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Tuesday, April 28, 2015 - 08:52
I've been running the "Teaser Tuesday" feature so long, it's hard to know what to do with Tuesdays on this blog! Because it's easier (read: lazier) for me to come up with blog topics if I have some sort of thematic structure, I've decided to continue dedicating Tuesdays to posts relating to my fiction. I considered briefly posting teasers from some of the short fiction I have in train, but when I took a look at them, I couldn't find short bits that seemed to work well in isolation like that. And with The Mystic Marriage just barely out, it seems a bit too early to start teasing you with what's happening in Mother of Souls. But people have asked to hear about specific topics and as long as I avoid outright spoilers, it will be fun to explore some world-building issues, like I did last week for food and dining. And I'm trying to get more comfortable with making a direct appeal to readers to support the series in various ways. So... Wouldn't it be wonderful if the Alpennia books were available in audio? Even if you aren't a dedicated audio-book listener yourself, can't you imagine the story read in some lusciously-accented voice on a long road trip? (I confess that in my fantasies it's read by my favorite reader, Karen Savage, whose versions of Jane Austen read me to sleep every night.) Bella Books has something of a loose arrangement with (I don't know the details -- just bits and pieces I've heard through the grapevine) and a few Bella books get picked every year to be produced by them. Now, in the grand scheme of the Bella Books catalog and the tastes of the majority of its readership (which revolve very firmly around contemporary romance of all stripes), Daughter of Mystery is pretty small potatoes. So the chances are pretty slim that it would be one of the few chosen for audio production without some actual expression of interest on the part of customers. But did you know that you can express that interest? I don't know how many requests it would take to get audible's interest, but knowing how these things work, I bet it wouldn't be that many. Think about it. Also: I'm going to be plugging this pretty regularly for the next month. I'll be doing a reading and signing from The Mystic Marriage at Laurel Bookstore in downtown Oakland the evening of Friday June 5. Laurel Bookstore is one of those rare glittery unicorns, the independent bookstore that's expanding rather than contracting. And they're crazy-convenient to get to by BART. If you're in the area, please support them and me by coming to the reading and buying books!
Monday, April 27, 2015 - 21:57
It is incredibly frustrating to research issues around how medieval European women dealt with the practicalities of menstruation. (Medical manuals were most commonly written by men and rather glossed over the topic.) While working on medieval Arabic sources for the Lesbian Historic Motif Project, I think I've run across a reference to the use of something functionally resembling a tampon. It occurs in Al-Muhalla by Ibn Hazm Al-Andalusi (d. 1064) in a discussion of forbidden sexual contact involving a woman's genitals. "If the woman inserts anything in her vagina that she is not permitted to insert, such as her husband's genitals or whatever she needs during menstruation, then she is not guarding it [i.e., her vagina] and if she does not guard it then she is increasingly insubordinate."
Sunday, April 26, 2015 - 10:05
The big infrastructure project this year was to remove the odd little concrete sidewalk from the back part of the yard (done) so I could finish installing the raised beds for the square formal garden (done) and then level out the trench where the concrete was (to be done) and make the yard presentable for my literary garden party in June (to be done). The formal garden still needs to have the fountain cleaned and set up to circulate, and I need to lay down some sort of covering for the pathways. (I have a few ideas of mulch-matting sorts of things that will have the effect I want.) The mainstay of the formal garden is herbs, as well as smaller vegetables. A probably incomplete list is: basil (several types) chard, sage, marjoram, oregano, thyme (a couple varieties), tarragon, summer savory, sorrel (2 varieties - very vigorous!), peppermint, garlic, shallots, bunching onions, fennel, dill, parsley, cilantro, lovage, borage, eggplant (3 varieties), kale. I just may have gotten the positioning, number, and varieties of summer squashes right. I decided that rather than scramble to try to set up the corners of the formal garden with their permanent inhabitants (Rosa gallica with alpine strawberries at their feet), I'd stick the various Cucurbitaceae there: summer squashes, one winter squash, cucumbers, and a melon. Three plants to a corner (since there's plenty of room for them to spread out over the edges of the box) including seven different summer squash varieties.The ones that are blooming are already setting fruit (4 of the 7 so far) and they all have plenty of flower buds of both sexes, so I have high hopes of being inundated. The eventual effect is intended to be "fences" of berries (rasp, black, boysen, Marion) in the outer ring which will take a few years to get established. So far only the Boysenberries are dense enough to be fence-like. Eventually I'll need to set up something more durable in the way of supports. These beds then have a wide variety of strawberries at the base. (There are also an assortment of berries along the back fence: blackberries, Boysenberries, blueberries of several types. In theory I've still got a currant and a gooseberry back there although I have a poor record at keeping them alive. Also grapes, although I've yet to bring any to edibility.) Elsewhere in the yard I seem to be making a go at starting half a dozen rhubarb plants as well as the every-happy artichokes. And having planted 12 different varieties of tomato (about a third are cherry tomato, one roma, the rest assorted standard and heirloom) I just might have enough tomatoes. The fruit trees, old and new, all look happy this year. The only one of the new trees (put in last year) not to flower is the apricot and I'll forgive it for now. The pomegranate is flowering this year, the old apple tree has set its usual abundance of fruit as has the old lemon. The quince has maybe a dozen fruits this year. Both the heirloom apples (White Pearmain & Calville Blanc) have set fruit for the first time. The Morello cherry may give me enough for a tart but on further research the Black Tartarian needs a different pollenator so I think next year I'll add a Napoleon as well as a Montmorency. There's room. And both medlar trees are setting over a dozen fruit at this point. The orangery in the side yard will be the focus of the next infrastructure project (but not this year). For now, I'm still waiting for the various citrus trees to settle in enough to start bearing. Thinking about adding a grapefruit and still looking for a standard citron (though I did break down and get a Buddha's Hand). The multi-graft espaliered apple and pear trees are coming along and flowered though I doubt I'll get any fruit yet. They're still rather spindly and are part of the long-term planning for that area rather than expecting immediate returns. So that's it for now. I'll probably plant some more salad things, especially successions of radishes, although I tend to have bad luck with lettuces. I'm not going for a big variety of vegetables, just a focus on the ones that are best home-grown (tomatoes), that I love (squashes), and where I can grow all my own needs (onions).
Saturday, April 25, 2015 - 20:11
1) Yay, the historic novel by Samar Habib was delivered today, so I'm going to do my best to get it read in time to add a review at the end of covering the two non-fiction books of hers. 2) I'm going to try to do a garden post tomorrow with lots of pictures. I'm feeling really happy about this year's garden & orchard. And it looks like I just may have gotten the right combination for Enough Summer Squash. (I.e., way more than any reasonable human can eat.) 3) I had a lovely day today at 's birthday party. The group of us hiked off to a beach near Santa Cruz (the theory was to find some tide pools as well, but we made do with some delightfully deep fern-lined sea caves). There was picnicking, sand castle building, wave-wading, and long chats with some folks I'd never talked much with before. And a fair amount of lying on the beach in the sun with a hat covering my face, just soaking up the sun. 4) and I have decided to skip Kalamazoo this year (multiple reasons, but in part not wanting to get into a rut for the sake of tradition) and instead I'm going out to NYC for the last week in May. The planned schedule includes to Broadway shows: Alison Bechdel's autobiographic Fun Home, and Hand to God (because it's what's playing at 's theatre currently, so of course I have to see it!). Other than that (and hanging out with my girlfriend, of course) I'm always interested in meeting up with people I know online but have never met in person (or barely met in person). My standard NYC trip for the past few years has been Thanksgiving week which is a really bad time for expecting people to have openings in their social schedule. Maybe I'll have more luck this time. (I'll be there Wed-Sat.)
Thursday, April 23, 2015 - 09:41
So I was contemplating a Random Thursday blog topic on my homeward commute, listening to SFF podcasts as is my wont, and what should I be listening to but Rocket Talk, which started in on the crimes against world-building committed in the name of food and feasting scenes in fantasy. The general consensus (and I’m only halfway through the episode at the point of writing this) was that nobody writing epic fantasy does any decent food-related world-building, and everyone is just repeating lazy stock tropes of Renn Faire turkey legs and whatnot. I noticed that by some strange, totally random quirk of fate all the authors they gave as examples of poor food-related world-building happened to be male writers of grim epic fantasy. Maybe, just possibly, they might have found some better examples by diversifying their scope a little, but never mind that. (Why, yes, I do take mental notes on gender balance in the spontaneously-cited authors in SFF podcasts. Doesn’t everyone?) It’s not my podcast, but this is my blog, and since I was brainstorming for a topic for tomorrow, food as world-building seemed as good as any. I think I’ve blogged previously about hunting for historic cookbooks and references that are appropriate for Alpennian cuisine. (I envision the up-scale cuisine as being thoroughly French-influenced, while the lower and middle classes would follow a variety of local regional styles that I have yet to need to develop in detail.) But here I’m more interested in the ways food and dining are used in the context of story. The opening scene of Daughter of Mystery is a good example: we have the old Baron Saveze dining alone at home, in a formal setting of butlers and footmen, being served a succession of fancy dishes produced by his imported French chef, and complaining of his inability to enjoy them (implicitly: due to his health problems). Here is a man who takes for granted the enjoyment of the best things -- or at least access to the best things, even if he doesn’t enjoy them. One suspects the chef, Guillaumin, may be frustrated to have his talents wasted here in the baron’s exile from the court, but Baron Saveze had been a mover and shaker in Rotenek and there is no doubt that he would have been entertaining lavishly at a level that would have made such an employee an essential staff member. And the taste issue is meant to be part of the foreshadowing of just how bad his health has become. After Margerit Sovitre inherits the baron’s household, there is one initial meaningful scene involving food. Margerit makes her first furtive visit to the mansion she has inherited and is having difficulty believing that she is truly mistress of a great estate now. LeFevre’s insistence that she permit Guillaumin to pull out all the stops for an impromptu luncheon serves to punctuate the resources she now (theoretically) has at her command. But when she moves to the capital, she allows one of her new social connections to hire Guillaumin away from her, in an act both of practicality and social economy. Margerit is in an awkward position with regard to entertaining. As an unmarried, underage woman of the middle class, it would be impossible for her to host any sort of formal entertainment. And her nominal chaperone, her Aunt Bertrut, is in little better position in the unfamiliar environment of Rotenek. So the household makes do with an ordinary cook, probably a woman (though I don’t know that I ever say), rather than a higher status male chef, just as was the case in her Uncle Fulpi’s household in Chalanz. Food and dining are more meaningful during this period in their absence than their presence. When Aunt Bertrut becomes betrothed to the well-born but impoverished Charul Pertinek, Margerit takes note of the changes it makes in her dining-related social life: * * * What she enjoyed most, so far, from Aunt Bertrut’s betrothal was a new opportunity for socializing that fell between the routine of a dinner at home with only her aunt for company and the rigors of an evening out in society. Margerit had found herself missing the Fulpi family dinners in Chalanz, formal though they may have been. She didn’t mind not having the position to host elaborate events but she did wish on occasion that the rules of society made allowance for a quiet evening with a few friends—something more than the rituals of afternoon visiting. She wished even more that Barbara’s strict propriety would allow her to join them at the long empty table. Hadn’t she said that she’d shared the baron’s table on occasion when they were informal at home? But the farthest she would unbend was on those rare occasions when Aunt Bertrut went out alone and Barbara would consent to share a supper sent in to the library while they studied. * * * And that is the dining situation for most of the remainder of the book. Margerit’s social position restricts her to quiet domestic entertaining, though of course she is often a guest at other people's formal dinners. Dining, as with every other social ritual, is a bit of a battleground between Margerit and Barbara, with Margerit’s impulses towards egalitarian fraternization being resisted by Barbara’s strict insistence on maintaining the distance of their social roles. When everything turns upside down towards the end of the book, that social distance still keeps them separated in the realm of dining. Margerit breaks through only by introduction of a deliberately informal (if exceedingly elaborate) picnic, carefully planned so as to be available spontaneously on a carriage ride. In this context outside of social hierarchies, the two women can once again come together over food and dine together as if equals. When the story rolls over into The Mystic Marriage now we have three food-related economies to track. Tiporsel house has now settled down into the culinary routine of an established upper-class household. Between Barbara’s social cachet and Margerit’s money they are able to invite, organize, and implement any level of culinary entertainment they desire. But, with the exception of Margerit’s hosting of the Floodtide party at Chalanz, we rarely see the more formal entertainments. Rather we are shown the more informal, intimate dinners that Margerit still loves to use to level social distinctions and which she and Barbara--being at the upper end of the power structure--have both the ability and standing to implement. An example would be the dinner party Margerit hosts toward the end of the novel to officially welcome Serafina Talarico to Rotenek, and to introduce her to some of the scholarly women who will become her future comrades. Jeanne de Cherdillac represents the middle ground. As a well-born widow there are no social limitations on who and how she entertains, but being of merely comfortable financial circumstances she isn’t position to host the lavish banquets and dinner parties that Margerit and Barbara could throw if they chose. Jeanne keeps a female cook who is quite well versed in haute cuisine but we never see Jeanne entertaining formally. Instead, we see her using food to create illusions, beginning with the scene where she is unexpectedly entertaining the destitute Antuniet and skillfully provides her with a filling meal without embarrassing her by taking note of her hunger. Jeanne continues to use food to create an illusion of normal social interactions with Antuniet: the “cozy little dinner” when she is reporting the results of her attempt to find Antuniet a sponsor; the picnic meals she brings down to Antuniet’s workshop, which are not simply an acknowledgment of Antuniet’s inability to provide such hospitality, but an excuse to draw Antuniet out of her work. We get the sense that Jeanne’s social life is largely lived in other people’s spaces--that her extroverted performance as a social butterfly is done on larger stages. There is a strong implication that Jeanne keeps her own house as an intimate space, not only to keep a close check on her spending, but to reserve some part of her life private. Her repeated maneuvering to place Antuniet within that intimate space should have been a clue to Jeanne herself long before she realized it. The details of the little menus that Jeanne offers in this space are provided to reinforce the image of offering, not just a shared meal, but the substance of that upper-class life that Antuniet has lost any other access to. Antuniet accepts it from Jeanne where she might refuse it from, for example, Margerit, precisely because she recognizes that Jeanne is peddling illusions, dreams, and memories, and not everyday substance. Antuniet stands at the bottom end of the culinary scale and this is emphasized by the way she is repeatedly connected with “bread”. This is still an era when the basic staple of the impoverished was bread, and the quality of life depending on what quality and quantity of bread you were able to obtain. Even when her life achieves a temporary equilibrium under the subsidy of her patron, her household does not extend to maintaining an independent kitchen. The basics of life come from the bakery across the street and other foodstuffs are brought in from the 19th century equivalent of fast food joints. But it isn’t only her financial status that equates Antuniet’s life with bread. In her interactions with Jeanne, she envisions herself as “bread, not cake”, as being able to provide nothing more than the very basic necessities of social and emotional interaction. This sets up a key metaphor in their relationship where bread is contrasted with two very different alternatives. Antuniet sees herself as falling far short of the cake that Jeanne is accustomed to in her glittering upper-class world. But Antuniet’s bread is also contrasted with the emptiness of emotional starvation--with the husks a starving man will use to trick his belly into believing it's been fed. And in the context of a devoutly Catholic society such as we find in Alpennia, the ceremonial partaking of bread becomes far more than a matter of mere nourishment. There are points where biblical bread references start flying thick and fast, from the baker’s quip about “Man does not live by bread alone, but it’s certain he can’t live without it” to Antuniet’s agonized “I needed bread and you offered me a stone!” And I don’t think I need to say much about the key scene where Antuniet and Jeanne share and feed each other fresh bread after a night of alchemy working the Mystic Marriage.
Wednesday, April 22, 2015 - 14:22
Short-lists for all categories are now complete. Daughter of Mystery is on the short-list for Science Fiction/Fantasy. Congratulations to all the other nominees!
Tuesday, April 21, 2015 - 08:45

Congratulations to Barbara Schneider who won the e-book give-away of The Mystic Marriage! And thanks to all of you who entered. (The winner has been notified by e-mail.)

The Mystic Marriage
Full citation: 

Donoghue, Emma. 1995. Passions Between Women: British Lesbian Culture 1668-1801. Harper Perennial, New York. ISBN 0-06-017261-4

Publication summary: 

A study of emotional, romantic, and sexual relationships between women in the English "long 18th century." A foundational work in the field.

Chapter 7: Communities

Today we'll finish up with the chapter in Donoghue that really hit home with me when I first read it. Too often when we think about pre-modern lesbians, there's a tendency to think in terms of isolation: that every woman's story will be a lonely coming-out story of thinking she's the "only one" and having to invent her identity and relationship from scratch. This idea has been reinforced by the popularity of the "social constructionist" school of homosexuality, which holds that there is no such thing as an innate sexual orientation identity, only patterns and concepts of social behavior that are structured and limited by the particular culture a person lives in. This school holds that there was no such thing as a "homosexual identity" before it was invented by medical sexologists in the late 19th century, and that there is no valid conceptual connection between modern gay and lesbian identities and historic persons who happened to engage in same-sex sexual activities.

Whatever one's emotional response to such a position, the research done on the history of women's same-sex desires and sexual activities in the last couple of decades has rather blown out of the water the notion that a concept of "lesbian identity" and even "lesbian community" didn't exist until doctors invented it around 1900. And that research helps provide a basis for telling stories about historic lesbians who didn't have to invent themselves from scratch, without having to throw historicity out the window to do so.

There are many aspects of the history of homosexuality where an assumption of parallelism between the experiences of men and women leads to erroneous conclusions about what did and didn’t exist. For men seeking sexual experiences with men, there’s a fairly well documented history of networks, meeting places, and informal associations that helped them achieve their ends. Researchers looking for closely parallel institutions for women are often led to conclude that there was no pre-modern sense of a community of lesbians (or even to conclude that this lack indicates an absence of lesbian activity entirely). But this approach ignores gender differences in social and economic opportunities, as well as prioritizing certain types of erotic encounters.

An absence of 18th century lesbian “cruising places” should not be taken as proof that there was no such thing as “lesbian culture” or “lesbian community” in that era. For example, there is some evidence from late 18th century Amsterdam for small social groups of tribades, but the rarity of evidence is linked to a large extent with the general disinterest in prosecution outside of special circumstances.

In this final chapter, Donoghue looks at representations (including clearly fictional ones) of groups of women socializing around a common interest in lesbianism. Sometimes these representations are displacements of hostility against some other factor, such as the regular portrayal of convents as a hotbed of lesbianism. In other cases, suspicion of women’s political influence, especially when implemented through female networks, was expressed as a suspicion of lesbianism. In other cases, a conceptual tradition—such as the association of Sappho with lesbianism—was converted into the idea of an actual ongoing cultural tradition. Aside from fictional portrayals, there has often been a shying away among historians from an examination of the erotic aspects of women’s social and political networks.

The nun’s smooth tongue

Women-only institutions, such as convents and harems, were a common site for male fantasies about women’s sexual activities, not only with each other, but under an assumption that women with restricted access to men will be sexually frustrated and voracious in general. The heterosexual version of this assumption led to the borrowing of convent terminology as slang for prostitutes and brothels. Combine a prurient interest in what women might do in the absence of men with the virulent strain of anti-Catholicism present in England during this era and the fictional portrayal of orgies in convents or sexually predatory abbesses becomes a tempting blend of pornography and polemic. Examples mentioned in earlier chapters include Barrin’s Venus in the Cloister and Diderot’s The Nun. Less explicitly, works such as Marvell’s “Upon Appleton House” weave a lesbian sensuality into a (hostile) depiction of the attractions of convent life, finishing with the image of the postulant sharing her bed “chastely” with a “fresh and virgin bride” every night “embracing arm in arm”.

The convent of pleasure

Among protestant writers, a positive vision of a convent-like all-female community is presented in works such as Mary Astell’s A Serious Proposal to the Ladies (1694) and Sarah Scott’s A Description of Millenium Hall (1762). The potential for passionately-charged relationships among the women of these communities is still implicit, but without the overlay of religious hostility. Another genre of fictional portrayals of all-female communities grows out of a revived interest in classical Amazons. But in general Amazonian stories mock the idea of women-only communities, and avoid the erotic potential of such an arrangement.

Within this context, Margaret Cavendish’s The Convent of Pleasure stands out as unusual. The story revolves around Lady Happy, who has been blessed with sufficient fortune (and an absence of male authority figures) to be able to reject marriage and disdain male suitors in favor of setting up an all-woman community to enjoy “all the delights and pleasures that are allowed and lawful.” Lady Happy’s male suitors, feeling themselves unjustly cheated of the chance to claim her fortune and her person, plot to infiltrate the community and, when this fails, to destroy it for spite.

Among the descriptions of sensual luxury, a rather overt lesbian aspect is introduced when a new guest notes to Lady Happy, “Observing in your several recreations some of your ladies do accoustre [i.e., dress] themselves in masculine habits, and act lovers-parts; I desire you will give me leave to be sometimes so accoustred and act the part of your loving servant.” The implication here is that romantic role-playing, accompanied by cross-dressing, is a routine part of the community. Lady Happy consents to this courtship and finds herself romantically attracted to the newcomer, asking herself, “Why may not I love a woman with the same affection I could a man?” She balks a little when the other woman, though using the vocabulary of friendship and platonic love, initiates kisses and embraces, claiming that they are not “sin” among friends. Just at the point when Lady Happy is overcoming her qualms and pledging her love to the other, there comes an accusation that a man has entered the community in disguise and—of course—it turns out to be Lady Happy’s lover. Other characters note that, in retrospect, they should have known when they saw how Lady Happy reacted to being kissed because “women’s kisses are unnatural”. Thus, even in a context which seems at first to embrace and endorse same-sex love within a women’s community, heteronormativity is restored at the end.

In contrast to Shakespearean plays with similar motifs, however, the audience is not in on the secret until the final reveal. In experiencing the play real-time, they would have been shown a genuine and convincing love story between women, only very artificially “saved” at the very end.

New cabals

If the preceding examples show contexts where an all-female environment creates the potential for same-sex passion, a different set of texts show that passion as the purpose of forming the community. The roman à clef Secret Memoirs and Manners of Several Persons of Quality of Both Sexes from the New Atalantis, an Island in the Mediteranean (1709) has one episode (among a much larger quantity of material) giving an account of a group of women who are clearly indicated as joining together for the celebration of same-sex passion.

The narrative voice coyly frames the description with assertions that there could be no “irregularity” in their affections and activities because what could women do together, after all? But in the publishing context of the day, this was (among other reasons) a necessity to avoid libel charges, given how transparent the portrayals were. Although the descriptions of the activities mostly go no further than “kisses and embraces”, the rules of the community not only exclude men, but exclude women who have voluntary romantic relationships with men (marriage is grudgingly tolerated as a necessary evil, but male lovers are right out).

The women join in loving couples who pledge not only devotion (and secrecy) but a sharing of property and wealth between them. Most of the descriptions of the women (including those meant to represent contemporary figures) do not indicate gender role play or cross-dressing, but there are a few exceptions. One woman (meant to represent Lady Frescheville) is described as mannish in style (though not in dress), and another (representing Lady Anne Popham) is described as preferring to “mask her diversions in the habit [i.e., clothing] of the other sex”. But this is not as part of “butch-femme” role play, for her female partner also cross-dresses and together they are said to wander through the seedy parts of the city picking up prostitutes for their shared enjoyment.

The exclusively female nature of the group is only emphasized by a grudging allowance for one bisexual member who is intended to represent Lucy Wharton who, in real life, had a female lover in opera singer Catherine Tofts. This couple (along with other of Wharton’s lovers of both sexes) also appear in the fictionalized Memoirs of Europe (1710) by the same author. Another real-life couple in The New Atalantis represents Catherine Colyear, Duchess of Portmore and Dorchester who is paired with a character representing playwright Catharine Trotter, whose work Agnes de Castro also has themes of passionate friendship between women.

Although the formal organization of this lesbian community is most likely fictional, the emphasis in the book on the need for secrecy from the outside world (and especially from husbands), the difficulties of pursuing erotic relationships that had no social standing or protections, and the extensive network of connections across gaps of class, status, and age create a plausible picture of how lesbian-oriented women may have found each other and gained at least some social and emotional support for their relationships. The accuracy of the specifics, though, is suspect given that all the women disguised in this characters were connected in some way to Whig politics.

A similar, transparently disguised social network of “tribades” is portrayed in William King’s viciously satiric The Toast, created primarily to express his personal hatred and feud against the Duchess of Newburgh. Images of organized associations of lesbians also feature in a group of late 18th century French texts that take a more libertine and pornographic look at what are depicted as sex clubs. While these are fictional and of dubious relation to actual practice, a non-fictional travelogue by a German visitor to London in the 1780s notes matter-of-factly the existence of organized societies for “females who avoid all intimate intercourse with the opposite sex, confining themselves to their own sex…called Lesbians.”


The most pervasive connection or network for 18th century lesbians was a conceptual and historical one, tracing the practice back to Sappho. Despite the counter-claims of some Sappho scholars such as Joan DeJean [whose work I will cover at some future date], Donoghue points out the extensive awareness of the connection between the historic poet Sappho and the tradition of Sappho as a lover of women, giving rise to the use of “Sapphic” and “lesbian” as descriptors in this sense. Thus even superficially innocent references to the ancient poet were available as allusions to passion between women.

This section goes into some detail regarding the translations and versions of Sappho’s work that were popularly available in the 18th century and the ways in which they acknowledged or deliberately concealed the references to love between women. There was also the complication that, for many, Sappho stood in for the idea of intellectual and literary women in general, and therefore female scholars even more than male ones found themselves straining to discount the “taint” of lesbianism for the most famous Lesbian. This tension is played out in various fictional portrayals of the poet.

Sappho enters, as well, into the tension between viewing same-sex passions as a new development in the 18th century, or as a continuation of a longstanding phenomenon. The classical Sappho could be used to imply lesbianism was something of the past, no longer practiced, and perhaps conceptually divorced from the “unaccountable” affections between 18th century women. But those educated enough to have access to literature of the previous century, such as Donne’s “Sapho to Philaenis” (1633) or Brantôme’s Lives of Gallant Ladies would find it harder to dismiss lesbianism as an ongoing tradition.

This chapter concludes with a somewhat confused collection of polemical tracts against what was perceived as the rise of lesbian behavior in the 18th century, making reference not only to classical sources such as Sappho and Diana, but to pernicious foreign influences either from that default source of vice, France, or more exotic locations such as Turkey. The clear lesbian context of these writings gives us the connection for unambiguously identifying slang terms for lesbians and lesbian sex such as “the game of flats” and “Tommy”. There are extensive excerpts from the writings of Hester Thrale, whose venom against both male and female homosexuality led her to speculate extensively on the sex lives of her contemporaries.

Time period: 
Sunday, April 19, 2015 - 22:17
I decided to stick with the original release date for my official promotional blitz. Expect to see me talking about The Mystic Marriage all over the internet today. If you're reading about it here, I doubt you need me to talk the book up any more than I already have. But just for the same of completeness… In this sequel to the fantasy adventure Daughter of Mystery, Antuniet Chazillen sets out to redeem her family’s honor after the disastrous events of the previous book. A long-hidden book of alchemical secrets holds the key to success, but only if she can outwit the enemies hunting her and find a patron willing to finance her work. At her return to Alpennia, she turns to Jeanne, Vicomtesse de Cherdillac for help with the latter. Jeanne is bored with the current round of balls and concerts and considers Antuniet’s plea just the thing to add spice to the season. Before long, she too is drawn into Antuniet’s world of intrigue and alchemy. The alchemy of precious gems throws two women into a crucible of adversity, but it is the alchemy of the human heart that transforms them both. Available from Bella Books Or from (Note: Amazon Kindle version will be released in about a month, but all e-book formats are available through the Bella website.) And remember: the chance to win a free e-book in conjunction with the Lesbian Historic Motif Project will run until the end of the day, Monday April 20!
Sunday, April 19, 2015 - 13:17
In a random twitter conversation this morning about hypothetical Duolingo for ancient languages, it occurred to me that I've never put my "Conversational Medieval Welsh" booklet up on the web. That has now been remedied. I actually have a lot of assorted research papers I've never put on the web. In some cases, I had a paper publication available. In others, the formatting was daunting. (In some cases, I have class materials that would make a good web article but they're image-heavy with pictures I don't have rights/permissions for.) I really should work on all that. Sometime when I have free time. Hey, you know what else I could throw up easily? It's been 10 years since I celebrated the 25th anniversary of my Laureling. I put together a collection of 25 articles representing both the breadth of my work and what I considered my "best work" at the time. I have it right here in pdf. Let's throw that one up on the web site as well. Some of the content is SCA-specific, but most of it is of more general interest.


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