Life. It’s a popular-oriented discussion of the everyday life mostly of ordinary people in Tudor England. I find this sort of work useful for getting my head in a historic space when brainstorming stories, though such guides can vary a bit in reliability on the details, and they almost never touch on anything specifically relevant to queer characters.

A similar book, more specifically aimed at authors is Krista D. Ball’s What Kings Ate and Wizards Drank. Despite the title, which suggests that it’s pitched at fantasy authors, the focus is on historic food culture of the real world, as something of a reality-check for world-building medieval-ish fantasy settings. So while it may not be a detailed guide to any particular era, it can help set expectations and burst some popular myths.

Another exhibition catalog that caught my eye is Seeing Race Before Race: Visual Culture and the Racial Matrix in the Premodern World by Noémie Ndiaye and Lia Markey. While the topic fits in with my interest in what I call “decolonizing my imagination”, I’m not sure that this specific text will be useful to me as it focuses a lot on how racialized artifacts and representations are handled in museum displays and archives.

Given the ways I integrate historic magical practices into my Alpennia series, I’m always on the lookout for interesting new books on the history of magic and this month I picked up two of them. Speculum Lapidum: A Renaissance Treatise on the Healing Properties of Gemstones by Camillo Leonardi, translated and edited by Liliana Leopardi, is an edition of a 16th century Italian work on magical gemstones—just the sort of reference book that Antuniet Chazillen would have collected for her work.

The second book speaks more to the type of everyday language-based magic that we see in Floodtide. This is Katherine Storm Hindley’s Textual Magic: Charms and Written Amulets in Medieval England. It has some great discussions of the how, what, when, and who of magic based on written texts or spoken words.

And finally, I picked up the 17th annual volume of the series Medieval Clothing and Textiles, which publishes articles on a wide variety of topics related to that subject.

One of the secondary themes of this podcast is women in history doing things that modern people might believe they didn’t do, such as the recent episode on female spies. I often pick up books exploring women in specific professions, either generally or focusing on a specific woman. One fascinating book that I did not buy this month is Deanne Williams’ Girl Culture in the Middle Ages and Renaissance, a study of women—especially young women—involved in various aspects of dramatic production in the middle ages and Renaissance. Our image of the medieval and Renaissance stage is often skewed by the fairly unusual situation of public theater during the Elizabethan era, when women were legally prevented from acting on the public stage, resulting in the use of boy actors for female roles. But Williams digs into all manner of historic records to find women as performers, authors, and translators of plays and pageants, including private household entertainments and court masques. I learned about the book on the history podcast “Not Just the Tudors” when they had the author on to talk about it.

While listening to the podcast, it occurred to me that I might add theatricals to my series on tropes. I don’t know that falling in love in the middle of putting on a play is a particularly common trope in heterosexual romance, but my memory started pulling up any number of examples involving female couples, where the context of gender play on stage creates a space for experiencing and expressing same-sex desire. It touches on some of the same themes as my planned episode on the gender-disguise trope, but has enough differences to be worth a separate show.

Recent Lesbian/Sapphic Historical Fiction

Now let’s tackle the new fiction! I have a couple of books to catch up on from earlier months, but mostly this will be August and September releases.

When one of this month’s interviewees mentioned Ember of a New World by Ishtar Watson from Dark Elves press, I realized I’d somehow missed including it in the new releases, despite interacting with the author on Mastodon. So here it is now, belated from its April release date.

7500 years ago, at the dawn of the western European Neolithic...

Ember of the Great River people is a free-spirited woman living in a small tribe in prehistoric Germany when a sign from the gods sends her on an epic quest to the end of the world, where the Sun sets. With only her wits and her father's obsidian blade, she faces the vast, untamed wilds of prehistoric Europe.

But these wild lands are far from empty...

One can find love, death, and adventure in the dark forests of tribal Europe, where only the Mesolithic forest people dare to tread.

Well-researched and highly descriptive, Ember of a New World is an inspiring coming-of-age story featuring a non-binary protagonist. Clothing, weapons, rituals, and daily life are described in detail as the reader is transported to the Linear Pottery Culture of the early western European Neolithic.

In the grand tradition of queering Jane Austen, we have Sanditon: The Lesbian Solution by Garnet Marriott and Jane Austen. People are less likely to be familiar with the original text of Sanditon as it was never finished, though a mini-series has expanded the original draft into a longer story.

Here Garnet Marriott has taken Jane Austen’s unfinished Sanditon and re-told and completed it as a lesbian romance, also featuring Austen’s Lady Susan, and Pride and Prejudice’s Mr. and Mrs. Darcy and Mr. and Mrs. Bingley. In this version, a carriage accident at Willingden leads to Charlotte Heywood’s invitation to visit Tom Parker’s new coastal health resort at Sanditon, where she meets the handsome Sidney Parker, the audacious Sir Edward Denham, and the beautiful mulatto visitor, Miss Constance Lambe, heiress to a fortune. Charlotte and Miss Lambe begin to form an amorous friendship, but when Charlotte’s sister Katy is subject to unwanted advances from Sir Edward and Willingden’s Lord Faulkner, there begins a feud which ultimately threatens Sanditon’s existence and the future prospects of Charlotte Heywood, who must wrestle with her own emotions and affections whilst fighting to preserve Tom Parker’s vision of a new world.

Where Pleasant Fountains Lie (The New Countess #3) written under the nom de plume Lady Vanessa S.-G from Pacifico Press adds to a series giving voice to the female characters in Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night.

Countess Olivia has married Sebastiano accidentally: She thought he was his sister Viola, when Viola was pretending to be a boy. However, until Olivia has sex with him, she can annul her marriage. Today, she will secretly give Sebastiano three tests, and then make her final decision.

I’m a bit confused by Haven's End (Daughters Under the Black Flag #2) by Eden Hopewell, because the book identified as number 1 in the series isn’t scheduled to come out until next June. So I don’t know what’s going on there—whether this story stands on its own or whether you need to have read the first volume, which evidently you can’t yet. The cover copy certainly sounds like we’re coming in at the middle of a story.

Margo (O'Shea) Flynn's life is anchored by two great loves: her best friend who she married, Caleb, and her soulmate and love of her life, Elara. Together, the three built a life, raising children and tending a thriving business. But when Caleb's ship is captured by the Spanish while privateering, their world is shattered.

Leaving their adult children to manage the family enterprise, Margo and Elara set sail with a pirate crew, driven by grief and a thirst for vengeance against the ruthless Spanish fleet. Their journey is fraught with danger, heartache and surprises, but their love for each other and Caleb's memory fuels their resolve.

As they navigate treacherous waters and face relentless adversaries, the bond between Margo and Elara deepens, becoming their greatest strength and most profound connection. But will their love endure the trials they must face, or will their pursuit of justice lead them to a peril they cannot overcome?

The Birdwatchers by Louise Vetroff from Lura Press is clearly tagged as a lesbian story, otherwise I might have moved it to the “other books of interest” section.

In the mid-19th-century United States, fate brings together three people from Louisiana: a birdwatcher, a runaway wife, and a little girl, and leads them to a wagon train from Texas to California. Three different characters with three distinct reasons to leave their homes have something that unites them — the dream of a better future. Will they struggle to overcome their challenges alone or receive guidance from unexpected places so they may achieve their collective dream?

The supernatural intersects with a heist in The Haunted Diamond by Becky Black from JMS Books.

Flapper Bobbie Morgan is always a welcome house guest at weekend parties. But the young woman her hosts think is only a jolly fun girl with nothing but dancing and fashion on her mind, is actually a jewel thief and her latest job is to steal a South American diamond with a long and bloody history, for a buyer waiting in New York. While Bobbie is crossing the Atlantic with the stolen diamond, Iandara, a ghost bound to the cursed stone, manifests, with one mission -- free herself forever by destroying the diamond.

As if the temporarily-corporeal, thousand-year-old ghost of a trainee witch isn’t enough trouble, Bobbie’s ex-partner and now rival thief, Frances Stryker, is aboard and also determined to steal the diamond from her. Bobbie and Iandara team up to thwart Frances, and in the ensuing shenanigans become much more to each other than simply temporary allies.

But there is no way for both of them to complete their missions. How can they find a way to free Iandara and also allow Bobbie to complete a job whose stakes are higher than Iandara knows?

The second volume is out in Shelley Parker-Chan’s epic series set in a semi-historical China: He Who Drowned the World (The Radiant Emperor #2) from Tor Books. I was very impressed with the first book and have added this to my audiobook queue.

Zhu Yuanzhang, the Radiant King, is riding high on her recent victory that tore southern China from its Mongol rulers. Young, ambitious, and in possession of the Mandate of Heaven, Zhu believes utterly in her own capacity to do anything – endure anything – that will allow her to seize the imperial throne from the Mongols and crown herself Emperor.

But Zhu isn’t the only one with imperial ambitions. Her neighbor, the former courtesan Madam Zhang, wants the throne for her husband – and her powerful kingdom has the strength and resources to wipe Zhu off the map. The only way for Zhu to defeat Madam Zhang is to gamble everything on a risky alliance with an old enemy: the beautiful, traitorous eunuch general Ouyang.

Nearly mad with the grief and guilt of having killed his beloved Prince of Henan, Ouyang is alive for only one reason: to enact revenge on his father’s killer, the Great Khan. His instability soon threatens his partnership with Zhu, who has never felt grief in her life. Zhu can’t even imagine what kind of sacrifice could ever cause her to feel it. But all desire costs, and while Zhu has already paid with her body – the true price of her ambition will break even her ruthless heart.

Carving a New Shape by Rhiannon Grant is the topic of one of this month’s two interviews.

Arriving in a new village on her first ever trading voyage, Laki immediately feels unsettled by some of the rude and bullying behaviour and the loss of her necklace - and attracted to Bokka, who is both helping and hindering. As they start to work together to escape the situation, will Laki's naive ideas and Bokka's struggles with communication make it impossible to carve out a space in their society which is the perfect shape for them?

Set in the Neolithic village of Skara Brae and around the Orkney Islands, Carving a New Shape is an evocative exploration of an ancient society, the power of love, and the ability of humanity to adapt. Featuring central characters who would be described today as lesbian, bisexual, and autistic, this is a warm-hearted story which doesn't play down the challenges they face but leads to a happy ending.

For Love and Liberty by Eden Hopewell is set in Philadelphia in 1804.

Follow the story of Abigail, a young heiress in the early days of the industrial revolution, who inherits a textile mill after her mother dies. When she starts to see the harsh working conditions that her employees face, her heart is moved to fight for their rights. Along the way, she meets Sarah, a worker at the mill, who shares her passion for justice. Together, they navigate the challenges of their society and work towards a better future for all. But Abigail struggles with her attraction to Sarah and the societal and personal risks involved in pursuing a relationship with her. But their love deepens despite the risks involved. In the face of danger and opposition, Abigail and Sarah decide to stand up for their love and their cause.

Her Duchess by Brooke Winters has a very brief blurb, but it may be sufficient to pique your interest.

One dowager Duchess. One school teacher. One happily ever after.

It's 1871 and the school that Iris works at is closing, forcing her to leave the town that's become her home and the woman she secretly loves.

Peggy can't stand the thought of life without her best friend and she'll do whatever it takes to keep her close.

And finally we have Into the Bright Open: A Secret Garden Remix (Remixed Classics # 8) by Cherie Dimaline from Feiwel & Friends.

Mary Lennox didn’t think about death until the day it knocked politely on her bedroom door and invited itself in. When a terrible accident leaves her orphaned at fifteen, she is sent to the wilderness of the Georgian Bay to live with an uncle she's never met. At first the impassive, calculating girl believes this new manor will be just like the one she left in Toronto: cold, isolating, and anything but cheerful, where staff is treated as staff and never like family. But as she slowly allows her heart to open like the first blooms of spring, Mary comes to find that this strange place and its strange people—most of whom are Indigenous self-named "halfbreeds"—may be what she can finally call home. Then one night Mary discovers Olive, her cousin who has been hidden away in an attic room for years due to a "nervous condition." The girls become fast friends, and Mary wonders why this big-hearted girl is being kept out of sight and fed medicine that only makes her feel sicker. When Olive's domineering stepmother returns to the manor, it soon becomes clear that something sinister is going on. With the help of a charming, intoxicatingly vivacious Metis girl named Sophie, Mary begins digging further into family secrets both wonderful and horrifying to figure out how to free Olive. And some of the answers may lie within the walls of a hidden, overgrown and long-forgotten garden the girls stumble upon while wandering the wilds...

Other Books of Interest

Two books made the “other books of interest” list, for different reasons.

The Girl Who Fled the Picture by Jane Anderson from Howe Street Publishing is a bit too coy about the potential queer content to make the main list.

A girl who won’t conform. A journey across 18th Century Europe. A dangerous pursuit of forbidden love.

1742, Constantinople. Fifteen-year-old Isabella dons Turkish dress to pose for her portrait. The touch of the artist’s apprentice freeing her from corsets and draping her in sensuous silk unleashes a passion that changes her life forever.

Fleeing to Rome to avoid an arranged marriage, Isabella rebuilds her life creating beautiful silver jewellery but love for the apprentice takes her on another journey. She arrives in Scotland just in time for the 1745 Jacobite Rebellion. In the midst of the dangerous intrigue of Bonnie Prince Charlie’s court, will the forbidden nature of her secret love see her lose everything?

In contrast, The Valkyrie by Kate Heartfield from Harper Voyager isn’t coy about the female protagonists being lovers, but is more mythic than historic, so it too falls in this group.

Brynhild is a Valkyrie: shieldmaiden of the Allfather, chooser of the slain. But now she too has fallen, flightless in her exile. Gudrun is a princess of Burgundy, a daughter of the Rhine, a prize for an invading king – a king whose brother Attila has other plans, and a dragon to call upon. And in the songs to be sung, there is another hero: Sigurd, a warrior with a sword sharper than the new moon. As the legends tell, these names are destined to be lovers, fated as enemies. But here on Midgard, legends can be lies… For not all heroes are heroic, nor all monsters monstrous. And a shieldmaiden may yet find that love is the greatest weapon of all.

What Am I Reading?

And what have I been reading? There are several books I’ve been reading in print, but none that I actually finished last month, so you’ll have to wait to hear about them. I’ve listened to two audiobooks. The Great Roxhythe by Georgette Heyer is a book that is deeply conflicted about exactly what sort of book it’s trying to be. This book has been deliberately out of print for much of its existence and is one of the few Heyers that I hadn’t previously read. Georgette Heyer more or less writes three types of stories: the light historic romances that she’s most famous for, murder mysteries, and a few more serious historic novels that I will confess I have mostly found tedious and dense. I eventually struggled my way through An Infamous Army, which wants to be a historic novel about the battle of Waterloo, but builds the story around an array of characters from her Regency romances. The Great Roxhythe is set during the reign of King Charles II and is, in essence, a love story—but it’s a tragic, asymmetric love story between Lord Roxhythe and King Charles, and between Roxhythe’s somewhat naïve and priggish secretary and Roxhythe himself. It is suspected that this aspect of the book is what led to its suppression: there is no suggestion at all of any erotic relationships between the three men, but the emotional bonds are portrayed in the language of romantic love which—although historically accurate for the setting—may have been a Bit Much for an early 20th century readership. But this isn’t a romance novel—it’s a slogging, overly detailed tour through Restoration-era politics. And if I hadn’t been consuming it as an audiobook I would never have kept at it long enough to finish.

Alas, even the appeal of audiobooks couldn’t keep me going through the second title, Catherynne Valente’s Space Opera. The premise of the book is, “What if the Eurovision song contest, but as an interstellar fight for survival?” The book’s gonzo, madcap comic narrative style was appealing when I heard the author doing a reading from it—appealing enough to spend an Audible credit on it. But it just didn’t hold up for me for an entire book’s worth of interest. There wasn’t enough cake under the frosting and every time I tried to listen, my mind kept wandering away.

Author Guests

So let’s finish up the show with our author interviews. First up is Rhiannon Grant.

[interview transcript will be added when available]

Our second guest is Katherine Quarmby, talking about a book that was in last month’s release announcements.

[interview transcript will be added when available]

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

Links to Rhiannon Grant Online

Links to Katharine QuarmbyOnline

Major category: 


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