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Monday, October 10, 2022 - 08:00

Sorry, no extra commentary this time. Running a bit behind this morning.

Major category: 
LHMP
Full citation: 

Vermeil. 1765. Mémoire pour Anne Grandjean. Louis Cellot, Paris.

Publication summary: 

The original text, translation, and commentary on the appeal record of Anne Grandjean against a charge of "profaning the sacrament of marriage" by marrying a woman.

Marriage

Grandjean & Françoise Lambert allerent à Chamberry; & le 24 Juin 1761, après trois publications de bans, sans avoir découvert aucun empêchement légitime, ainsi que l'atteste le Curé de la paroisse, ils furent mariés avec les formalités ordinaires.

Grandjean & Françoise Lambert went to Chamberry; & on June 24, 1761, after three publications of bans, without having discovered any legitimate impediment, as the parish priest attests, they were married with the ordinary formalities.

{HRJ: “Publishing the bans” is the process of announcing the intent to marry, in part to allow anyone who feels there’s a legal impediment to the marriage (pre-existing marriage or contract, a forbidden degree of consanguinity, etc.) to speak up. It is, perhaps, relevant that the couple didn’t publish the bans in Grenoble, where people would presumably be familiar with Grandjean’s interesting history, but in Chamberry, where perhaps no one knew them personally. Chambéry is perhaps 30 miles northeast of Grenoble, so while this interpretation is possible, I don’t know that it’s likely. Furthermore, the couple return to Grenoble later to get Grandjean’s legal status settled, so if the marriage was seen as problematic by those who knew them, the issue could have been raised later. Lyon, where they move later, is perhaps 50-60 miles northwest of both towns so the chance of someone who knew Grandjean as a child encountering them seems quite likely to have happened eventually. Given that, I think we can assume that Grandjean’s community was aware of their personal history and accepted their marriage as valid.}

L'inclination des deux époux fut aussi vive que l'avoit été celle des deux amans. Ils vivoient dans la bonne foi heureux & tranquilles, sans que Françoise Lambert eût aucune défiance du sexe de son mari, & sans que ce mari eût aucun soupçon de son insuffisance.

The inclination of the two spouses was as lively as that of the two lovers had been. They lived in good faith, happy and tranquil, without Françoise Lambert having any distrust of her husband's sex, and without this husband having any suspicion of zir insufficiency.

{HRJ: This is where one starts to wonder whether Lambert and Grandjean were startlingly naïve with regard to intercourse, whether they later pretended to ignorance, or whether the author is shaping the story to his own ends in asserting that they believed their union to be a normative male-female marriage. Although that's not exactly what he asserts, if one wants to be technical. If Lambert knew and accepted an assigned-female-at-birth person as a husband, that could count as "not having any distrust." Since Lambert presumable met Grandjean in Grenoble (although the location of the marriage ceremony suggests she may have been a native of Chamberry), it would seem odd for her not to be aware that Grandjean had grown up presenting as female. Particularly given what now follows. And (presumably) knowing that, surely if she had any doubts or questions it would have been reasonable to raise them. A natural interpretation would be that Lambert was not ignorant or naïve, which then also raises the question of whether Grandjean was.}

Mais une circonstance nouvelle devoir donner encore plus d'authenticité à l'état d'homme & de mari, dont Grandjean étoit en possession.

But a new circumstance had to give even more authenticity to the state of man & husband, of which Grandjean was in possession.

Françoise Lambert avoit un compte à faire rendre à ses parens de l'administration de ses revenus, elle avoit dessein de faire le commerce avec son mari, & le reliquat de ce compte devoit leur en faciliter les moyens; mais Grandjean étoit soumis à la puissance paternelle dans un pays où le mariage n'émancipe pas. Il ne pouvoit par conséquent rien faire pour son intérêt personnel qu'il n'eût obtenu l'émancipation. Il pria son pere de lui accorder cette faveur, & ce dernier y consentit.

Françoise Lambert had an account to render to her parents of the administration of her income, she intended to do business with her husband, and the remainder of this account should facilitate the means of doing so; but Grandjean was subject to paternal power in a country where marriage does not emancipate. He could not, therefore, do anything for zir personal interest until he had obtained emancipation. He begged his father to grant zem this favor, and the latter consented.

{HRJ: This is mostly an interesting side-light on everyday legal matters in France. Based on the dates given in the text, Grandjean was 29 years old at marriage. But evidently neither this age, nor the fact of marriage gave them the legal right to act in their own behalf.}

La cérémonie de cette émancipation fut faite en l'hôtel du Juge de Grenoble.

The ceremony of this emancipation was made in the hotel of the Judge of Grenoble.

Comme dans l'acte de baptême, Grandjean étoit nommé Anne, & désigné comme fille, son pere, pour le rétablir dans tous ses droits, lui donna, dans cet acte, le nom de Jean-Baptiste, qu'il a toujours porté depuis.

As in the baptismal act, Grandjean was named Anne, and designated as a daughter, zir father, in order to re-establish him in all zir rights, gave zem, in this act, the name of Jean-Baptiste, which he has always borne since.

{HRJ: This event again speaks to the openness and acceptance with which Grandjean’s reassignmet of gender was performed. Maybe. It could be that the legal ceremony made no reference to a change of name and change of designation, but was simply done by referring to “my son Jean-Baptiste”. But as with the courtship, this is in a community where at least some people were aware that Grandjean had been raised presenting as female. I'll also note that there were occasional examples of "Anne" being used as a male baptismal name in 18th century France, although it was clearly considered the default to female. This use may have been regional or class-based, so Grandjean's community in Grenoble may well have seen Anne as female signifier, motivating the change.}

Voilà donc Grandjean constitué dans tous les droits de Citoyen en qualité d'homme & de mari.

Thus is Grandjean constituted in all the rights of a citizen in the capacity of man and husband.

Après une année ou environ de séjour à Chamberry, Françoise Lambert engagea son époux à aller à Lyon avec elle pour y fixer leur domicile, sous prétexte qu'ils y trouveroient plus de facilités dans le commerce qu'ils se proposoient de faire.

After one year or approximately of residence in Chamberry, Françoise Lambert urged her husband to go to Lyon with her to make their home there, under the pretext that they would find it easier to do the business they proposed to do.

Grandjean avoit toujours pour sa femme la même inclination, la même complaisance; il ne résisita point, mais il ne prévoyoit pas les malheurs qui l'attendoient dans cette Ville.

Grandjean always had for zir wife the same inclination, the same complaisance; he did not resist, but he did not foresee the misfortunes which awaited zem in this city.

{HRJ: One gets the impression that Lambert was the driving force in this relationship, which makes it all the more ironic that she more or less disappears from the narrative without a splash.}

Grandjean & sa femme arrivés à Lyon, allerent demeurer chez un Marchand Fabriquant en soie. Ils y vécurent toujours comme époux pendant trois années entieres, avec la conduite la plus retenue & à la satisfaction de ceux qui leur donnoient à travailler.

When Grandjean and zir wife arrived in Lyon, they went to live with a silk merchant. They lived there as husband and wife for three whole years, with the most restrained behavior and to the satisfaction of those who gave them work.

{HRJ: The author regularly emphasizes that the couple were productive, well-behaved, and virtuous. This seems to be an essential aspect of establishing Grandjean as a naïve innocent, not an immoral law-breaker.}

Time period: 
Place: 
Event / person: 
Friday, October 7, 2022 - 08:00

Today's passage establishes the context in which Grandjean shifted from living as female to living as male. The reasons and attitudes that are laid out here are a major part of why I have doubts about the author's later arguments that Grandjean was intersex. I think we must assume that the book's author had access to information about these events via the testimony given in Grandjean's first trial in Lyon (which we'll get to in a couple more segments). It would have been useful if we could have direct access to that trial record, but I've never seen any references to it surviving or having been located. The author, of course, also had direct access to Grandjean, but the summary of events reads more like a formal record.

Major category: 
LHMP
Full citation: 

Vermeil. 1765. Mémoire pour Anne Grandjean. Louis Cellot, Paris.

Publication summary: 

The original text, translation, and commentary on the appeal record of Anne Grandjean against a charge of "profaning the sacrament of marriage" by marrying a woman.

Early Life

Memoire POUR ANNE GRAND JEAN, connu sous le nom de JEAN BAPTISTE GRAND JEAN, Accusé & Appellant.

CONTRE M. le Procureur-Général, Accusateur & Intimé.

Un individu que l'on désigne sous le nom d'un Dieu de la fable, un être participant de l'un & l'autre sexe, qu'on a vu porter successivement les habits de femme & d'homme, qui a été baptisé comme fille, & marié comme garçon, fixe aujourd'hui l'attention des Magistrats, & la curiosité du Public, toujours avide de ces sortes de phénomenes; les premiers Juges croyant trouver dans son mariage la profanation d'un Sacrement auguste, ont prononcé contre lui des condamnations rigoureuses; mais les Juges supérieurs ne verront dans cet assemblage de circonstances singulieres que les erreurs de la Nature & la bonne foi de l'individu que la Nature elle-même a trompé.

Brief FOR ANNE GRAND JEAN, known by the name of JEAN BAPTISTE GRAND JEAN, Accused & Appellant.

AGAINST the Attorney General, Accuser & Respondent.

An individual who is referred to by the name of a God of fable, a being participating in both sexes, who has been seen successively wearing the clothes of a woman and a man, who was baptized as a girl, and married as a boy, is now attracting the attention of the magistrates, and the curiosity of the public, who are always eager to learn about these kinds of phenomena; The first Judges, believing to find in zir marriage the profanation of an august Sacrament, have pronounced rigorous condemnations against him; but the higher Judges will see in this assemblage of singular circumstances only the errors of Nature & the good faith of the individual whom Nature herself has deceived.

{HRJ: The phrase “the name of a God of fable” seems most likely to be a reference to the myth of Hermaphroditus. A more literal translation of “participating in both sexes” would be “participating in the one and the other sex”. Note that, in French, possessive pronouns take their grammatical form from the gender of the thing possessed, so possessive pronouns referring to Grandjean will always be rendered in my translation with a neo-pronoun.}

FAIT.

Un enfant est né à Grenoble au mois de Novembre 1732, de Jean-Baptiste Grandjean, & de Claudine Cordier; il faut croire que le sexe le plus apparent chez lui, au premier instant de son existence, fut le sexe féminin: aussi cet enfant fut-il baptisé sous le nom d'Anne, fille de Jean-Baptiste.

FACT.

A child was born in Grenoble in the month of November 1732, to Jean-Baptiste Grandjean, & Claudine Cordier; it is to be believed that the most apparent sex in him, at the first moment of zir existence, was the female sex: therefore this child, he was baptized under the name of Anne, daughter of Jean-Baptiste.

{HRJ: The noun “enfant” (child) can be either masculine or feminine. The phrase “un enfant” is grammatically masculine; the feminine would be “une enfant”. But the masculine can also be used for the general case “a child of unspecified gender” so this choice isn’t necessarily taking a stand on the child’s gender, though the rest of the paragraph suggests that the author may have been using specifically as male. Although the “apparent sex” of the infant was female, and the child was baptized as a daughter (“fille”), all the clearly gendered pronoun references to Grandjean in this passage are masculine (“chez lui”, “fut-il baptisé”). So I think we can conclude that the author is establishing the position that Grandjean is masculine and the choice of “un enfant” was deliberate and not just a generic.}

On lui donna les habits propres à ce sexe aussi-tôt qu'il fut en état de les porter; il étoit élevé parmi les jeunes filles de son voisinage, & ne voyoit alors en elles que des compagnes indifférentes.

Zie was given the clothes proper to this sex as soon as he was able to wear them; he was brought up among the young girls of zir neighborhood, and saw in them only indifferent companions.

A peine parvenu à sa quatorzieme année, il éprouva un changement dont il fut lui-même étonné.

Barely having reached zir fourteenth year, he experienced a change of which he himself was astonished.

{HRJ: The implication here seems to be that Grandjean didn’t experience romantic/sexual attraction to girls when young—that it only developed at puberty. It isn't mentioned what Grandjean's position on male companions was in childhood. The next statement clearly establishes that, at puberty, Grandjean had no romantic interest in boys. It might have strengthed the author's case if he'd been able to assert that Grandjean preferred to play with boys rather than girls, in childhood. But conversely we can't put too much weight on this absence since the question may not have been raised. Or they may not have felt that a child either didn't have a choice of who they associated with or that it wasn't relevant.}

Dans cet âge où les passions commencent à établir leur empire, un instinct de plaisir dont Grandjean ignoroit la cause, le rapprochoit sans cesse de ses compagnes, & développoit en lui une faculté qui n'appartient point au sexe dont on l'avoit cru d'abord.

In this age when passions begin to establish their empire, an instinct of pleasure, the cause of which Grandjean did not know, brought him constantly closer to zir companions, and developed in zem a faculty which did not belong to the sex of which zie was first believed to be.

La présence des hommes au contraire le laissoit froid & tranquille, & la nature sembloit se plaindre du travestissement de son ouvrage.

The presence of men, on the contrary, left him cold and quiet, and nature seemed to complain about the travesty of its work.

{HRJ: “Travesty” here is probably invoking both the original literal sense of “cross-dressing” as well as the metaphorical sense of general transgression. The key thing to note in these last two passages is that the “change” in Grandjean is not framed as gender dysphoria, but as an experience of desire considered inappropriate for their assigned sex. “A faculty which did not belong to the sex zie was believed to be.” At this point in the story, I think it's key not to be distracted by the author's use of male language for Grandjean. The essential story is: a child, assigned female, raised female, and living as female, at puberty began experiencing romantic/sexual desire for girls. It's also important to note that the author (and as we'll see, others) considers this desire to be contrary to nature and inappropriate for "the sex Grandjean was believed to be". It's also important to note that nowhere at this stage of the story is there any reference to Grandjean noticing unexpected anatomical changes or to expressing an identification with male gender. This is a major reason why I'm skeptical about the anatomical description the author introduces during the appeal. If Greandjean had one of the types of intersex conditions where masculine genitals begin developing at puberty, it seems odd that this wouldn't have been raised as part of the "changes" they were experiencing. And if ambiguous genitals had been present from birth, surely even the presence of an under-developed penis would have resulted in Grandjean being assigned male? Though I must confess that I haven't studied early literature on intersex conditions to determine whether I'm correct in this assumption.}

Jean-Baptiste Grandjean ne fut pas long-tems sans s'appercevoir des nouvelles affections de son enfant, il lui fit là-dessus des questions auxquelles ce dernier répondit d'une maniere embarrassante.

Jean-Baptiste Grandjean was not long without noticing his child's new affections, and he asked zem questions about them, to which the latter replied in an embarrassing manner.

Ce pere lui dit de consulter son Confesseur, & de tenir la conduite qu'il lui prescriroit.

This father told zem to consult zir confessor, and to do as he prescribed.

{HRJ: The use of epicene pronouns here is not marked, but is simply the default language in French. This isn’t a case of representing a specific attitude of the father regarding Grandjean’s sex. Once again, note that what's being noticed is Grandjean's "affections" with no mention of other characteristics.}

L'enfant fut docile, le Confesseur fut instruit, il dit à la jeune personne qu'elle ne pouvoit rester plus long-tems sans crime en habit de femme, que cet habillement lui donnoit un accès trop facile vis-à-vis des filles de son âge, & qu'il falloit prendre le vêtement convenable au sexe dominant chez lui.

The child was docile, the Confessor was instructed, he told the young person {fem.} that she could not remain any longer without crime in woman's clothing, that this clothing gave zem too easy access to girls of zir age, and that it was necessary for him to take the clothing suitable for zir dominant sex.

{HRJ: In contrast, this passage starts out treating Grandjean as female and ends shifting to male. While “la jeune personne” may simply reflect the grammatical gender of “personne” (feminine)—though one might expect a different noun to be used if the intent were to emphasize masculinity—“qu’elle” is clearly feminine. But then “qu’il” uses a masculine form. Here we may be seeing a representation of the confessor’s shift in how he perceives Grandjean’s gender. From a philosophical point of view, the confessor seems to be saying, "If you are living as a woman, then you have intimate access to women and can easily act on your sexual desires whic would be "criminal," therefore in order to prevent sexual crime, you must present as male in order to create a social barrier from the objects of your desire so that your desires can be subject to social control." This desire is what determines Grandjean's "dominant sex" in the confessor's view. Once again I emphasize that there is no mention of a medical examination--though such a thing would be consistent with how communities reacted to open displays of f/f desire, see for example the case two centuries earlier of Greta von Mösskirch. Did the priest question Grandjean regarding their anatomy? Or was he solely focused on behavior? It may be that he was not entirely familiar with intersex possibilities, though the theory of f/f desire being due to masculinized anatomy had been circulating in popular culture for centuries. But if we take the priest's position as reported, it's yet another reason to be skeptical of later anatomical arguments.}

Le conseil du Confesseur fut exécuté, &-ce fut une nouveauté singuliere dans la ville de Grenoble, de voir un individu que jusqu'alors on n'avoit connu que comme fille, paroître tout-à-coup avec les attributs de la masculinité.

The Confessor's advice was carried out, and it was a singular novelty in the city of Grenoble to see an individual who until then had been known only as a girl, suddenly appear with the attributes of masculinity.

Grandjean, sous l'habit d'homme, parut ce qu'il étoit ou ce qu'il croyoit être, & les jeunes filles de son voisinage le virent avec un nouvel intérêt.

Grandjean, in the clothing of a man, appeared what he was or what he thought he was, and the young girls in zir neighborhood saw him with a new interest.

{HRJ: “Or what he thought he was” is an interesting inclusion, as it hints at the author’s later reframing that Grandjean’s performed gender was a matter of belief rather than essence. Aside from any of the underlying "truths" of Grandjean's case, I'd like to call attention to a clear example of an adolescent changing social gender, with the approval and knowledge of their community, in 18th century France.}

Une d'entr'e elles, nommée Legrand, mérita ses premiers soins, mais cette fréquentation n'eut pas de suite.

One of them {fem.}, named Legrand, earned zir first attentions, but this association did not continue.

{HRJ: This will be the woman who will later betray Grandjean.}

Françoise Lambert succéda à cette derniere. La passion qu'il sentit pour elle fut beaucoup plus forte.

Françoise Lambert succeeded this previous one. The passion he felt for her was much stronger.

Cette passion (car il ne faut rien dissimuler) introduisit des familiarités. Françoise Lambert connut tout ce que Grandjean pouvoit être, & Grandjean lui paroissoit être tout ce qu'il falloit.

This passion (because it is necessary not to hide anything) introduced familiarities. Françoise Lambert knew all that Grandjean could be, and Grandjean seemed to her to be all that was necessary.

{HRJ: Once again, the author gets vague and flowery when it comes to discussing how the couple expressed their desire. One gets the impression that the message is that Lambert was fully aware of Grandjean’s physicality, and had no problems with the nature of their physical relationship. That conclusion is reading a certain amount into the ambiguous language, but it will be relevant later when we consider the hypothesis that the two were naive and ignorant about the nature of their relationship.}

Ces familiarités ne servirent qu'à rendre leur union plus intime; ils desirerent de la sceller du sceau de la Religion.

These familiarities only served to make their union more intimate; they wished to seal it with the seal of religion.

{HRJ: This is somewhat less ambiguous. Whatever their “familiarities” were, evidently it was something that required marriage to fully authorize. The strong implication is that the couple were engaged in what they categorized as sexual relations. To be continued.}

Time period: 
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Wednesday, October 5, 2022 - 08:00

The slightly shorter version of the publication reads more like a simple legal record (though one with significant "spin" by the author), but the expanded version, including the introductory summary here, is more clearly aimed at a popular audience. It plunges in with emotionally charged language to hook the sympathies of the reader and to clearly lay out the author's conclusions about the "truth" of Grandjean's identity and history. The fact that this is somewhat contradicted by the "origin story" that follows (in the next installment) is a key point in my own skepticism about the author's position.

Major category: 
LHMP
Full citation: 

Vermeil. 1765. Mémoire pour Anne Grandjean. Louis Cellot, Paris.

Publication summary: 

The original text, translation, and commentary on the appeal record of Anne Grandjean against a charge of "profaning the sacrament of marriage" by marrying a woman.

Title and Introduction

{HRJ: We begin with the title page. Although no author is listed here, some catalog entries list the author as the M. Vermeil whose name appears at the end of the text and I have followed that practice.}

Mémoire pour Anne Grandjean, connu sous le nom de Jean-Baptiste Grandjean, Accusé & Appellant.

Contre Monsieur le Procureur Général, Accusateur & Intimé.

Question

Un HERMAPHRODITE qui a épousé une fille, peut-il être repute profanateur du Sacrement de marriage, quand la nature qui le tromoit, l’appelloit à l’état de mari?

{Only in the expanded edition: Auquel on joint l’HERMAPHRODITE, ou Lettre d’Anne GranJean à Françoise Lambert sa femme.}

A PARIS,

DE L’IMPRIMERIE DE LOUIS CELLOT, RUE DAUPHINE

M. DCC. LXV.

Brief for Anne Grandjean, known by the name of Jean-Baptiste Grandjean, Accused & Appellant.

Against the Attorney General, Accuser & Respondent.

Question

A HERMAPHRODITE who has married a girl, can he be reputed to be a profaner of the sacrament of marriage, when Nature deceived him, called zem to the state of a husband?

{To which we join the HERMAPHRODITE, or Letter of Anne Grandjean to Françoise Lambert, zir wife.}

At Paris, from the printing house of Louis Cellot, Rue Dauphine

1765

{HRJ: This next page is present in the more extensive text, i.e., the one that also includes the poem.}

AVERTISSEMENT.

Plusieurs personnes ont sans doute connoissance de l'avanture de Grandjean dont la Cour de Parlement de Paris vient de rompre le mariage dans lequel il vivoit depuis trois ans.

ADVISORY.

Many people are undoubtedly aware of Grandjean's predicament, whose marriage, in which he had been living for three years, has just been broken off by the Court of Parliament in Paris.

C'est ici un exemple des jeux de la nature, mais des plus frapans, Le rapport des Chirurgiens prouve qu'il étoit capable de sentir & de faire éprouver à une femme ces douces émotions qui accompagnent la jouissance; mais sans pouvoir de sa part achever l'intention de la nature.

This is an example of nature's games, but one of the most frightening. The surgeons' report proves that he was capable of feeling and making a woman experience those sweet emotions which accompany pleasure, but without being able to complete nature's intention.

{HRJ: There are a number of possible interpretations of this rather flowery passage. One implication would be that Grandjean experienced sexual arousal and was able to give sexual pleasure, but was not capable of some further act, whether that was intercourse or impregnation. Descriptions of erotic activity between women in this era often assert that regardless of whatever sexual satisfaction they may enjoy, it isn’t "complete" i.e., PIV sex. But another possible interpretation is that Grandjean felt and inspired romantic love without being able to achieve sexual gratification. See also the later anatomical discussion. The author tends to get flowery and vague in all discussions around sexual activity. So there is intentional vagueness here whether we're talking about emotions, about sexual pleasure, or about procreation.}

C'est après avoir joui long-temps de cette prérogative, quoique incomplette, qu'on le fait revenir d'une erreur qui lui plaisoit. Trahi, persécuté, accusé, condamné par des Juges barbares à une peine déshonorante, absous par d'autres plus justes & plus humains, mais éclairé par eux sur un mystére qu'il ignoroit, il est obligé de renoncer au titre d'époux, & qui plus est, à celui d'homme.

It is after having enjoyed this prerogative for a long time, albeit incompletely, that he is made to return from an error that pleased zem. Betrayed, persecuted, accused, condemned by barbaric judges to a dishonorable punishment, absolved by others who were more just and more humane, but enlightened by them on a mystery of which he was ignorant, he is obliged to renounce the title of husband, and what is more, that of man.

{HRJ: This passage finishes the page that is added in the longer edition. The above passage clearly sets forth the author’s point of view and sympathies on the case. The author takes the position that Grandjean is intersex, with sufficiently functional male anatomy to engage in sex but incapable of ejaculation and impregnation. As we shall see, there seems to be significant reason to question this explanation, if only because the question of anatomy is raised very late in the game and with contradictory evidence, and because it seems to be raised largely due to a complete rejection of the possibility of female same-sex desire. Even if Grandjean were intersex, we repeatedly see authority figures in the narrative rejecting the concept of desire between women, leading to the question of whether they would have acted differently regardless of Grandjean’s anatomy. We also need to consider that the author’s goal is to get Grandjean acquitted. And we must consider that he may have chosen and spun his evidence in the way he felt best supported that goal. Medical knowledge about interesex conditions was still in its infancy, and was emerging from an era when awareness of the range of variation available for "typical" female anatomy was lacking. Furthermore, we are still emerging from an era when female same-sex desire was regularly attributed to masculinized physiology, even in the face of contradictory evidence during examination. So was the author making a cased based on his own direct knowledge of Grandjean's anatomy? Or was he making a case that fit with pre-existing beliefs about the causes of erotic desire? Regardless of the absolute facts of the matter, which are not entirely knowable, there are several noteworthy things going on. In 18th century France, in this particular case, some religious and legal authorities supported the social and legal re-categorization of a person from female to male. Even if this was done in a sort of panic to avoid recognizing female-female desire, it’s still a significant thing to have done. A person who had been raised as female transitioned to being treated as male, changed their name to reflect this as part of a legal record, and married a woman. And the married couple were well on their way to living happily ever after until confronted by a jealous ex. So whether Grandjean understood themselves to be a woman, but changed to presenting as male due to instruction by the authorities (and to have a fulfilling romantic life); or whether Grandjean was intersex and developed masculinized genitals only in puberty at which time they experienced desire for women and re-aligned their gender identity to match heteronormative expectations; or whether Grandjean desired women as part of an internal male gender identity and was happy that the authorities authorized transition; whichever of these—or other possible interpretations—is the real story, this narrative is greatly enlightening regarding 18th century French attitudes toward gender, sex, and social category.}

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Monday, October 3, 2022 - 08:00

This blog series (in 14 installments) is probably the most ambitious thing I've done for the Project so far.

When trying to understand the details and nuances of primary source material dealing with gender and sexuality, there are many layers of information to sort through: the literal meaning of the words, the contextual meaning of the words, the social background of how people understood those concepts, the purpose and biases of the author of the text and of their culture. When historians discuss how such texts contribute to our understanding of gender and sexuality, we assume and trust that they have taken all these things into account. But sometimes you find yourself asking different questions than the historians, or coming at the questions from a different angle. And then you want to have a go at the original texts. If you're lucky, the material is relatively short and has been included in a scholarly publication. Alternately, the material is in publication somewhere and the scholar has given you a clear enough citation to find it. The worst case is when the source material exists only in manuscript in some archive (or--worse than that--has been lost since the time the scholar accessed it). But the appeal record of Grandjean falls somewhat before that worst case: it was written at a time when it was published in print, and copies of those print editions have been digitized and made available on the internet. (It is, of course, long out of copyright!)

And then there's the issue of translation. The text is in French--and French of the 18th century, though the differences from modern literary French are quite minor. My French is very very minimal--I can make my way through technical language in a field I'm familiar with, rather laboriously. But fortunately, we live in an age when machine translation has improved amazingly, and with the help of a truly marvelous translation site, Deep-L, I was able to render the original into English. More details on that below. This approach means I've been able to examine the ways that the author uses gendered language to discuss Grandjean's case, whether to put forth a particular view of Grandjean's gender categorization, or to follow the shifts and changes in how Grandjean's gender was understood by others.

I'm going to be completely up front about my own, personal interpretation of Grandjean's identity. Like Grandjean's advocate, I have emphasized and de-emphasized certain aspects of the stated evidence (which is contradictory). I believe that Grandjean was a woman who sexually desired women, but who believed authority figures when told that this was not a possible thing. Grandjean was told "if you desire women, then you must be a man." So Grandjean became a man as far as their community was concerned, changed their name, and married a woman. When other authority figures contradicted the original instructions (considering that anatomy was more important in determining gender than desire), I believe that Grandjean's case was taken up by an advocate who emphasized his own interpretation of the relationship of anatomy and desire to gender--an interpretation that still had no place for the existence of women who desired women. Grandjean's advocate, knowing of the existence of intersex conditions, spun a story that Grandjean was intersex and that this was the underlying cause of their desire for women. (At a later point, I'll go into more detail about the contradictory evidence of the medical examination.)

My take on Grandjean's story is certainly not the only valid one. But I think there's a deeper truth involved. Assuming Grandjean had fully normative female anatomy, the initial stages of their story would have been the same. Based on the stated evidence, Grandjean's initial social gender reassignment was not based on anatomy, but on sexual desire. And I necessarily reject the advocate's premise that sexual desire is impossible between two women. So the deeper truth is the light this story sheds on the variety of attitudes and understandings regarding desire between women in 18th century France. We certainly know that the "impossibility" opinion wasn't the only one that prevailed. We are less than a half-century away from the scandalous stories of the Anandrine Sect and the political accusations of lesbianism against Queen Marie Antoinette. But one possible position was that the idea of lesbianism was so unacceptable that the entire structure of society could be upended to align one person's gender with their desires.

Major category: 
LHMP
Full citation: 

Vermeil. 1765. Mémoire pour Anne Grandjean. Louis Cellot, Paris.

Publication summary: 

The original text, translation, and commentary on the appeal record of Anne Grandjean against a charge of "profaning the sacrament of marriage" by marrying a woman.

Introductory Material

Introduction

People in the past could have complex, contradictory, nuanced understandings of gender and sexuality, but we rarely have access to these complexities in as detailed a manner as for the case on Anne/Jean-Baptiste Grandjean, thanks to the existence of a popular-oriented publication of the legal appeal against Grandjean’s initial sentence. As a very brief summary, a person assigned female at birth, with female-conforming anatomy, raised as a girl, and with no prior indications of gender dysphoria, is instructed by their confessor to live as a man after confessing to experiencing sexual desire for women. This person continues living in their community as a man, courts several women and marries one, moves to a different community, has their assigned gender “outed” by a former girlfriend, and is tried in court for “profaning the sacrament of marriage” and given a fairly harsh sentence (though typical for the times). A sympathetic and broad-minded lawyer is responsible for Grandjean’s appeal, primarily on the argument that Grandjean is intersex and should be classified as male, althugh this argument was not accepted during the original trial. The lawyer also argues that Grandjean was naïve and sincerely believed the priest had the authority to reassign their social and legal gender, and that therefore the necessary intent for the charge of "profaning marriage" was lacking. This argument prevailed and Grandjean was released, with an injunction to return to living as a woman and never to see their wife again. To the legal arguments, in some editions, in appended a piece of doggerel verse in the persona of Grandjean bidding farewell to their wife and railing against the hand fate dealt them.

Even with the level of detail available through this publication, we must be aware of the layers of filtering and “spin” that have been put on the underlying narrative. We do not have direct access to Grandjean’s experience and thoughts except through what is recorded in testimony. We have even less access to the experience and thoughts of Grandjean’s wife, Françoise Lambert. Lambert does not appear to have been considered “at fault” in any way, but that only tells us that the court accepted a particular presentation of her experience (as well as demonstrating the legal presumption of women’s lack of agency). We may understand the lawyer’s stated opinions as reflecting his sincere beliefs about gender and sexuality, although we must also allow for the possibility that he is simply presenting what he believes to be the best case for the goal he seeks. (And that may include goals other than Grandjean’s acquittal.) The verse, we should understand as belonging to a particular popular genre of sensational entertainment, meant to appeal to the audiences sensibilities, but without any necessary truth-connection to the lives and experiences of the verse’s subject.

Text and Translation Credits

The original French text is taken from two different versions of the 1765 publication. Both are credited to the same publisher and have the same year of publication, but the layout and fonts are somewhat different and one has sections of additional material not present in the other. This additional material consists of an additional item on the title page referencing the addition at the end, an introductory summary and address to the reader (titled “Advisory”) located immediately after the title page, and the verse, with introductory matter, appended at the end. As best I can determine, the texts are otherwise identical except possibly for details of punctuation and occasional abbreviation.

The facsimile texts in pdf form were made available by Google Books (shorter version, extended version) and the initial rough transcription was copied from the Google Books epub editions of the text, presumably created by optical character recognition (OCR). I proofread the rough transcription against the facsimiles and performed extensive corrections, including sorting out the marginal commentary.

The initial translation pass was done using DeepL (https://www.deepl.com), a truly amazing translation app, whose use for private or business translation is permitted by the use agreement. Acknowledgement statement: Translated with www.DeepL.com/Translator (free version)

I have performed light revisions of the DeepL text for contextual clarity, and especially to align and amend gender references, given the key importance of this aspect. In some passages, I have traded felicity of language for a translation that retains the gender references in the French, when a more idiomatic English translation might not use gendered language.

A Note on Gender in the Translation

Linguistic gender in French may either reflect the assigned gender of the person being referenced, or the arbitrary grammatical gender of the noun being used (including pronoun references to a previously mentioned noun). But some grammatical constructions do not distinguish masculine and feminine gender (i.e., use epicene gender). In order to track how the author is presenting Grandjean’s gender in various contexts, I’ve used an approach that may be somewhat awkward. Specifically, when the French text uses an epicene reference (and it isn’t closely associated with other, gendered, language) I will use the neo-pronouns “zie/zem/zir” to indicate this lack of gender specificity. Please note that this usage is strongly marked as “non-gendered” in English, but is translating French expressions that are not in any way marked. They simply don’t indicate gender. I felt that using singular gender-neutral “they” might introduce number ambiguity that isn’t present in the original text. The approach I’m using is not intended to indicate that the author viewed Grandjean as non-binary or to indicate that I do, but rather to highlight that the author sometimes clearly referenced Grandjean with feminine language, more often with masculine language, but in many cases with language that is unmarked for gender.

In my own commentary and comments, I will normally refer to Grandjean with gender-neutral “they,” not only to honor the alternatives that Grandjean had female or male identity, but to honor the possibility that Grandjean was intersex and of uncertain gender identity. (Also, to recognize that Grandjean didn't necessarily have the same conceptual options avaialble for identification that we would have today.) I, personally, believe that Grandjean was not intersex and that they had no gender dysphroria when living as a woman, but naively took direction from male authority figures with regard to what gender they should present. But this is only my personal reading and several other views are equally valid.

Use of the Word “Hermaphrodite”

In past centuries, the word “hermaphrodite” was used in several different senses. See the discussions in the following articles for a deep dive into some of the relevant context. 

The word “hermaphrodite” was sometimes used to identify persons whose social behavior did not align with the expected behavior for their assigned sex, at it is possible that this sense was included when LeGrand accused Grandjean of being "a hermaphrodite." However the more relevant use in this text is for intersex persons, i.e., those with ambiguous physiology. The use of “hermaphrodite” for intersex persons is currently considered offensive and should generally be avoided. However I have retained this word to translate the French hermaphrodite in the source text, not only as the best literal translation, but to signal that the concept embodied in the text differed from the modern concept of intersexuality. I acknowledge that this convention has the potential to cause harm and apologize for that.

Formatting Conventions

The general format of the text is as follows.

  • The original French text in plain type. Capitalization and punctuation are as in the original, though some extra spaces have been removed. There are a few places where a marginal note or variant text is indicated with curly braces.
  • The translation in bold type. This may include some notes for clarity. If the original text includes non-French material, it is kept intact at this point.
  • {HRJ: My editorial commentary in italics and in curly braces. If there was non-French material in the original text, this is where I will translate it. Not all passages will have this commentary, but most will.}

[The text and translation will begin in the next blog entry.]

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Place: 
Event / person: 
Saturday, October 1, 2022 - 10:16

Lesbian Historic Motif Podcast - Episode 240 - On the Shelf for October 2022 - Transcript

(Originally aired 2022/10/01 - listen here)

Welcome to On the Shelf for October 2022.

Sometimes I find myself scrambling to put a show together because time has simply slipped away, and sometimes it’s because life comes crashing down. September was definitely one of those crashing months, so this may be a bit of a bare-bones round-up. The month started off with the World Science Fiction Convention in Chicago, which was thoroughly enjoyable, if a bit exhausting. I participated in panels on podcasting, fairy tale retellings, themes in early “proto-science fiction”, the interaction of magic and gender in historic fantasy, and other topics. Then in mid-month I participated in an online panel on historic research for marginalized characters for the Toronto Romance Writers conference. Going on underneath all this was a rather intense project for my day job—because, of course, it’s not possible to schedule all these things in a rational manner.

And then at the end of the month, I traveled to a small family get-together on the opposite coast and Covid finally caught up with me. So far, it’s being a fairly mild case, thanks to being fully up to date on vaccinations, no doubt. But it’s been a lottery I participated in every time I chose to travel, and I finally lost the toss. So just a reminder for all of you: keep up to date on all your vaccinations, mask like everyone’s health depends on it, and don’t beat yourself up too badly if you eventually lose the roll of the dice and get Covid anyway. You’re still better off than if you hadn’t taken all the precautions.

Publications on the Blog

October is shaping up to have some great content. In September, the blog finished up the collection of articles from The Single Life in the Roman and Later Roman World  and October starts a multi-part presentation of a primary source in translation: the 18th century French legal appeal of Anne Grandjean. Grandjean’s story is an excellent example of how difficult it can be to define and interpret identities from historic records. Depending on how you interpret the record and how you filter for the prejudices and “spin” of the parties involved, Grandjean might be interpreted as a cross-dressing lesbian, as a trans man, or as an intersex person who was caught between classifications. I’ve seen references to the case in a number of articles over the years, but hadn’t been able to find a full translation. So when I was able to get copies of a couple different editions of the original publication from Google Books, I decided to tackle the ambitious project of producing my own translation and edition. In addition to presenting it in the blog, this month’s podcast essay will present some of the content and discussion.

Grandjean’s case is an example of what I mean when I say you cannot study lesbian history separate from trans history and other types of queer history. People who want there to be some sort of pure and unambiguous history of different categories of queer people often scoff at the phrase “we can’t really know.” But the evidence in Grandjean’s case is ambiguous, deliberately skewed in multiple ways, and full of unreliable witnesses. Even apart from the question of what types of identity categories Grandjean had available to try on, we aren’t given enough direct, unfiltered evidence to know what the facts were. If we want to relate Grandjean’s story to the field of lesbian history, we must embrace that ambiguity or lose a great deal of the available evidence.

Fiction

October is a fiction series month and we’ll be presenting “The Wolf that Sings on the Mountain” by Miyuki Jane Pinckard, narrated by the author, plus an interview with Miyuki in next month’s On the Shelf episode.

And don’t forget that we’ll be opening for new fiction submissions in January for the 2023 series. It’s not at all too early to be thinking about writing something.

Book Shopping!

Book shopping for the blog is still very quiet these days, but on the fiction side we have ten new titles to talk about.

Recent Lesbian Historical Fiction

It seems a bit early in the year for Christmas-themed books to start coming out, but first up is Christmas Secrets of the Soho Club: New Season New Secrets a self-published anthology of Regency romance short stories by various authors. Only one story involves a sapphic romance: “The Widow’s Modiste” by Renée Dahlia.

What happens in the Soho Club stays in the Soho Club, especially during Christmastide! Get ready for some passionate, romantic secrets from the Regency club where people can be themselves, away from prying eyes and family demands. In The Widow's Modiste. Lady Merryam, widowed and bored, only attends the Soho Club’s latest ball to help raise funds for her son’s orphanage. The last thing she expects is a one-night-stand with the mysterious woman wearing ‘that’ dress. Could spending more time with her be the answer to her ennui?

Cameron Darrow has a sixth volume, Pax Victoria, in the Ashes of Victory series, a supernatural historical adventure.

For eleven years, the witches of EVE have made it their mission to ensure that the War to End All Wars remains exactly that. So when Svetlana returns home to Longstown with a proposal for a true, permanent peace in Europe, it's met with jubilation—and on the heels of tragedy, a renewed optimism that the future they have sacrificed so much for might actually be on the horizon. For those still sifting through the ashes of victory and defeat alike, it also presents a second, more personal opportunity: the chance to rest. But in order for the world to achieve true peace, so must Victoria Ravenwood. When she learns that the British government has started a program to put her theories on atomic energy into practical use, the realization that she may have inadvertently unlocked the ability for humanity to destroy itself comes with a singular responsibility: only she can stop it. After years of struggle with trauma and depression, is her love for her family and partner Katya enough to finally overcome her demons safely? Or will they drive her to pay the ultimate price to ensure they live into the glorious new future that they have been building together?

Witches are also the topic of The Pannell Witch self-published by Melissa Manners. This is a fictionalization of a brief reference to an actual victim of a witch trial in 16th century England.

Yorkshire, 1593. Mary Pannell, small-town herbalist, only ever wanted to help. She never meant for anyone to die. But still, they called her witch. She deserves to have her story told. When Mary is arrested for witchcraft, she must do whatever it takes to survive. From medieval torture methods and plague-ridden London, to the ever-looming threat of being hanged - does she have the strength to endure it all? Condemned as a witch, will she face the gallows? Or can she escape with the woman she loves?

In the cover copy of the popular sub-genre of pirate romances, it can be hard to tell whether a story is meant to have a historic setting or simply exists in the pirate-verse. Siren's Kiss self-published by Ariel Spencer is a bit light on historic specifics but strong on romance.

Siren's Kiss is the story of captive-turned-crew, Ashlyn Stillson, and a no-mercy, wild haired pirate captain, Iliana The Fierce. Ash is uncertain about these feelings towards her new captain and captor. She knows to be cautious and fearsome of her rage and cunning, but she also can see the tender, gentle side of her as well. She longs to grow closer to her stand-offish superior, but knows it could lead to her death. Iliana is suspicious of her newest crewmate. The small, white-skinned woman was constantly around. Whenever Iliana caught her gaze, she would hastily put her head down and scuttle off. But she can't help but be intrigued by her as well. Her soft, white skin and golden halo of curls, her wide, rich brown eyes. Perhaps there is more to this wench than meets the eye.

There are certain expectations that come with a title like Reader, I Murdered Him by Betsy Cornwell from Clarion Books. This take-off of the familiar concluding line from Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre gives us a clue to the setting and tone, but this is the story of Mr. Rochester’s ward Adele.

Adele grew up in the shadows—of her broken family, of the gloomy manor halls of her lonely childhood. So when she's finally sent away to boarding school, she’s happy to enter the brightly lit world of society girls and their wealthy suitors. Yet there are shadows there, too. Many of the men that try to charm Adele’s new friends do so with dark intentions. After a violent assault, she turns to a roguish young con woman for help. Together, they become vigilantes meting out justice. But can Adele save herself from the same fate as those she protects? With a queer romance at its heart, this lush historical thriller offers readers an irresistible mix of vengeance and empowerment.

Divided Lives by K.R. Mullins from Jkj Books is frustratingly cagey about having queer content, so this is another case of reading the tea leaves and coded language in the cover copy and giving it the benefit of the doubt.

New York City (1912) is a city divided: Greenwich Village where rejected tradition is regularly flouted, and Manhattan where it is strictly upheld. Lottie Flannigan successfully balances both sides. While embracing a bohemian lifestyle, she maintains a legal career clerking for conservative Justice Goff in Midtown. Committed and dedicated, Lottie begins work on a high-profile criminal case involving local Police Officer Charles Becker. Suddenly her professional and personal lives collide as she finds herself caught in a blackmail scheme that seeks to disclose her most intimate choices if she doesn't do as they say. In a fascinating look into a scandalous turn-of-the-century trial and ever-changing Greenwich Village social norms, the book puts Lottie in the middle of Police Lieutenant Charles Becker's Conspiracy trial.

Maid to Love self-published by S.J. Faden sounds like a straight-forward rich-girl/poor-girl romance.

In 1930s Chicago Adoncia Martinez is a young heiress who spends most of her day in her vast library trying to figure out her purpose in life. Her seemingly endless search finds its possible answer when her new maid, Danika Batrovic enters her life. Though unassuming at first glance, Adoncia sees in the new maid a kindred spirit with a deep desire for something more. When the two come together things start to change in both their lives with the people around them paying most for the changes.

The glittering club scene of pre-WWII Germany brings together excitement and danger in Nothing Sung and Nothing Spoken by Nita Tyndall from Harper Teen.

Charlotte Kraus would follow Angelika Haas anywhere. Which is how she finds herself in an underground club one Friday night the summer before World War II, dancing to contraband American jazz and swing music, suddenly feeling that anything might be possible. Unable to resist the allure of sharing this secret with Geli, Charlie returns to the club again and again, despite the dangers of breaking the Nazi Party’s rules. Soon, terrified by the tightening vise of Hitler’s power, Charlie and the other Swingjugend are drawn to larger and larger acts of rebellion. But the war will test how much they are willing to risk—and to lose.

Jumping ahead to a more recent war, we have A Belief in Her by Barbara Valletto from Flashpoint Publications.

Claire McCollum, an American Red Cross Vietnamese Interpreter, and Maggie Calder, a Captain in the USAF, discover love in war-torn Vietnam in the months prior to the Fall of Saigon. Stationed on an air force base in Southeastern Vietnam, the two band together to partake in a mission of mercy that defies all odds. But the truth may not be what Claire expected, and knowing it may place beliefs she holds dear, in jeopardy.

To finish up this month’s new books, we have the third volume in Nghi Vo’s Singing Hills Cycle from Tor-dot-com, Into the Riverlands. This historic fantasy with an alternate China-like setting follows a collector of stories.

Wandering cleric Chih of the Singing Hills travels to the riverlands to record tales of the notorious near-immortal martial artists who haunt the region. On the road to Betony Docks, they fall in with a pair of young women far from home, and an older couple who are more than they seem. As Chih runs headlong into an ancient feud, they find themselves far more entangled in the history of the riverlands than they ever expected to be. Accompanied by Almost Brilliant, a talking bird with an indelible memory, Chih confronts old legends and new dangers alike as they learn that every story―beautiful, ugly, kind, or cruel―bears more than one face.

What Am I Reading?

For my own consumption this month, books read in print outnumbered audio books for the first time in several months. I finally finished a historical mystery that I started back in the beginning of the year: Jane and the Canterbury Tale by Stephanie Barron. It’s part of a historical mystery series with a fictional Jane Austen as the amateur detective. Back in the ‘90s I was seriously into reading historical mysteries and still follow some of the series, though less avidly.

I’ve started another of KJ Charles’s m/m historical romance series with Slippery Creatures, set just after WWI. With Charles’s work there’s always a tricky balance for me between enjoying the plots and characters and finding the sexual content too emphasized for my taste. This series is a bit heavier on the sexual side than some of the others, to the point where it sometimes feels like the plot is more like connective tissue. And yet I keep reading for the marvelous writing.

I listened to the audiobook of The Oleander Sword, the second book in Tasha Suri’s Burning Kingdoms series. The series has a lovely, complicated, central lesbian romance, embedded in an epic fantasy of empires and magic. For the first half of the book, The Oleander Sword felt very much like a “middle book” in taking the elements introduced in the first volume, expanding the scope, and setting things up for a later climax. But then everything starts changing into new and strange shapes and you realize that all your assumptions about “good guys” and “bad guys” have been mistaken. The immediate conflicts resolve with the understanding that a far more drastic challenge lies ahead in the final volume. Yes, I’m being a bit coy about exactly what that drastic shift in understanding is, but I think it’s more enjoyable to experience it for yourself.

The last book I started this month is…well…something entirely different in a totally bonkers way. I picked up this anthology on a whim at Worldcon because it had an irresistible hook. The title of the collection is Well…It’s Your Cow and the hook is that every story begins with an exchange between two characters: “Do we think this is a good idea?” “Well, it’s your cow.” The collection begins with the real-life incident related by the collection’s editor, Frog Jones, that inspired the anthology, then continues with stories of all flavors and genres unified by that hook.

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: 
LHMP
Friday, September 30, 2022 - 07:00

Like the previous article, this one provides some comparative data for considering the social dynamics of singlehood. And like the previous article, it feels a bit disconnected from the main content of the volume. There are connections to be made regarding how non-married people fit into deliberate social structures even when marriage is the norm, but those connections are mostly left for the reader to make.

Major category: 
LHMP
Full citation: 

Manfredini, Matteo. 2019. “Singleness in Nineteenth-century Italy: Permanent Celibacy and Solitariness between Coercion and Free Choice” in Sabine R. Huebner & Christian Laes (eds), The Single Life in the Roman and Later Roman World. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge. ISBN 978-1-108-47017-9

Publication summary: 

A collection of papers addressing (and definine) the state of "singleness" in the Roman Empire, both in pre-Christian and early Christian times. There is a strong focus on Egypt as well as Rome proper, as well as wider Byzantine material. Comparative material is offered from Jewish sources, as well as a small selection of studies from specific cultures of more modern date.

Manfredini, Matteo. “Singleness in Nineteenth-century Italy: Permanent Celibacy and Solitariness between Coercion and Free Choice”

This article summarizes various “ways of  being single” in Catholic society of one particular Tuscan community in the first half of the 19th century.

Permanent celibacy is defined for this purpose as being never-married by age 50. While out of line with normative expectations, permanent celibacy was accepted under certain conditions, e.g., for those with religious vocations. But certain economic strategies also required an acceptance of permanent celibacy when only the eldest son was expected to marry and beget children (to avoid diluting the inheritance), with other sons taking up religious, military, or diplomatic careers rather than marriage, and surplus daughters either entering religious life or performing household support activities for a married sibling. In a context where marriage was the only licensed means to producing children, control of access to marriage by the family was also a means of population control when resources or land was scarce. This could result in 15% of men and 12% of women never having access to marriage. (The social dynamics involve other complications, so this is a simplification of a simplification.) The vast majority of these never-married individuals were part of complex extended-family households, although solitary singles and members of smaller nuclear households also occurred. While these permanent singles were excluded from full access to social rights and privileges, they were not stigmatized, unless it were viewed as a personal whim rather than part of a family strategy.

Living alone as a one-person household was another option for singles, and its acceptability was highly contextual. If the solitary state was due to household attrition—the death of other members or the natural fracturing of the family into smaller units on a life-cycle basis—then there was not typically any stigma or marginalization. The solitary state tended to be unstable, with such persons typically joining another family unit or moving to an urban center for opportunity. However if the solitary state was perceived as voluntary or due to family rejection or the individual failure to form a family unit, then they might face social disapproval, especially if female. This was more often the case in rural areas than urban ones. These solitaries were likely to be never-married in younger age ranges, and much more likely to be widowed (especially female widows) in older age ranges.

Time period: 
Place: 
Misc tags: 
Thursday, September 29, 2022 - 07:00

There's an interesting sociology in trying to figure out how a specific set of paper topics get collected together into a publication. Appended onto this collection of studies relating to singles in the ancient world, we get two papers with "comparative material" that I find hard to integrate into an overall purpose. While this paper on singlewomen in late medieval Antwerp and Bruges touches on some parallels with, for example, the position of women in Roman and Coptic Egypt, it feels like the reader is left to draw her own conclusions about how the topics speak to each other. It almost feels like there was a conversation along the lines of, "I'm putting together a volume of papers on singlewomen in the classical world and I'd really like to have a paper from you." "Um...can't manage that, but how about the Low Countries a millennium later?" Goodness knows, I've be present for similar conversations.

Major category: 
LHMP
Full citation: 

De Groot, Julie. 2019. “To Marry or Not to Marry in Fifteenth- and Sixteenth-century Cities, with Antwerp and Bruges as Case Studies” in Sabine R. Huebner & Christian Laes (eds), The Single Life in the Roman and Later Roman World. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge. ISBN 978-1-108-47017-9

Publication summary: 

A collection of papers addressing (and definine) the state of "singleness" in the Roman Empire, both in pre-Christian and early Christian times. There is a strong focus on Egypt as well as Rome proper, as well as wider Byzantine material. Comparative material is offered from Jewish sources, as well as a small selection of studies from specific cultures of more modern date.

De Groot, Julie. “To Marry or Not to Marry in Fifteenth- and Sixteenth-century Cities, with Antwerp and Bruges as Case Studies”

Comparative Voices

As a comparison from an extremely different time and place, the author looks at marriage patterns in 15-16th century Bruges and Antwerp in the Low Countries. This culture followed what is known as the “West European marriage pattern” involving a relatively late age for first marriage, a small age gap, and a significant adult population who had not yet married or might never marry. In these urban centers, newlyweds expected to establish an independent household, so marriage was delayed until a sufficient nest egg could be accumulated, often through wage labor by both parties.

Even when the will to marry existed, circumstances might make it impossible. And in a social context where marriage was not always possible, choosing not to marry stood out less. What consequence did that have? And did those consequences differ for men and women? Studies of singlehood often focus strongly on women, but this article explores both women’s and men’s single circumstances.

In theory, the marital status of men in Antwerp and Bruges did not affect their legal status, and so that status might not be mentioned overtly, as it typically was for women. Women’s legal status depended heavily on whether they were never-married, married, or widowed. Married women could enter certain types of legal contracts on their own, while singlewomen and widows were expected to have a male agent who acted for them. The importance of marital status shows up in how women are referred to in legal records in terms of their relationship to the relevant male relative “wife of” or “daughter of.” Widows are more visible as their own identities and they were often allowed to be their own legal agents. [Note: the article seems to contradict itself several times regarding the allowance for widows to be their own legal agents. Not just in terms of theory versus practice, but I think there’s a wording error when the topic is first introduced.]

We can also find differences between the prescriptive legal theory and the de facto activities of women reported in the record. One study of 14th century Ghent suggests that married women had far more real ability to act independently of their husbands than legal theory would suggest. This same de facto legal competency is seen in the accounts of widows in 15-16th century Antwerp, despite the official position that they were legally incapable and needed a male guardian to act for them.

Further, in an era when marriages were often clandestine or of challengeable validity, the categories of “single” and “married” could shade into each other.

Unmarried women were economically vulnerable, even setting aside the sharp differential in male and female wages for similar work. As the Middle Ages came to a close, trade guilds became increasingly closed to women as members, and hostile to women freelancers. Young men went into trade apprenticeships while the primary employment for young women was increasingly restricted to domestic service, which was viewed as a temporary lifecycle occupation.

But dynamics were shifting for men as well. It was no longer a given that apprenticeship would lead to independence as a master. And guilds developed feedback loops that increasingly favored the children of existing masters. Strategic marriage and the support of one’s father in law it could be critical to professional success.

There were identifiable strategies that single women (and widows) used to address economic pressures. Joining together in households or informal communities provided security and companionship.

[Note: This section brings in a much wider scope of time and place than the article’s nominal topic, so it’s hard to tell what it’s trying to demonstrate. I feel like this article lacks a clear overall point.]

 

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Tuesday, September 27, 2022 - 07:00

For all that I sometimes emphasize the opportunities that single women (and especially widows) could have--opportunities that are often more varied than popular visions of history include--we shouldn't overlook that relentless disadvantages that women had in relation to men in similar circumstances. Many of the anecdotes in this article emphasize that a woman, acting alone, often had very little leverage to enforce her legal and social rights. And that gaining the support of some male authority could be the difference between success and failure. But women were part of complex social systems. These widows were not necessarily isolated and  helpless. The might need male legal assistance, but they also felt they had a right to certain types of assistance, and would pursue it with that understanding. As I note, this article feels a bit like a scrapbook of isolated anecdotes, but somtimes those snapshots are what give us the best picture of people's everyday lives.

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LHMP
Full citation: 

Cromwell, Jennifer. 2019. “‘Listen to My Mistreatment’: Support Networks for Widows and Divorcées in the Coptic Record” in Sabine R. Huebner & Christian Laes (eds), The Single Life in the Roman and Later Roman World. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge. ISBN 978-1-108-47017-9

Publication summary: 

A collection of papers addressing (and definine) the state of "singleness" in the Roman Empire, both in pre-Christian and early Christian times. There is a strong focus on Egypt as well as Rome proper, as well as wider Byzantine material. Comparative material is offered from Jewish sources, as well as a small selection of studies from specific cultures of more modern date.

Cromwell, Jennifer. “‘Listen to My Mistreatment’: Support Networks for Widows and Divorcées in the Coptic Record”

This article is a narrowly-focused study of single, once-married women in Coptic Egypt, concerning their difficulties due to that state and the support networks available to them. It draws on non-literary evidence primarily from the 6th to 8th century from the area around Thebes. The evidence includes letters and incidental legal documents and focuses on local conditions at a village level.

The data shows women acting independently in a variety of economic contexts, but within this it can be difficult to distinguish married versus unmarried women. Widows tend to be easiest to identify, due to the use of specific vocabulary for them, or the tendency to reference their late husband. In other cases, the composition of specific households can be reconstructed from the evidence, even if larger demographic patterns are elusive.

Among these, we can sometimes identify households consisting of an adult woman and her children, with no husband/father present. While specific reference to a husband/father can identify a widow, the absence of an expected reference cannot distinguish between death, divorce, or the absence of any prior marriage.

Marriage and divorce were (still) relatively informal practices and Coptic records rarely refer to the actions directly. However there were economic and social pressures to remain married. Coptic Christian authorities viewed adultery as the only valid reason for divorce. And those who divorced for other reasons might be ostracized. But some references indicate that other reasons/contexts existed, and the only known surviving divorce agreement simply notes that the couple “agreed together and separated.”

Church officials encouraged widowed or divorced women to remain unmarried for moral reasons. Older widows were encouraged to become nuns. But more practical matters of finances and inheritance played a part, as well as the availability of support for from the wider family.

A man’s will might specify that his widow could not inherit if she remarried, likely out of concern that his property not leave the control of his descendants. But widows did remarry and the inheritance complications sometimes show up in the records. Some widows were wealthy enough that they could choose not to remarry. Some never-married women were wealthy enough that remaining so was an option.

The inventories recorded when women willed their property to religious institutions can document some significant resources, such as multiple houses and a share in a bakery or houses plus a share in a church property. Some no-longer-married women had significant business activities which might be large enough to involve employees.

Either in addition to property and business income, or as a substitute for them, close family we’re an important resource for unmarried women. An elderly widow might live with one of her children, or receive physical assistance even though financially comfortable.

A widow with no immediate family might turn to religious officials for substantial or social support that would typically be provided by family. (I’m skipping many of the fascinating individual stories.)

Women’s lack of ability to pursue their own legal matters as forcefully as a man could, meant that widows often needed a male figure to act for them. Sometimes religious leaders were asked to intervene on behalf of widows in disputes with their relatives. But it was also the case that secular authorities might be turned to for similar assistance.

Widows are easier to identify as such in the records than divorcées. In addition, there was a religious duty to provide support to widows, but the church frowned on divorce, therefore divorcées may have been less motivated to seek assistance when needed. But there is one record of a woman divorced by her husband who sought assistance in pursuing support from him for her children, as promised in their divorce contract.

[Note: If this feels like a somewhat random list of the circumstances widows might find themselves in, that’s an accurate understanding of the article’s contents.]

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Monday, September 19, 2022 - 07:00

This article is, of course, the one that brought the entire collection to my attention, when Ursula Whitcher cited it as one of the strands of inspiration for her story "The Spirits of Cabassus" published as part of this year's fiction series. Direct references to female same-sex desire are rare in many eras, and the tantalizing glimpses we get aren't always put in a positive light in the original sources. But for a historical fiction author, those glimpses can be the spark to kindle a fire. Because the glimpses can be fragmentary and offered up in biased acounts, there's often a temptation to expand them into a more complete story--one that centers and is sympathetic to the sapphic figure. I have a whole laundry list of historic anecdotes that I'd like to turn into fiction, when I have the time.

Major category: 
LHMP
Full citation: 

Efthymiadis, Stephanis. 2019. “Single People in Early Byzantine Literature” in Sabine R. Huebner & Christian Laes (eds), The Single Life in the Roman and Later Roman World. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge. ISBN 978-1-108-47017-9

Publication summary: 

A collection of papers addressing (and definine) the state of "singleness" in the Roman Empire, both in pre-Christian and early Christian times. There is a strong focus on Egypt as well as Rome proper, as well as wider Byzantine material. Comparative material is offered from Jewish sources, as well as a small selection of studies from specific cultures of more modern date.

Efthymiadis, Stephanis. “Single People in Early Byzantine Literature”

This is a relatively general article, reiterating the themes of how social changes under Christianity created a context in which not marrying (or not re-marrying) could be considered a viable life choice, whether it involved a retreat into an ascetic community or continued presence in the secular world. Singlehood itself was not the goal, but rather an acceptable mode in which one could devote oneself to religious causes and activities.

The discussion is anecdotal, presenting various stories of different types of unmarried life. One of particular interest to the Project for tangential reasons is worth quoting:

A woman named Martha, suffering from chronic illness, went to a shrine “where other women, mostly suffering from demonic possession, lodged, separated by curtains and awaiting a cure. Being a kind and good-hearted person, she never missed an opportunity to serve and console those of her companions who were in pain. In the event, the saints visited her a few times, but to her disappointment, they granted her only partial relief, causing her to raise her voice in protest. It was under these troubled circumstances that a woman who had moved in next to her fell in love with her. Her name was Christina, and she was a married woman, the wife of one of the clergy of the Church of Saint Laurentius. Oddly enough, her infatuation functions as a catalyst in the story. As she was about to step into the curtained-off space Martha occupied and set about seducing her, the saints were forced, as it were, to intervene and offer Martha a complete cure.

“Thanks to this unique – or at least very rare –attestation of (would-be) lesbian eroticism in Byzantium, we once again gain an insight into the life of a single woman at the troubles she might have faced because of her singleness.”

[Not: The event and its framing may not be entirely positive, but it brings the potential for acting on same-sex desire into view at a time when evidence is otherwise scarce.]

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Saturday, September 17, 2022 - 07:00

Lesbian Historic Motif Podcast - Episode 239 – Our F/Favorite Tropes Part 3: Adapting Marriage Tropes - transcript

(Originally aired 2022/09/17 - listen here)

Introduction

Today we’re going to look at historic romance tropes involving marriage and how they can be adapted to female couples.

When we look at the popular historic romance tropes involving male-female couples, there is a large subset that revolve around the social context of the paired relationship—whether that relationship is depicted at marriage or the functional equivalent, or at an earlier stage of courtship. Closely related to this are tropes involving the motivations of the characters engaging in this relationship. Whether the trope is fake-dating, an arranged or political marriage, a marriage of convenience or outright fake marriage, or a compromising situation that pressures the couple into formalizing the relationship, all these tropes are deeply embedded in the function of marriage within society and the social expectations around marriage in the specific context of the setting.

While contemporary romance now includes marriage-based tropes that expand beyond male-female couples, any romance set in western culture before the 21st century that doesn’t involve a male-female couple needs to engage in some way with the inaccessibility of formal, legally-recognized marriage to other types of couples. This can be just as important as the need to engage with how the protagonists work around the normative expectations that they will engage in a male-female marriage.

And here I want to emphasize--even more than usual--that the discussion here will focus specifically on western culture in Europe and the Mediterranean area, as well as European-derived cultures in the Americas. There have been formalized, marriage-like same-sex bonds in other cultures in a number of times and places, which I don’t mean to erase. But historic romance tropes tend to assume a very specific cultural setting that either draws on or reflects western culture, therefore I hope I may be excused for sticking to that narrow focus.

Within western culture, there is a broad potential for formalized paired relationships other than marriage, but the social dynamics and expectations around those non-marital relationships will affect the ways in which they can stand in for marriage within a historic romance trope. Today’s exploration of the dynamics of popular historic romance tropes for female couples will look at some general types of contractual relationships that can provide an alternate context for marriage tropes, as well as exploring how specific tropes such as “fake relationship” or “marriage of convenience” might play out differently for non-marital bonds.

What Is a Trope?

For those who may be coming into this series in the middle, what we mean by “trope” in this context is a recurring literary device or motif—a conventional story element that is used regularly enough that it carries a whole context of meaning, and connects the story to other works that employ the same trope. The trope could be a character type, or a situation, or even a plot-sequence or mini-script. In the context of historic romance novels, popular tropes include ones that describe attributes of the romantic couple, the context in which they meet, the barriers keeping them apart, or the mechanism by which they connect romantically.

As usual, my examples and discussion are going to lean heavily on western culture. If you’re brainstorming a historic romance in some other cultural context, be careful about assuming that motifs from western culture are universal. Tropes involving marriage-analogues, perhaps more than character-based tropes, will vary a great deal according to the specific historic setting and the types of non-marital relationships it recognizes and supports.

Marriage as Such

There’s a separate topic to be considered in having the couple engage with formal marriage systems by representing themselves as a male-female couple. This covers a range of identities from having a female-identifying partner present herself as male for the sake of the marriage, all the way through various degrees of gender identification to the marriage of a trans man and a woman. This will be a complicated topic and will be covered in its own separate episode (or maybe more than one). Today’s episode will concern itself with two individuals who both identify as women and are perceived by their society as such.

Essential Differences and Potential Similarities

Marriage has always had multiple functions and purposes. The romance genre focuses on the purpose of finding and bonding with a romantic and erotic partner, but specific marriage-related tropes may lean on some of the other functions. These include creating an economic or social contract between families, the establishment of a line of inheritance typically including the production of children, combining economic and labor resources to better support the functioning of an independent household, and the formalization of a friendship. With the exception of procreation, you can find same-sex analogues for these purposes in many historic cultures.

While we may think of marriage as having certain universal features, a cross-cultural and cross-time survey of marriage practices and customs would have a hard time finding a defining set of characteristics. Marriage can be a contract between individuals or between families. It can be formalized by law, or by a religious authority, or simply by the declaration of the parties involved. It may be viewed as permanent or temporary. The consent of the couple being married may be essential, or optional, or irrelevant. Given all this, the question of what counts as a same-sex analogue of marriage depends on what definition and aspect of marriage you’re looking at. For our purposes, it may help to consider the relevant features to be: a formal or semi-formal contractual bond that affects the living situation and interpersonal relationships of two people, which is publicly known and recognized by the community, and which assumes certain features of good faith and sincerity in its ideal form.

One key feature of marriage tropes in male-female romance—as noted above—is the literary convention that a romantic connection is assumed to be relevant to marriage, either in its presence or in its absence. While some non-marital analogues, such as formalized friendship bonds, similarly assume an emotional component, others do not. So while male-female marriage tropes contrast the sincere performance of courtship with a conflicted performance, many of the analogues suggested for female couples contrast a sincere performance of the social contract with a conflicted performance, and then add in a separate polarity between the sincere performance of romance versus a conflicted performance.

This can make for some delightfully complicated plots!

Familial Bonds

Let’s start with types of social contracts that are typically driven by the character’s family, rather than personal choice. For example, the practice of fosterage among the medieval European elite was partially intended to create social bonds between families. Typically an adolescent would be sent to live with another family where they would learn adult skills and form personal connections that were expected to benefit their birth family. While there was sometimes the intent that the person being fostered would be exposed to marriage prospects, the connections they made between same-sex mentors and peers were just as important and could have life-long consequences. We see a tantalizing hint of how such relationships might form in the joint funeral memorial for Elizabeth Etchingham and Agnes Oxenbridge in 15th century England. Their bond—whatever form it took—was driven by the strategies and goals of their families. But once brought together, they found something in common that went beyond living in the same household.

If we’re brainstorming for a romance plot, we can consider the attitudes of the two characters toward their situation. How might a young woman feel about being fostered into a strange family? How might a daughter of that family react to her? What are their relative social positions? Are they expected to be friends? Do they feel pressured to behave as friends regardless of how they feel? Do they have personal goals that the relationship between them might further or hinder? What happens if one or both feel romantic stirrings?

In a similar situation more fraught with tension, offspring of a range of ages might be claimed as long-term hostages by someone in political power, to ensure the compliance of their birth family. This can place them in a situation where superficially they are like members of their new household, but always with an underlayer of distrust on both sides. In a way, one might view this situation as analogous to a forced or political marriage, if the hostage gets tangled up in emotional connections to the more powerful family.

Situations like those described above can parallel the dynamic in an arranged marriage or forced marriage, in that the protagonist may have little say in the matter and yet be expected to take up the role of serving as a bridge between families, or paying a social debt, or the like. The scenario places them in close proximity to people with whom they need to establish alliances, partnerships, or friendships—ones that may have lifelong consequences in the same way that marriage might.

But from another angle, if the context and power dynamics work out, a couple may manipulate the forms of an arranged contract in order to provide a context to enjoy their romantic relationship. Rather than the contract serving as an arranged or forced context, it becomes the “fake” context that gives cover to a less public purpose.

Employment Bonds

Outside the upper class, the apprenticeship system is something of a parallel to fosterage. The range of jobs a young woman might be apprenticed into will depend on context, but could include joining her mistress’s household. As with fosterage, she may have an ambiguous position in that household depending on her own background. And her interactions with her fellow apprentices (or with the mistress’s daughter!) create the romantic potential. In the early modern and later eras, you can find a similar dynamic when “poor relations” might place a child in the household of more comfortable relatives, or an unmarried woman might take a place as companion in the household of a relative or social connection of the family.

For that matter, any sort of employment situation can create the sort of contractual framework that can operate as an analogue for marriage for the purposes of a trope. While the power dynamics of employer and employee can complicate the ethics of a relationship for modern authors and readers, they are not qualitatively different from the historic power dynamics of husband and wife. Employment in personal service, such as a lady’s maid or--at a higher level of society--as a lady in waiting, creates the sort of intimate proximity in which complicated desires can flourish. And as with other contractual relationships, the “story behind the story” can turn what appears to be straightforward employment into a fake relationship or a relationship of convenience. What if the lady’s maid isn’t actually a working-class servant but is being concealed from danger under the guise of employment? What if the supposedly loyal lady in waiting is actually a spy?

I’ve talked about the enticing potential of companion roles as a context for romance, but they also provide the possibility of fake or convenience-based relationships. A well-off woman might take on a companion against her preference for any number of reasons. Perhaps she needs a companion for social appearances. Perhaps she’s been pressured to take the woman on as a favor to someone else. Perhaps the two women have decided that a companion arrangement is convenient for both of them even if not financially or socially necessary. In all of these, the companion bond may step in for a marriage in fake, arranged, or convenience tropes in which a romance develops within the context of the bond.

But from a different angle, what if the romance comes first and it’s the employment relationship that is the fake? Here we have a possibility that differs somewhat from the male-female trope. If a man and woman are in love and have communicated that love to each other, and if there is no bar to them getting married, there’s no good reason to frame a marriage as “fake” in that context. But if two women have confessed their love to each other and present themselves publicly as mistress and companion because it gives them a context for sharing their lives, then it’s reasonable to view it as a “fake companion” relationship. You see how things twist and change?

The Bonds of Friendship

In many cultures, there was a recognition and celebration of intimate personal friendships that could even be understood as being closer than the emotional bonds of marriage. As an ideal, such friendships were not dictated by economic, genetic, or social ties but were the free union of two souls. Such friends might use the same language as marriage to talk about their bond, and in some contexts might have formal or informal rituals available to mark their commitment to each other.

Until relatively recently, there was usually an assumption that true friendship was difficult to maintain between those of different genders without it turning awkwardly sexual, and therefore friendship practices tended to revolve around same-sex pairs. Alan Bray’s book The Friend [https://alpennia.com/lhmp/lhmp-288-bray-2003-friend] is a useful detailed study of attitudes and practices around same-sex friendship across a long span of time, although he focuses almost exclusively on male friendships. But there are a number of studies of intimate female friendships, especially from the 17th century and later, that provide models for fictional characters.

How can intimate same-sex friendships work as a marriage analogue within historical romance tropes? For one thing, in a context where the usual pattern was to develop life-long friendship bonds, and especially if such friendships had significance within larger social dynamics, there’s an opportunity for a declared friendship to act as a context for a “fake dating” or “marriage of convenience” trope. Say Person A is trying to be your best buddy and you have reasons to avoid them or distrust them but don’t want to say so outright? So you arrange with Person B to be your “bosom friend” to whom you profess loyalty. And then, well, it turns out you want more than a convenient excuse.

But such friendships—like familial alliances—could also have more practical benefits than simple companionship. Entering into a public friendship with ulterior motives has clear parallels to agreeing to a marriage for hidden purposes, with similar emotional consequences if the other person believes you are sincere.

In literature, and perhaps sometimes in life, same-sex friendships might be treated as an equivalent to marriage not only in their emotional dynamics, but in being socially obligatory. Delariviere Manley’s The New Atalantis, although written as a satire, describes a secret society in which female pair-bonds were required for entrance and we see a similar, though also satirical, treatment in the late 18th century fictional Anandrine Sect. During the heyday of Romantic Friendship, a middle-class woman who lacked a special female friend might well be considered devoid of proper sensibility. And unlike the other types of semi-formal contractual relationships discussed in this episode, friendship assumed the existence of an emotional bond in the same way that the historic romance genre assumes the alignment of marriage with an emotional bond. This makes formalized friendships an excellent choice for those who want a close parallel to marriage-based romance tropes.

The Helpmeet

Regardless of gender dynamics or the existence of a marriage contract, one of the very practical functions of people coming together to form a household is the ability to pool resources and share duties. Even in contexts where it was logistically possible to set up an independent household as a single person, everything was easier with one or more partners. Two people can merge their financial resources and incomes and gain access to more security than either of them alone. And the work of maintaining a household, whether it involves physical labor or management skills, is halved when two people are involved. This has always been held out as one of the basic purposes of marriage—the partnering with a “helpmeet”—and outside of marriage it remains as a practical motivation for cohabitation.

Across the ages, it has been common for unmarried women to pool resources—either in pairs or in larger groups—to achieve a more stable position or a higher standard of living. In some historic contexts, this type of household was a recognized “type”. Whether the arrangement is framed as a landlady with boarders, or spinsters ekeing out their resources together, whether they present themselves as business partners or the overt couplehood of a Boston marriage, whether the arrangement looks like employment or like friendship or like familial bonds, the outcome is a semi-formal living arrangement that has a public purpose not related to a romantic or erotic relationship.

This can not only create an analogue to marriage for the purposes of a romance trope, but it can add an additional layer of complexity to the tensions and interactions that play out within the trope. Let’s look at just one isolated scenario and ring some changes over it. Anne has inherited a house from her grandmother and doesn’t want her cousins to move in under the argument that she needs the help. Elizabeth is making an adequate living as a writer, but since it’s all under a pen name to conceal her gender, her family assumes she’s impoverished. To solve both their problems, Anne offers to take Elizabeth on as a boarder. Aha, fake relationship! Because neither of them needs the financial arrangement, they only need the illusion of depending on the financial arrangement. But now, in comes the romance plot, though neither of them went into this expecting any sort of emotional entanglement. For that matter, maybe they don’t even like each other much at first. Or each of them believes the other’s fictional financial emergency. And then one or the other finds herself getting attached. But something happens to disrupt the fictional boarder arrangement. Maybe Elizabeth comes into some money that she’s able to be public about and so can afford her own place. What to do? Can they sort out all the fictions and feelings to achieve true love?

Making it All Come Together

Expanding the types of relationships that can be used as the basis for a marriage-like trope for female couples changes some of the dynamics, but not always in the way you might think. The imperative toward marriage can involve external pressures and demands, but so can other types of personal contract. First marriage traditionally happens around a specific life stage (though perhaps a different age in different contexts) but other interpersonal contracts may have a similar ticking clock. Marriage may be driven by ulterior motives that create the temptation or the need for deception—either between the couple or for an external audience—but so do many other types of relationships.

And as we’ve seen, while male-female marriage tropes typically operate between two contrasting states (the idealized one in which romance, desire, and marriage are all aligned, and the conflicting state in which that alignment is disrupted), parallel tropes for female couples disrupt the assumed connection between the “public” arrangement and the existence of a romance, allowing for a three-way conflict between the romantic potential and the public and private understandings of the contractual context in which it develops.

The essential features in turning a trope into a plot are to identify which functional aspects of the trope you want to replicate, and then find a type of formalized same-sex arrangement that can replicate the same functions. And if you set it up cleverly, you’ll end up with even more potential for angst, intrigue, and misunderstanding than traditional marriage can offer.

Show Notes

In this episode we talk about:

  • The structure of historic romance tropes focusing on marriage
  • Historic relationships between women that can be used as marriage-analogues in tropes
  • How separating the relationship aspect of the trope from the emotional dynamic creates the potential for even more angst and conflict

Links to the Lesbian Historic Motif Project Online

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