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Lesbian Historic Motif Podcast Episode 22a - On the Shelf for May 2018

Saturday, May 5, 2018 - 10:00

Lesbian Historic Motif Podcast - Episode 22a - On the Shelf for May 2018 - Transcript

(Originally aired 2018/05/05 - listen here)

Welcome to On the Shelf for May 2018.

This is a special month--not because of anything to do with the Lesbian Historic Motif Podcast or blog, but because I’m having one of those big round-number birthdays. Like most years, I’ll be spending my birthday in the midst of a couple thousand historians at the International Congress on Medieval Studies, held in Kalamazoo Michigan. I rather like the idea that they throw this big medieval birthday party for me every year.

If I’m lucky, there will be a handful of papers relevant to the history of sexuality that I can hear presented, along with all the other topics I enjoy following. And I always spend time in the display room where the academic publishers have their books out, and end up bringing home some fascinating books to add to the project’s to-do list. I usually live-blog summaries of the sessions I attend, so you can follow along on my website if you like--though it’s nothing at all like the thrill of being there in person.

I’ve presented papers at the conference several times in the past and there are a few topics based on my reading for the Lesbian Historic Motif Project that I plan to work up into proposals some time in the future. It’s sort of like going to a major science fiction convention except for historians.

Publications on the Blog

In April, the blog presented a couple of articles from the collection Queer Renaissance Historiography. One was about the overlap of personal and professional duties of secretaries in 16th and 17th century England and how female secretaries to important women could create a sort of shadow government. This may seem a bit distanced from the topic of same-sex relations, but at that time close companions often shared a bed as a sign of their intimacy. And though this was not automatically understood in a sexual sense, the overlap of intellectual and physical intimacy was always a possibility.

The second article from this collection tied in with April’s essay on the figure of the goddess Diana in early modern culture as a symbol of marriage resistance and chastity, but a chastity that allowed for same-sex intimacies between women. The essay about the figure of Diana and especially how the myth of Diana and Callisto created a space for the imagining and depiction of sex between women, led sideways into the topic of cross-gender performance by men in historic texts--a topic that can be problematic when viewed through modern interpretations of transgender identity. While that topic was on my mind, I covered the article “Transvestite Knights in Medieval Life and History,” which looks at the contexts in which medieval knights used a female presentation as part of tournament culture or theatrical performance.

The month of May starts off with two articles from the collection Gender and Difference in the Middle Ages and continues the theme of cross-gender performance. A woman cross-dressing as a man--either as a complete disguise, or simply as a way of breaking gender rules--is a very popular trope in modern lesbian historical fiction. But that motif isn’t historically accurate for many times and places. An article by Everett Rowson looks at cross-gender performance at court in medieval Baghdad, where both men performing femininity and women performing masculinity were driven by the sexual tastes of elite men and had nothing to do with female same-sex interests.

The second article in this collection, by Ulrike Wiethaus, is on the very different topic of homoerotic language used between religious women in medieval Germany.

Next we return to the motif of the mannish “Amazonian” women in medieval Islamic literature in an examination of a complex heroic tale that features two strong women and the image of a woman skilled in the arts of war who resists marriage and defeats the men competing for her. There are no overt lesbian themes in the story, but I include it as part of the continuing interest in martial women and cross-dressing.

The month of May finishes up this series of articles on cross-gender performance with a catalog and analysis of women recorded as appearing in male clothing in late medieval London.


This month’s essay will be on the topic of queer women’s communities in history. That is: what are some contexts where women interacted in social groups that were either organized around same-sex desire, or that aligned closely with those desires. There has been a great deal of interest in historical studies of how men created communities and meeting places to pursue same-sex desire, but such studies generally either dismiss the female equivalent as non-existent or blithely assume that women’s experience was identical to men’s. Which, of course, it almost never was.

I originally put together the notes and materials for this essay for someone else who was interested in the topic and wanted to do a show on it, but she never took it further and I recently got confirmation that it was ok to use them for my own show.

Author Guest

This month’s author guest will be Jeannelle M. Ferreira, author of the brand new Regency romance The Covert Captain, which shot to the top of my list of favorite lesbian Regencies. I’d delighted to be able to use the podcast to let more people know about this really fun, yet deeply thoughtful story.

I’ve been trying to get my author guests lined up a bit further in advance so it doesn’t feel like I’m always scrambling. I’m looking for people who are writing within historic settings, though not limited to strictly historical stories. And it’s always a bonus to be able to feature an author around the time they have a new book coming out. If you’d like to suggest someone you think would fit into the podcast’s scope, drop me a note with contact information. I’m trying to reach across genre boundaries and include authors with all sorts of publishing backgrounds. You may have noticed that I’ve featured some people from mainstream science fiction and fantasy lately, as well as authors publishing romance outside the lesbian presses. One of my goals is to expand people’s awareness of the books that are out there--ones that you might not have heard about if you primarily follow one specific part of the market.

There are also opportunities for non-authors or authors who don’t write historicals to feature on this podcast. Usually we have our author guest do the Book Appreciation segment, but not everyone chooses to do so. I’m trying to put together some Book Appreciation shows from readers so that I can fit them in when there’s an opportunity. If you have some favorite historical novels featuring women who love women,--whether it’s your all-time favorites, or favorites within a particular genre--I’d love to have you on the show to talk about them.

Recent Lesbian Historical Fiction

When I first started putting together the forthcoming books list for this show, I had only two titles--well, more like one and a half. I’ve turned up a couple more at the last minute, but remember that I can only announce books if I know about them. So if you’re aware of any upcoming publications that you think would fit the topic of the podcast, please drop me a note.

* * *

The first book was an April release that I didn’t hear about until after it came out. It’s The Potion by R.G. Emanuelle from Dirt Road Books. Here’s the blurb.

Vera Kennedy, widow of Professor James Kennedy, wants to be a scientist, but in Victorian Boston, that isn’t an option for women. Nevertheless, after assisting her husband in the laboratory with his experiments, she has learned everything she could through his unintended tutelage. After his death, she continues his work until she veers off onto a different path with her own experiments, which threaten to consume her to the exclusion of all else.

Georgette Harris, widow of Professor Roland Harris, has been left destitute in the wake of her husband’s death. He had amassed mountains of debt. When a medicinals company wants to purchase a formula that Roland had proposed to them, Georgette searches for it without success, and then discovers evidence that her husband had worked with James Kennedy. Armed with this information, she seeks the help of Vera in uncovering the missing formula.

However, Vera is not one to give up secrets easily, though she is inexplicably drawn to Georgette. Despite her reservations, she considers Georgette’s request, and they soon discover that both their husbands were involved in an experiment layered in deception and danger. Together, they sort through mysterious clues and discover in the process something far stronger between them.

* * *

The second book teeters on the edge of the historical category. The author notes that it’s a vaguely Victorian-ish, somewhat post-apocalyptic steampunk fantasy. I figured I’d give it the benefit of the doubt and include it, since this month’s list is so short. The book appears to be the beginning of a series, titled:A Touch of Truth, Book One: Raven, Fire and Ice by Nita Round from Silver Dragon Books. Here’s the blurb:

Lucinda Ravensburgh sees the truth in everything she touches. When Captain Magda Stoner of the airship Verity, asks for her help in a very strange and messy crime, Lucinda cannot refuse. From that moment on, Lucinda’s life is changed forever. She discovers, no matter what the obstacle, nor the troubles they encounter, finding the truth is paramount.

* * *

The author Vanda called my attention to the third book in her Juliana series: Paris Adrift from Sans Merci Press. I can’t find clear information about a release date: the author’s Amazon page says March, in an interview she says April, but as of this writing I don’t see a definite date yet. So at least May, but keep your eyes peeled. Here’s the blurb:

Paris-bound, 1955. Alice “Al” Huffman can’t wait to reach the City of Light. As soon as their ship arrives, Juliana’s singing career will get the spotlight it deserves. Before the SS United States hits land, a stranger approaches Al with a Broadway contract for Juliana. But the offer comes with a threat that can destroy them both. If Al can’t find a way out, Juliana’s comeback will come crashing down around their heads. As she hides the awful truth from Juliana, Al searches for an answer before another obstacle destroys their last chance for happiness…

* * *

The last book for this month is one I just became aware of and again the release status isn’t entirely clear. The author’s website indicates it’ll be available through Smashwords and Amazon, but the links aren’t live yet so I’ve put her website in the show notes. The setting for this book is a lot earlier than our usual listings. The book is Thora: A Spartan Hoplite’s Slave by Red Hope from Little Red Wings. Here’s the blurb:

She is the only female hoplite in Spartan history. She is a royal guard to King Leonidas. She is the Iron Edge. In an age when men rule, Halcyon rises above and is the master of her own life. At home, Halcyon controls her lands and her personal slaves with a strict hand, until the day she purchases an unusual slave. Thora is a fair skinned woman who stands taller than the Greek gods, with hair the color of gold, and blue eyes that rival the skies. Halcyon must own the unusual woman, but she is hardly prepared for the thunder that follows. Step back into the glory of Ancient Sparta when the city-state becomes a formidable military power. Learn about Sparta’s unique social system including women’s dominant roles in both the house and in public affairs, and follow one slave owner’s journey as she learns to accept her slave’s spirit.

I have to confess that, reading this blurb, I’m a little bit uneasy about how this book is going to handle the topic of “romance” between an owner and a slave, even in a historic setting. But it does look like an interesting premise. Check it out and let me know what you think.

Ask Sappho

The “Ask Sappho” segment is where I take questions and requests from readers. It could be a question about some particular historic person or phenomenon. Sometimes I’ve had requests for book lists with a specific setting. It’s a chance for you, dear listeners, to take a hand in shaping this podcast and getting tailor-made content that speaks directly to your individual interests.

This month...this month, I’ve got nothing. I regularly put the word out looking for questions on facebook, on twitter, in the Lesbian Historic Motif Project blog, and of course every month in this On The Shelf show. I can’t do the Ask Sappho segment without your requests. I hope you’ve been enjoying this Question and Answer series, but I can’t do it without you. There are lots of ways to contact the show with your requests and questions: drop by the Lesbian Talk Show Chat Group on facebook, or drop me a note on Twitter, or stop by my blog and leave a comment or email. I hope to hear from you for next month’s Ask Sappho segment.

Show Notes

Your monthly update on what the Lesbian Historic Motif Project has been doing.

In this episode we talk about:

  • Recent and upcoming publications covered on the blog
    • Crawford, Julie. 2009. “Women’s Secretaries” in Queer Renaissance Historiography, Vin Nardizzi, Stephen Guy-Bray & Will Stockton, eds. Ashgate, Burlington VT. ISBN 978-0-7546-7608-9
    • Drouin, Jennifer. 2009. “Diana’s Band: Safe Spaces, Publics, and Early Modern Lesbianism” in Queer Renaissance Historiography, Vin Nardizzi, Stephen Guy-Bray & Will Stockton, eds. Ashgate, Burlington VT. ISBN 978-0-7546-7608-9
    • Putter, Ad. “Transvestite Knights in Medieval Life and History” in Cohen, Jeffrey Jerome & Bonnie Wheeler (eds). 1997. Becoming Male in the Middle Ages. Garland, New York.
    • Rowson, Everett K. 2003. “Gender Irregularity as Entertainment: Institutionalized Transvestism at the Caliphal Court in Medieval Baghdad” in Farmer, Sharon & Carol Braun Pasternack (eds). Gender and Difference in the Middle Ages. University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis. ISBN 0-8166-3893-4
    • Wiethaus, Ulrike. “In Serch of Medieval Women’s Friendships: Hildegard of Bingen’s Letters to her Female Contemporaries” in Wiethaus, Ulrike (ed). 1993. Maps of Flesh and Light: The Religious Experience of Medieval Women Mystics. Syracuse University Press, Syracuse.
    • Kruk, Remke. 1998. “The Bold and the Beautiful: Women and ‘fitna’ in the Sirat Dhat al-Himma: The Story of Nura” in Women in the Medieval Islamic World: Power, Patronage, and Piety, ed. Gavin R. G. Hambly. New York: St. Martin’s Press. ISBN 0-312-21057-4
    • Bennett, Judith and Shannon McSheffrey. 2014. “Early, Exotic and Alien: Women Dressed as Men in Late Medieval London” in History Workshop Journal. 77 (1): 1-25.
  • Announcing this month’s author guest, Jeannelle M. Ferreira
  • New and forthcoming fiction
  • Ask Sappho: Why isn’t there an Ask Sappho question this month?

Links to the Lesbian Historic Motif Project Online

Links to Heather Online

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