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Lesbian Historic Motif Podcast Episode 265 - On the Shelf for August 2023

Saturday, August 5, 2023 - 07:00

Lesbian Historic Motif Podcast - Episode 265 - On the Shelf for August 2023 - Transcript

(Originally aired 2023/08/05 - listen here)

Welcome to On the Shelf for August 2023.

Evidently the “on the shelf” episodes are currently leaning towards new books and interviews, with not so much of other types of content. Still on unofficial hiatus from summarizing books and articles for the blog. Still not much in the way of book shopping—at least not books that are relevant to mention here.

On the other hand, the interview schedule is looking packed! We have three interviews this month and I have several more already scheduled for the coming months. Rather than aiming for one interview per show, I figure I’ll air them as I record them unless there’s a reason to delay for publication schedules.

While writing the script for this show, I was reminded that I’d promised to get the updated submission guidelines up for next year’s fiction series. So that is available on the website now. (Link in the show notes, as usual.) Every year I’m delighted to find the selection process getting harder and harder due to the quality of what I receive. But don’t let that daunt you! Send me your best, most interesting work and you’ll have a good chance.

Recent Lesbian/Sapphic Historical Fiction

The new and recent books cover quite a range this month. I’ll start with a book that I had originally left off the show because the cover copy was so coy about the content that I had no confidence that it belonged here. But consultation with a reader let me know that Our Hideous Progeny by C.E. McGill from Harper does indeed have a sapphic relationship at its heart, so I’ve slipped it in a bit belatedly.

Mary is the great-niece of Victor Frankenstein. She knows her great uncle disappeared under mysterious circumstances in the Arctic, but she doesn’t know why or how...

The 1850s are a time of discovery, and London is ablaze with the latest scientific theories and debates, especially when a spectacular new exhibition of dinosaur sculptures opens at the Crystal Palace. Mary is keen to make her name in this world of science alongside her geologist husband, Henry—but despite her sharp mind and sharper tongue, without wealth and connections their options are limited.

When Mary discovers some old family papers that allude to the shocking truth behind her great-uncle’s past, she thinks she may have found the key to securing her and Henry’s professional and financial future. Their quest takes them to the wilds of Scotland; to Henry’s intriguing but reclusive sister, Maisie; and to a deadly chase with a rival who is out to steal their secret.

I was commenting in one of this month’s interviews that there seems to be something about the Alfred Noyes poem “The Highwayman” that particularly inspires sapphic adaptations. By Moonlight by Lisabet Sarai is a decidedly erotic entry in this highly specialized genre.

In her eighteen years on earth, Bess has never traveled more than twenty miles from her Devonshire village. The raven-haired innkeeper’s daughter has little time to dream of adventure as she labors from dawn to dusk to keep her abusive father satisfied.

Then, at the weekly market in Tavistock town, she meets a handsome dandy who claims her with a single stolen kiss. When the gallant gentleman makes a midnight visit to the inn, Bess learns that her new lover is none other than Kit Latour, a notorious French highwayman who has been boldly relieving the local nobility of their valuables. Well-aware of the risk she’s taking, Bess still offers herself to the seductive outlaw. Even Kit’s darkest secrets cannot quench the flames of her love.

Another specialized micro-genre—that of queer adaptations of Jane Austen—covers a wide range of approaches. Kate Christie’s previous title, Gay Pride and Prejudice, was a bit disappointing for me, as it was created with only minor revisions to the original Austen text. So I rather suspect the same approach has been used for her new book, Emma: The Nature of a Lady  from Second Growth Books. But if that approach suits your tastes, then check it out.

What if some among Jane Austen’s characters preferred the company of their own sex? In this new retelling of Emma, one of Austen’s most entertaining novels, this question once again applies. This time, Christie’s rainbow-hued pen takes on the characters–and storylines–of Emma Woodhouse, Mr. Knightley, and certain other residents of Highbury. Kate Christie’s Queering the Canon series advances the proposition that everyone deserves a happy ending–or, at least, to be included in the Western literary canon.

When reading through historical records, every once in a while you stumble across a fleeting reference that suggests a deeper story. Perhaps there is an overtly queer clue. Perhaps it’s only a situation in which queer stories could have existed. The Low Road by Katharine Quarmby from Unbound Publishing is based on just such a hint.

Norfolk, 1813. In the quiet Waveney Valley, the body of a woman – Mary Tyrell – is staked through the heart after her death by suicide. She had been under arrest for the suspected murder of her newborn child. Mary leaves behind a young daughter, Hannah, who is later sent away to the Refuge for the Destitute in London, where she will be trained for a life of domestic service.

It is at the Refuge that Hannah meets Annie Simpkins, a fellow resident, and together they forge a friendship that deepens into passionate love. But the strength of this bond is put to the test when the girls are caught stealing from the Refuge's laundry, and they are sentenced to transportation to Botany Bay, setting them on separate paths that may never cross again.

Drawing on real events, The Low Road is a gripping, atmospheric tale that brings to life the forgotten voices of the past – convicts, servants, the rural poor – as well as a moving evocation of love that blossomed in the face of prejudice and ill fortune.

Eden Hopewell has a book coming out next month, but this month’s entry from her is a romantic short story: “Love in the Shadows.”

Love in the Shadows is a captivating tale of forbidden love set in 1877 Philadelphia. When wealthy Emily meets struggling painter Charlotte, they are drawn to each other despite the societal norms of the time. As they navigate their secret relationship, they must battle the shadows of their past and fight to protect the love they share. Will they find a way to overcome the obstacles in their path and build a life together?

The randomness of publishing schedules sometimes throws together accidental themes. Over the last few months, we seem to have gotten an unusual number of books set around early psychiatric institutions. These stories tend to be somewhat dark, purely due to the setting. This month, we have Behind the Red Curtain by Eve Morton from JMS Books.

Cassandra Lightman grew up making trinkets and toys. She was on her way to inventing a "flying machine" when she was committed to a sanatorium for hysteria. That's where Dr. Timothy Brown found Sandra and saw her promising intelligence. After Sandra shows Dr. Brown how to cure hysteria in women, she begins to work under him in his medical practice. Since Sandra cannot practice medicine and has no support from her family, she must carry on her position in secret. She goes into Dr. Brown’s office through the back door, speaking to no one, and always covering her face.

Sandra soon meets Bedelia Morten, one of her patients behind the red curtain. Bedelia Morten is an upper class wife with a banker husband and three children of her own. She suffers from insomnia and nightmares, which leads her to seek out Dr. Brown’s practice. Though Bedelia is initially skeptical of Sandra’s skill, she soon learns to appreciate Sandra’s talent and company.

When their relationship becomes too close, Sandra is encouraged by Dr. Brown to invent a "stand-in" for herself. Sandra goes back to her experimental roots and visits her idol-inventor Marlin Manchester. Sandra works many long nights in hopes of creating the first steam-powered vibrator. When Sandra’s invention takes off, she is forced to reconsider her role both in and out of the examination room, her future, and who she wants by her side.

I always like finding books with less commonly used settings. That was what led me to interview Lee Swanson about Her Dangerous Journey Home (No Man is Her Master #3) from Merchant's Largesse Books. The previous two books in the series detailed how Christina Kohl got into her current situation.

Posing as her dead brother, master sea merchant Christina Kohl is knighted by King Edward II in 1310 for her bravery fighting the Scots. Torn from the arms of the woman she is forbidden to love, Christina leads a perilous voyage north where she confronts the Baltic pirates who killed her father and brother.

The various media properties telling the life of Ann Lister focus on the era when she was an established landowner and courting women of her social circles. But Lister’s romantic journey starts much earlier as dramatized in Learned By Heart by Emma Donoghue from Little, Brown.

Drawing on years of investigation and Anne Lister’s five-million-word secret journal, Learned by Heart is the long-buried love story of Eliza Raine, an orphan heiress banished from India to England at age six, and Anne Lister, a brilliant, troublesome tomboy, who meet at the Manor School for Young Ladies in York in 1805 when they are both fourteen. Emotionally intense, psychologically compelling and deeply researched, Learned by Heart is an extraordinary work of fiction by one of the world’s greatest storytellers. Full of passion and heartbreak, the tangled lives of Anne Lister and Eliza Raine form a love story for the ages.

Other Books of Interest

This month, the “other books of interest” category functions more as I originally intended, with stories that diverge in different ways from the central prototype we aim to cover.

The Ghost Ship (Burning Chambers #3) by Kate Mosse from Minotaur Books (Pan Macmillan) features a romance between a woman and a character who may be a woman in male disguise or perhaps is non-binary. It’s unclear from how the character is described and the cover copy is typically coy about it. This is the third book in a family saga series, but it appears the previous books don’t have queer content.

Piracy. Romance. Revenge. Across the seas of the seventeenth century, two seafarers are forced to fight for their lives. The sequel to The City of Tears, The Ghost Ship is the third novel in The Joubert Family Chronicles from bestselling author Kate Mosse.

The Barbary Coast, 1621. A mysterious vessel floats silently on the water. It is known only as the Ghost Ship. For months it has hunted pirates to liberate those enslaved by corsairs, manned by a courageous crew of mariners from Italy and France, Holland and the Canary Islands.

But the bravest men on board are not who they seem. And the stakes could not be higher. If arrested, they will be hanged for their crimes. Can they survive the journey and escape their fate?

A sweeping and epic love story, ranging from France in 1610 to Amsterdam and the Canary Islands in the 1620s, The Ghost Ship is a thrilling novel of adventure and buccaneering, love and revenge, stolen fortunes and hidden secrets on the high seas.

Sometimes a book will end up in the “other books of interest” section because the sapphic characters are not the central protagonists, as is the case for A Lady's Guide to Scandal by Sophie Irwin from Penguin Books.

When shy Miss Eliza Balfour married the austere Earl of Somerset, twenty years her senior, it was the match of the season--no matter that he was not the husband Eliza would have chosen.

But ten years later, Eliza is widowed. And at eight and twenty years, she is suddenly left titled, rich, and, for the first time in her life, utterly in control of her own future. Instead of living out her mourning quietly, Eliza heads to Bath with her cousin Margaret. After years of living according to everyone else's rules, Eliza has resolved, at last, to do as she wants.

But when the ripples of the dowager Lady Somerset's behavior reach the new Lord Somerset--whom Eliza knew, once, as a younger woman--Eliza is forced to confront the fact that freedom does not come without consequences, though it also brings unexpected opportunities . . .

And finally we have a cross-time story where the characters literally cross time, in Pride and Prejudice and Pittsburgh by Rachael Lippincott from Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers.

What if you found a once-in-a-lifetime love…just not in your lifetime? Audrey Cameron has lost her spark. But after getting dumped by her first love and waitlisted at her dream art school all in one week, she has no intention of putting her heart on the line again to get it back. So when local curmudgeon Mr. Montgomery walks into her family’s Pittsburgh convenience store saying he can help her, Audrey doesn’t know what she’s expecting…but it’s definitely not that she’ll be transported back to 1812 to become a Regency romance heroine.

Lucy Sinclair isn’t expecting to find an oddly dressed girl claiming to be from two hundred years in the future on her family’s estate. But she has to admit it’s a welcome distraction from being courted by a man her father expects her to marry—who offers a future she couldn’t be less interested in. Not that anyone has cared about what or who she’s interested in since her mother died, taking Lucy’s spark with her.

While the two girls try to understand what’s happening and how to send Audrey home, their sparks make a comeback in a most unexpected way. Because as they both try over and over to fall for their suitors and the happily-ever-afters everyone expects of them, they find instead they don’t have to try at all to fall for each other. But can a most unexpected love story survive even more impossible circumstances?

What Am I Reading?

And what have I been consuming lately? Reviewing my log, I’ve started a fairly large number of things, but a lot of them are still ongoing in parallel. Here’s what I’ve finished since last month.

I listened to The Benevolent Society of Ill-Mannered Ladies by Alison Goodman, which is something between a novel in three acts and a collection of three connected novellas. Two spinster sisters decide to rescue various imperiled women with the aid of a disinherited nobleman-turned-highwayman who of course turns out to be the love interest. More of a dark thriller than a romantic adventure, which was what I thought I was getting. And the dark parts can be very dark indeed to the point of unpleasantness.

I was far more taken with the audiobook of Celia Bell’s The Disenchantment, set in late 17th century Paris amid politics and suspected poisonings in the court. There is a central sapphic relationship though this isn’t a romance novel by genre. There’s a lovely author’s note at the end talking about the real women who inspired the story. Highly recommended and I’ll promise you that it’s not tragic—at least for the women.

Changing gears somewhat, I want to give my highest recommendation to the Netflix animated adaptation of the graphic novel Nimona by N.D. Stevenson. It’s a lovely if heartbreaking story about the struggle to be accepted for who you are, and not who other people want you to be, in the guise of an endearing and chaotic monster girl named Nimona. The darker aspects of the show may be a bit intense for pre-teens, but if you have a teenager working on identity questions, the story may hit home for them.

I started reading Edie Cay’s A Lady’s Finder, set in the world of 19th century female prizefighters, but it wasn’t hitting the spot for me (I guess you can consider the pun intentional) so I set it aside for now.

Among the stories I’m still in the middle of is Meredith Rose’s Sherlockian story A Study in Garnet, which I expect to give a strong nod to when I finish it. And speaking of Meredith Rose, she’s one of the three authors I’m hosting this month. The other two are Annemarie K.D. who gave us last month’s fiction episode, and  Lee Swanson, whose new book was mentioned previously.

Author Guests

First up is Annemarie K.D., whose story “To the Fair Muse who, Loving Me, Imagin'd More” aired last week.

[Interview transcript will be posted when available.]

I’m so glad I happened across Meredith Rose’s website when looking up information about her book, because it convinced me I wanted to interview her.

[Interview transcript will be posted when available.]

Lee Swanson has the distinction of being the first male author I’ve interviewed for this podcast. At least, the first author who was male at the time of the interview.

[Interview transcript will be posted 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 Annemarie KD Online

  • Annemarie does not have active social media at this time.

Links to Meredith Rose Online

Links to Lee Swanson Online

Major category: