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LHMP #178 Vicinus 2011 Lesbian Ghosts

Full citation: 

Vicinus, Martha. 2011. “Lesbian Ghosts” in The Lesbian Premodern ed. by Noreen Giffney, Michelle M. Sauer & Diane Watt. Palgrave, New York. ISBN 978-0-230-61676-9

Publication summary: 


A collection of papers addressing the question of what the place of premodern historical studies have in relation to the creation and critique of historical theories, and especially to the field of queer studies.

Vicinus, Martha. 2011. “Lesbian Ghosts”

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Vicinus sees the problems of modern and premodern scholars as similar rather than distinct. She compares them to the issues she finds in studying Victorian writer Vernon Lee, who shared her life and love with women. Like the questions around medieval virginity as an identity/orientation, Lee dealt with negative reactions to tackling “male” topics and for her “passionate celibacy”. The concerns of the medieval church about “special friendships” between nuns is recapitulated in early 20th century uneasiness about schoolgirl same-sex crushes.

Vicinus discusses various metaphors used to discuss same-sex knowledge and understanding, both self-knowledge and historical knowledge, and how various theoretical communities have re-thought such dichotomies as “acts versus identities.” She sees this volume as a call for new paradigms and metaphors and looks at the mainstreaming of sexuality studies and how female same-sex relations can be an agent of social change, for example, women’s same-sex friendships (romantic or not) as a counter to rigid gender roles limiting women to marriage as a life goal.

Vicinus returns to Victorian author Vernon Lee, whose intellectual pursuits and personal style struck many as “masculine,” drawing the admiration of women and condemnation of men. Lee’s own studies of the past were often touch-centered, similar to considerations in some essays in this collection. She saw the past as a ghost still walking beside us as a companion.

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