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Lesbian Historic Motif Podcast Episode 272 - On the Shelf for November 2023

Saturday, November 4, 2023 - 18:57

Lesbian Historic Motif Podcast - Episode 272 - On the Shelf for November 2023 - Transcript

(Originally aired 2023/11/04 - listen here)

Welcome to On the Shelf for November 2023.

Trying to think of some clever way to start off the podcast. All of my clever is dried up at the moment. My schedules are all a bit off-kilter and that’s even before we adjust back to Standard Time here tonight. The podcast is just one small part of it, but swapping the fiction episode from September to October means that I’ve just done three episodes in three weeks and I can’t for the life of me remember how I used to do that all the time.

I was updating the episode planning spreadsheet the other day and penciling in some special episodes in the next few years for anniversaries. A year from now we should be airing episode 300, so I’ll have to come up with something special for that. The next round number will be a two-fer, when we hit our 10 year anniversary of the podcast almost exactly at episode 350. I’m not sure I want to predict that far out, since I’ll have been retired for over a year by that point and I intend to have rearranged my life significantly.

I do have some solid goals for the podcast. I’d like to complete enough of the trope episodes and other thematic shows to have material towards a book. That was my initial plan, you know: to put together a resource book on lesbian history for people who wanted to write historical fiction. The idea I had back in the ‘80s when I first started thinking about it was rather different from what I envision now, but I’d still like to turn my research into something less ephemeral than a podcast. Plus, get back to writing my own fiction, of course. I never meant to spend so long between books. But for the podcast, it would be a nice round number to make it to ten years of podcasting. Ten years is a very long time in podcasting.

Restarting my library adventures last month has broken a logjam and I’ve been back several times since then, pulling articles from sources that aren’t online. I’ll probably do a serious bit of journal downloads when I take some vacation time after Thanksgiving and can go to the library at a time when staff are available to help. But in the mean time I have about 30 articles on my iPad, ready for highlighting. When looking at my article folders, I’m also reminded that I’ve been gathering materials for a special topic on European perceptions of lesbianism in the Ottoman Empire, which will involve presentations of some primary sources, catching up on relevant publications, and then a podcast episode. No end of ideas, just short on time!

Publications on the Blog

In the past month, the blog finished up the relevant articles in The Cambridge History of Gay and Lesbian Literature. Specifically, the chapters on same-sex friendship in the 19th century, African-American writing, and the decadent era, but skipping over the purely 20th century chapters. I also blogged an article “The Female Rake: Gender, Libertinism, and Enlightenment” by Kathleen Wilson, as background for the tropes episode on rakes, though the article wasn’t as pertinent to the podcast as I’d hoped.

Book Shopping!

Several books that I’d ordered came in this month. You may remember that back in July I mentioned a Librivox audio collection of early queer-themed short fiction. Most of the sapphic stories included in it can be found in the collection Two Friends and Other Nineteenth-Century Lesbian Stories by American Women Writers, edited by Susan Koppelman. When shopping for something else, that book popped up and I realized that I didn’t actually own a copy. Well, now I do.

On that same shopping kick, when I was plugging in titles of books on my “want list” to see if I could find used copies, I ordered a copy of Margaret Goldsmith’s Christina of Sweden: A Psychological Biography. Now, this book was published in 1935 and the citation and attribution standards are…not what I prefer. But it was cited elsewhere as including a number of anecdotes about Queen Christina’s sapphic hijinks in Paris (after her abdication from the throne of Sweden), and it was cheap enough to be worth an impulse.

The article on African-American writing in the Cambridge History pointed me to Farah Jasmine Griffin’s Beloved Sisters and Loving Friends: Letters from Rebecca Primus of Royal Oak, Maryland, and Addie Brown of Hartford, Connecticut, 1854-1868. You may recall that one of the first episodes of this podcast was about Rebecca Primus and Addie Brown, but at the time I was basing it on a journal article. I didn’t know that there was a whole book about the couple. Well, now I own it.

The last two books aren’t relevant to the Project, but I always like to toss in the rest of my shopping so you can get a broader picture of my life. Another “stumbled across” item is Phyllis Kinney’s treatise Welsh Traditional Music. Welsh history is one of my other loves besides queer history, and someday I plan to merge the two in my fiction. And lastly I got a copy of Stephanie Forshee’s book for young readers, Hidden Gems: Margaret Getchell LaForge, which is a biography of my great-great-grandmother and her time as an executive at Macy’s department store. Stephanie Forshee is working on a series of biographies of pioneering American businesswomen, and I was delighted to help her research with information from our family archives.

Recent Lesbian/Sapphic Historical Fiction

Lots of new and recent sapphic historical fiction this month. I don’t usually buy quite so many books while putting together the new and recent releases segment, but the tally ended up at 8 books. I have no idea when I’ll get the time to read all of them, given how far behind I already am on fiction. But it’s great to stumble across so many intriguing titles. Now if only I didn’t have to work quite so hard to confirm that they fall in the sapphic category!

Several thematic clusters emerged this month. We’ll start off with some mystery series.

Jennifer Ashley’s Kat Holloway historic mystery series includes a lesbian couple as side characters, but in The Price of Lemon Cake (Kat Holloway #6.5) from JA/AG Publishing, that couple gets to be the protagonists. The main mystery series is published by Berkley, but this and another side-story are put out directly by the author.

When Kat Holloway approaches Lady Bobby Perry and Judith Townsend to help her discover what a young aristo is getting up to in a gentleman’s club, Bobby quickly accepts, coaxing a promise of Mrs. Holloway’s stupendous lemon cake in return.

But the investigation quickly turns into more than a simple spy mission, forcing Judith to confront a painful part her past. Both Judith and Bobby must bring their own unique skills to help Kat solve the tricky and dangerous problem.

Next up we have two mystery series that I only stumbled across when the third book in the series came out last month. We’ll start with the Mary Grey Mysteries, by Winnie Frolik from NineStar Press.

In book 1, The Illhenny Murders:

District Nurse Mary Grey saves the life of young architect, Anthony West, when he is involved a car wreck, only for West to tell her it was no accident. Someone tried to kill him. Mary is skeptical at first, but when West dies, she’s determined to investigate the matter. More blood is spilled, and Mary becomes embroiled in a tangled web of intrigue and murder as she joins forces with exiled Jewish German detective Franz Shaefer. And on top of everything else, Mary finds herself dangerously attracted to Anthony’s beautiful and unattainable sister Harriet.

The hopes that cover copy raises for our protagonist are confirmed in the second volume, Death at Bayard Lodge.

When district nurse Mary Grey and her lover Harriet accept an invitation to visit the latter’s godmother in the beautiful Lake District, they’re hoping for a relaxing outing. But from the very start, they find themselves pulled into a web of intrigue, resentments, deceit, and violent passions.

Young newlywed Rachel Florry is found on the lawn with her skull smashed in and there’s no shortage of suspects. From the girl whose fiancée Rachel stole, to a sinister vagrant, to Rachel’s own mystery lover.

Mary calls on her old friend and partner, private detective Franz Shaefer to come down to Bayard Lodge and help solve the case. But as they unearth buried secrets and hidden agendas, they themselves are at risk.

Since the first time this series turned up in my search was volume 3, you may see from the cover copy for A Swing of the Axe that I wasn’t at all sure why my keywords had turned it up.

When Mary Grey learns that her old colleague from nursing school has been viciously killed, she and private detective Franz Schaefer immediately rush up North.

They soon discover that before she died, the nurse in question had written to Scotland Yard, alerting them to a suspected crime.

In a village full of secrets, which one was worth killing for?

The next series also had me searching out reviews to see if the somewhat coy description carried through in content. But I was able to contact the author with my questions and she confirmed that the characters were based on a relative of hers who had a “very close female friend” and that the ambiguity of the cover copy intentionally reflected the discretion with which they had to live their lives. This is the Winslow and Fitzgerald Investigations Mystery series by Cherie O’Boyle.

A Preposterous Alibi (volume 1):

It is the spring of 1928 in San Francisco, an especially unruly city and a place where no one seems to care if the body of an unknown prostitute is unceremoniously dumped in a dark Chinatown alley. No one, that is, until young companions and amateur sleuths Evelyn Winslow and Flora Fitzgerald learn about the death from their housemate, Wu Chin Jaing.

The longer the garishly-dressed body remains in the alley, the angrier the women become at the injustice. Join in as Evelyn, Flora, and Jaing bring their quick wits, strong wills, and brave hearts to bear on the puzzle of the identity of both the victim and her killer.

An Unforeseen Motive (volume 2):

It’s the summer of 1932, an era rife with the challenges of keeping body and soul together even for companions Evelyn Winslow and Flora Fitzgerald. On summer break from teaching, the young sleuths accept a much-needed commission to investigate labor unrest roiling in the fruit orchards of the San Francisco East Bay. They’ve hardly started when a worker is brutally slain.

Evelyn uncovers the means of death, but too many have the opportunity. And possible motives for committing the murder remain a confusing mystery, leaving Evelyn and Flora on their own and in no small danger as they try to work out the puzzle together.

And finally, By Indelicate Means (volume 3):

Death by bludgeoning becomes the most telling clue in BY INDELICATE MEANS. As Evelyn, Flora, Jaing, and their young police officer friend Andrew become more skillful at investigating the seamier side of life in San Francisco by 1933, more crimes come to light, destitute children seek their help, and the mysterious disappearance of an infant even comes under their scrutiny. Finding the common thread challenges their fearless and adventurous natures and sends them into deeper dangers. Then the first body is found…

The next coincidental theme this month is cross-time stories, and especially the sort of story that historian Linda Garber calls a “romance of the archives,” such as Charlotte and Me by Carol Leyland.

Alice Hargreaves finds herself alone, divorced and lost since the discovery of her wife's infidelity. Smarting and scared after her first lesbian romance ended so badly, she begins anew, in a run-down house in York.

During her house renovations, she discovers old love and the possibility of future love with her striking, charming and helpful neighbour Charlie.

Inspired by the lesbian love letters she discovers in a hidden metal box under the floorboards, Alice finds hope. Their secrets, revealed in their historic writings, mirror the love and loss in Alice’s own life, and give her courage to move on.

A similar archival framing story presents a fictionalized biography of poet Christina Rossetti in The Rossetti Diaries by Kathleen Williams Renk from Bedazzled Ink

Historian Maggie Winegarden decides she needs to spend some time away from her partner Bethany, who is upset over Maggie's desire to be a painter. Maggie visits the seaside town of Hastings and while in St. Clement's Church discovers that poet Christina Rossetti and artist Elizabeth "Lizzie" Siddal had been frequent visitors to Hastings and the church. Agatha, the church caretaker, shows Maggie a chest of papers in the catacombs that the vicar said belonged to Dante Gabriel Rossetti.

Maggie discovers the papers are actually the lost diaries of Christina and Lizzie. She learns that Christina's and Lizzie's lives are intertwined beyond being sisters-in-law, that they become intimate friends and establish a community of women artists and poets, a Pre-Raphaelite Sisterhood in Lizzie's ancestral home, Hope Hall.

Maggie is joined by Bethany and Agatha in the quest to solve the mystery of how the diaries were buried in the St. Clement's Church catacombs and uncover surprising revelations on the origins of Christina's most famous poem "Goblin Market."

Wrapped in a modern-day mystery, The Rossetti Diaries is a historical re-imagining that explores the indomitable artistic aspirations and achievements of the poet Christina Rossetti and the artist Elizabeth Siddal.

And last in this group is a straightforward time-travel novel. This is the fourth novel in Harmke Buursma’s “Magical Bookshop” series from Illusive Press. It looks like each book can stand alone, although the third book in the series has strong overlap in characters and events with Anne Through Time.

After the sudden passing of her father, Anne Blakeley discovers that her family is on the verge of financial ruin. Though Anne dreams of a different future, she is determined to marry for her family's sake. With finances dwindling fast and a debt collector requesting a final payment, Anne has no choice but to accept help from her friend Beth Easton for one final season in London to find a suitor.

However, a chance meeting with Willa Balfour, the daughter of a marquis, pulls Anne and Beth into a scheme to rid Willa of an unwanted suitor, an Irish duke invited by her father. Thankfully, the marquis seems distracted by the appearance of Melinda, a time traveler and owner of a magical bookshop.

Despite needing to find a suitor, Anne starts questioning her burgeoning feelings towards Willa Balfour. Anne is torn between familial duty and her own heart when Melinda proposes the offer of a lifetime to Anne and Willa.

The pitch for this next book calls it “Heartstopper meets A Knight’s Tale” (meaning the comic medieval-ish movie), so be certain you’re looking for some madcap anachronistic humor if you read Gwen and Art Are Not in Love by Lex Croucher from Wednesday Books.

It’s been hundreds of years since King Arthur’s reign. His descendant, Arthur, a future Lord and general gadabout, has been betrothed to Gwendoline, the quick-witted, short-tempered princess of England, since birth. The only thing they can agree on is that they despise each other. They’re forced to spend the summer together at Camelot in the run up to their nuptials, and within 24 hours, Gwen has discovered Arthur kissing a boy and Arthur has gone digging for Gwen's childhood diary and found confessions about her crush on the kingdom's only lady knight, Bridget Leclair. Realizing they might make better allies than enemies, they make a reluctant pact to cover for each other, and as things heat up at the annual royal tournament, Gwen is swept off her feet by her knight and Arthur takes an interest in Gwen's royal brother. Gwen and Art Are Not in Love is chock full of sword-fighting, found family, and romantic shenanigans destined to make readers fall in love.

Another accidental theme this month is fictionalized biographies. We previously mentioned Christina Rossetti, and now we get a 19th century civic leader in Richmond, Virginia in Mary's Grace by John Musgrove from Quarter Mile Press. The cover copy is rather scanty, but check on the Wikipedia article for the subject, Grace Arents [] and the linked article on her uncle Lewis Ginter, who is the subject of another fictional biography by John Musgrove, you can see why these subjects are so intriguing for a queer author.

Grace Arents, the niece of Lewis Ginter, built a new life in the twentieth century based on philanthropy, community involvement, and the help of her closest friend, Mary Garland Smith. The two women transformed the educational landscape of Richmond and found love in the process.

Despite the title, this next book doesn’t seem like a light-hearted holiday themed romance: My Christmas Gift to You: Forbidden Love by Julia C. Oliver.

It’s time to stop living a lie…

For years, Lady Dinna Lundon has secretly loved the same woman––her best friend, Chriss Rochosh, now Baroness Perterson. But five years ago, they were mere green girls, and Dinna was too scared to risk losing Chriss’ friendship if she told her how she felt. But when Dinna’s parents found out about her preference for women, her insanely controlling mother arranges a marriage to squelch any disparaging rumors that would hurt the family name. Dinna, however, has no intention of––or interest in–– men and escapes to China where she invents a faux husband and makes a large fortune shipping rare artifacts around the world. She has everything a woman could want…except love.

It's time to admit the truth…

Lady Chriss’ life took a much different path. Depressed by the loss of her best friend, and admittedly as curious about men as she was about women, she agreed to an arranged marriage to a much older man. He was kind––something she’d never known from her selfish parents––showing her a world of finer things. But too soon, a fatal illness took him, leaving her with a newborn daughter and an inheritance her parents would do anything to attain––even kidnapping or murder. They put in motion a plan to force her to marry her own cousin, then have her declared insane, so the three can split her money. With her daughter literally held as a hostage to make her go through with the marriage, Chriss writes to her old friend for help.

Time is running out…

Dinna immediately books passage for home, and with her money and connections, she knows she can save Chriss, whether her friend returns her love or not. But greed knows no boundaries and when Chriss and her child are abducted, Dinna must save the woman she wants to spend the rest of her life with…if she’s not too late.

Other Books of Interest

I have one book in the “other books of interest” category this month. Like many stories set in the American Civil War, this one involves crossing gender, and without clear indications of how the character understands herself, I don’t want to apply a sapphic label on my own. The book is: The Grass Widow by D.A. Chadwick.

In 1861 Bethel Erwin joins the Confederate army as Private Tandy Scott to escape the dreary life of a woman in the hills. She signs up for the 2nd Tennessee Infantry along with her younger brother and cousin. Bethel's medical skills earn her a promotion to assistant surgeon when she later deserts the CSA to join the Union army. After the bloody battle of Shiloh, Bethel and her brother, George, come to the aid of a young widow in Corinth and their lives are changed forever.

What Am I Reading?

So what am I reading? The only novel I actually completed is the audiobook of Ann Leckie’s science fiction novel Translation State. This is set in her Imperial Radch universe and has a very twisty non-linear plot with a solidly upbeat found-family-type ending. Just my cup of tea, but I’ll note that if you had trouble getting into her Ancillary trilogy, this is more of the same.

The main reason I haven’t finished anything else is because I then started the audiobook of Nicola Griffith’s Menewood, the sequel to Hild. Clocking in at nearly 29 hours listening time, it’ll be a while before I give a report on it.


Usually I’d try to have an interview with the author of last episode’s story in this show, but things didn’t sort themselves out in time, so we’re aiming to have that interview with B. Pladek next month.

And don’t forget, we’ll be opening for submissions for next year’s fiction series in January. Check the website for details and tell all your friends!

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

Major category: