Lesbian Historic Motif Podcast - Episode 169 (previously 49a) - On the Shelf for August 2020 - Transcript
(Originally aired 2020/08/01 - listen here)
Welcome to On the Shelf for August 2020.
We’re all allowed the occasional frustrated regrets of quarantine. I was supposed to be in New Zealand right now, attending the World Science Fiction Convention. I’ve still been attending it through the magic of online media, but believe me, it isn’t the same. I really enjoy using the peripatetic nature of Worldcon as an excuse to travel. Last year in Ireland, three years ago in Finland, and this should have been my first visit to the southern hemisphere.
But there are other things to celebrate. August means the turning of another year of the Lesbian Historic Motif Podcast. We’ve finished up four years now, which is a quite a while in podcast-years. Every year I’ve added or changed something about the show: whether it’s expanding to weekly or adding the fiction series. There are definitely some changes coming down the pike, but it’s a little too soon to talk about them yet. I’m always interested in hearing what listeners most enjoy about the show, or what you’d be interested in having me add.
Publications on the Blog
The Lesbian Historic Motif Project blog was all over the map in July, quite literally, starting with a 17th century Armenian astrological illustration of two women having sex, then a brief look at a sourcebook of texts on the history of sexuality designed to be readings for a college course. Next there were two articles venturing outside the usual western European stomping grounds of the blog, with a set of case studies of lesbians in 19th century Russia, and a study of women’s same-sex relationships in 1930s Japan. This theme continues in August with an article on sexuality and gender in 18-19th century Egypt, which I confess is more deep-background research for a character in the next Alpennia book than strictly for the blog. Then we go to India for another of Ruth Vanita’s fascinating articles on women’s same-sex relations within the context of historic patriarchal systems. And then...oops, I realize that I’ve come to the end of the material I already have written up for the blog and I’m going to need to hit the books again!
No exciting history book acquisitions for the blog this month, alas. The only things that have arrived on my doorstep in the last month are a couple of collections of papers on medieval textiles and clothing, and more closely related to my writing projects, Children of Uncertain Fortune: Mixed-Race Jamaicans in Britain and the Atlantic Family, 1733-1833by Daniel Livesay. I’ve made a personal pledge that, when writing historical fiction, I will strive to make my casts and settings diverse. But diversity can’t just be tacked on -- it has to come from familiarity with the historic realities of marginalized people. So I often pick up books like this with the purpose of populating my imagination with just who the non-white people in my settings were, how they got there, and what they were doing. That way the characters will be there waiting for me when the story strikes.
I didn’t have an author guest lined up for this month, so when inspiration struck for my essay topic, I decided to work backwards to set it up.
My essay inspiration was some discussions on Twitter on the theme of artificial scarcity of representation and how it’s possible to write fiction based on historic persons or characters from historic literature that explores one interpretation of their identity without that being an erasure of other equally valid interpretations.
One of the threads that sparked this topic was interpretations of the Greek goddess Artemis variously as asexual or lesbian. It would be lovely if I could make it a roundtable with a couple of guests. That’s very hard to pull off when I don’t have anyone specific in mind to ask, but I can dream.
So to set up the topic, I plan to reprise my show on the myth of Diana and Callisto, and then follow it with a book appreciation show on books with mythic Greek and Roman legendary settings, especially featuring Artemis or Diana. Then the discussion of representation will finish it off.
It’s a month with five shows, so the end of August will feature another piece of original fiction. This time it’s “Your Fingers Like Pen and Ink” by Jeannelle M. Ferreira. Jeannelle was a guest of the podcast two years ago, and I’ve been waiting impatiently for the promised sequel to her Regency romance The Covert Captain. But I’m happy to have some short fiction to fill in the waiting.
Remember that in January we’ll be open for fiction submissions again. It’s never too soon to start looking for inspiration. There’s a link in the show notes to the call for submissions with all the details on what we’re looking for.
Recent Lesbian Historical Fiction
The recent, new, and forthcoming book list is very short this month. Only four titles! Surely there must be more? If so, I hope they turn up in my search next month before they miss the window for inclusion. I’m always adding older books to my database when I find them, but this podcast segment focuses on publications that have come out within the last few months.
There’s one additional July book: The Miseducation of Evie Epworthby Matson Taylor from Scribner UK. The cover copy only hints a little at the queer content promised by the Amazon keywords. A couple of Goodreads reviews confirm it’s there, though vaguely enough that I’m not sure that the title character is the queer rep. This evidently is a BBC radio book club pick, so I suspect you should expect a story on the literary side.
July, 1962 Sixteen year-old Evie Epworth stands on the cusp of womanhood. But what kind of a woman will she become? The fastest milk bottle-delivery girl in East Yorkshire, Evie is tall as a tree and hot as the desert sand. She dreams of an independent life lived under the bright lights of London (or Leeds). The two posters of Adam Faith on her bedroom wall (‘brooding Adam’ and ‘sophisticated Adam’) offer wise counsel about a future beyond rural East Yorkshire. Her role models are Charlotte Bronte, Shirley MacLaine and the Queen. But, before she can decide on a career, she must first deal with the malign presence of her future step-mother, the manipulative and money-grubbing Christine. If Evie can rescue her bereaved father, Arthur, from Christine’s pink and over-perfumed clutches, and save the farmhouse from being sold off then maybe she can move on with her own life and finally work out exactly who it is she is meant to be.
The August books start with another literary book: All Men Want to Knowby Nina Bouraoui (translated by Aneesa Abbas Higgins) from Viking. The book traces a fictionalized account of the author’s childhood:
...a blissful childhood in Algeria, a wild, sun-soaked paradise, with hazy summer afternoons spent swimming, diving, and driving across the desert. Her mother is French, her father Algerian; when racial tensions begin to surface in their neighbourhood, her mother suffers an unspeakable act of violence that forces the family to flee the country. In Paris, eighteen-year-old Nina lives alone. It's the 1980s. Four nights a week she makes her way to The Kat, a legendary gay nightclub, where she watches women from the sidelines, afraid of her own desires, her sudden and intoxicating freedom. In her solitude, she starts to write - and finds herself writing about her mother. All Men Want to Know is a haunting, lyrical international bestseller about mothers and daughters, about shame and sexuality, about existing between two cultures and belonging to neither. A phenomenon in France, this is a defining portrait of womanhood from one of Europe's greatest living writers.
The other two August books fall more solidly in the traditional historic romance genre. Guarding Heartsby Jaycie Morrison from Bold Strokes Books, part of her World War II series.
Sergeant Bett Smythe and Lieutenant Gale Rains are building a life together, despite the risks in the tightly closeted world of the Women’s Army Corps. When another couple, Captain Kathleen Hartley and Lieutenant Victoria Whitman, invite Bett and Rain to a dinner party, they’re introduced to the lesbian underground on the base. Kat and Whit have had a turbulent relationship, and as a budding friendship deepens, Kat’s attraction to Rain threatens both couples’ futures. When Whit’s friend is accused of sexually assaulting a recruit, the ensuing investigation impacts them all, professionally and personally. As the Battle of the Bulge rages overseas, the bounds of love and friendship are tested. Whit will do almost anything to preserve what she has with Kat, but who is the real threat? And can Bett protect her relationship from the very real dangers close to heart and home?
And in a grammatical coincidence of titles,Guarding Heartsis followed by the last August book, Keeping Secretsby McGee Mathews from Sapphire Books, also set during wartime, but the Civil War in this case.
What would you do if, after finally finding the woman of your dreams, she suddenly leaves to fight in the Civil War? It’s 1863, and Elizabeth Hepscott has resigned herself to a life of monotonous boredom far from the battlefields as the wife of a Missouri rancher. Her fate changes when she travels with her brother to Kentucky to help him join the Union Army. On a whim, she poses as his little brother and is bullied into enlisting, as well. Reluctantly pulled into a new destiny, a lark decision quickly cascades into mortal danger. While Elizabeth’s life has made a drastic U-turn, Charlie Schweicher, heiress to a glass-making fortune, is still searching for the only thing money can’t buy. A chance encounter drastically changes everything for both of them. Will Charlie find the love she’s longed for, or will the war take it all away?
What Am I Reading?
So what am I reading? I’m still mostly in my reading slump. I read a short story in Claire O’Dell’s Janet Watson series that circles back to Janet’s youth via her love of journaling. It’s always fun to see the roots of a favorite character before they hit the crises that will change them forever.
Since my coping mechanism has shifted over to Netflix and Needlework, I’ve seen a couple of shows with queer female interest. The violent thriller The Old Guard, featuring Charlize Theron as leader of a near-immortal mercenary squad gives us some glimpses of historic settings and Theron’s character Andromache fighting side by side with another female immortal with a very strong girlfriends vibe. The show is definitely more focused on extended fight scenes than I tend to prefer, but the character actions in between are definitely worth it. And given that two other characters are very much openly a male romantic couple, you know that wherever they go with the show if it continues, they won’t shy away from queerness.
My other delightful Netflix surprise was in Anne with an E, the most recent and rather loose interpretation of Anne of Green Gables. While female friendship is a core element of the story, one of the additions in this interpretation is a clearly signaled Boston Marriage type couple involving the spinster aunt of Anne’s friend Diana. We see it only after the aunt’s partner has died, but not only is the nature of their lifelong partnership clearly laid out for the viewer, the aunt discusses it with Anne and gives her some broader ideas of possible life paths. It was very sweet and feminist and utterly unexpected.
What have you been reading or watching lately that gave you a window on queer women in the past?
Your monthly update on what the Lesbian Historic Motif Project has been doing.
In this episode we talk about:
Links to the Lesbian Historic Motif Project Online
Links to Heather Online