Among the various models for how close female friendships were viewed in the 19th century, that of sisterhood plays a regular role. The concept of sisterhood represented a close supportive bond between equals in age and status. Sororal relationships were expected to include a component of physical affection, as well as emotional closeness. In addition to echoing bonds of blood family, the language of sisterhood was common within religious communities and charitable organizations. Thus it was a natural option for intimate friends to use with each other.
Smith-Rosenberg takes an in-depth look at the nature and dynamics of women’s intense and intimate same-sex friendships in 19th century America, as documented in the correspondence from 35 middle-class families dating between the 1760s and 1880s, from a variety of geographic regions, both rural and urban, and belonging to a variety of Protestant denominations. Private correspondence and diaries have the advantage of presenting the best available approximation of unfiltered personal reporting. They were never intended for public consumption and therefore are able to reveal private thoughts.
Vicinus begins the paper by placing it in the context of lesbian historiography in general and the focus on when same-sex emotional friendships came to be labeled “deviant” and looked askance. There is a conflict between the ability of labeling to enable self-identity and community formation, and the ways in which those labels had a spreading effect over practices and experiences that shared a context.
When the Lollards posted their manifesto on the doors of Westminster in 1395, one of the themes was railing against sodomites, especially in the clergy. Given that sodomy was traditionally charged against heretics (such as the Lollards), was this intended as a literal accusation or only a sort of general defaming? The intersection of these motifs--Lollards and sodomites--is the topic of this chapter.
Stigers responds to several topics touched on in Hallett’s consideration of Sappho’s poetic voice and persona with respect to her personal life. It is acknowledged that special care must be taken when considering a poet writing in the first person. The poetic voice may be generalized or fictionalized or it may in fact represent the poet’s own experiences and emotions.
When one of my summaries is basically a list of contents, either it means that the publication is really thin on relevant content, or it means that it’s so rich that you simply need to buy the book and put it in a cherished place on your shelf. This one is the latter. At least half the contents apply to women’s experiences (although it’s still true that the male-authored female-relevant content far outnumbers the female-authored male-relevant content) and the collection includes many of the oft-cited texts from the covered period. Far from all, but an excellent place to start.
Clark presents the early 19th century example of Anne Lister, not only as a fairly unambiguous example of lesbian identity--despite never using that term for herself--but as an illustration of the function of representation and agency in the history of sexuality. A contradiction of sorts to the social constructionist position that sexual identities are shaped or even determined by the surrounding societal discourse, rather than by the personal experience of desire.
This is an anthology of literature, rather than an analytic text. The organizing principle for selection is examples of love between men or between women who are not biologically related. Literary texts often don’t overtly show the truth of relationships or how those participating in the relationship understood themselves, but they can show how such relationships were represented and expressed.