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LHMP #112g Castle 2003 The Literature of Lesbianism: A Historical Anthology from Ariosto to Stonewall Part 7: 19th Century (first half)

Full citation: 

Castle, Terry (ed). 2003. The Literature of Lesbianism: A Historical Anthology from Ariosto to Stonewall. Columbia University Press, New York. ISBN 0-231-12510-0

Publication summary: 


This is a massive (over 1000 pages) collection of works and excerpts of literature relevant to lesbian history. I’ve broken my coverage up in fractions of centuries that produce very roughly similar numbers of items, rather than according to the organization in the book itself.

Part 7: 19th Century (first half)


It's probably time for me to start thinking about what text I'm tackling next, as I only have two more weeks of Castle to cover. If I have time for some library work, it might be fun to set up another batch of journal articles. What are the topics you've most enjoyed reading about here?

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Evidently the fame of the Ladies of Llangollen was such that it could induce even a male poet of Wordsworth’s fame to confine himself to the themes of romantic friendship. But the other male authors in this group wallow in the images of the mostrous lesbian seductress and the joys of sensationalistic lesbian decadence. The female authors are quite mixed: a satirical sterotype of a “mannish” lesbian, a diary with remarkably candid discussions of erotic relations between women, and a poem on the usual romantic themes.

Maria Edgeworth from Belinda (1801) -- The author satirized independent “mannish” women with her character Harriet Freke, who not only cross-dresses and enjoys swordplay, but shamelessly pursues young women like the eponymous protagonist romantically. The modern reader may find Mrs. Freke more appealing than the somewhat insipid Belinda.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge Christabel (1816) -- A long supernatural-themed poem with lesbian elements that were strong enough to get it condemned as obscene. The content falls in the “monstrous seductress” genre.

“S.T. Colebritche, Esq.” from Christabess: A Right Woeful Poem (1816) -- A comedic parody of the preceding item.

Anne Lister from The Diaries of Anne Lister (1824-26) -- Excerpts from the diaries of an unabashed lesbian of the Yorkshire gentry, who was part of a not-always-discreet social circle of women who loved women. Her writings provide a candid and invaluable look at what everyday life was like at that time for women who wanted to establish relationships with other women.

William Wordsworth “To the Lady E.B. and the Hon. Miss P., Composed in the Grounds of Plas Newydd, Near Llangollen, 1824” (1824) -- Yet another poet writes odes in honor of the famous Ladies of Llangollen, praising their romantic love without any implication of sexual desire.

Théophile Gautier from Mademoiselle de Maupin (1835) -- (Translated) A sensational novel about the bisexual Madeleine de Maupin, who is traveling in male disguise as Theodore de Serannes. (Aspects of the story indicate it was inspired by the 17th century life of Julie d’Aubigny, Mademoiselle de Maupin, however very little of the historic figure other than the names, her cross-dressing, and her bisexuality are retained.)

Honoré de Balzac from The Girl With the Golden Eyes (1835) -- (Translated) Another entry in the “sensational lesbian decadence told from a male gaze” genre.

Eliza Mary Hamilton “A Young Girl Seen in Church” (1838) -- A vaguely erotic poem of admiration between women.


Elizabeth Barrett Browning “To George Sand: A Desire” (1844) -- A short poem evoking romantic and erotic imagery, addressed to a woman famous for her cross-dressing and masculine pseudonym.

Time period: 

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