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19th c

LHMP entry

It’s always interesting to see the intersection of very different takes on the same set of historic data. Interpretations of the “romantic friendship” phenomenon and how it related to social reality are a great example. In contrast to interpretations that take middle-class models of romantic friendship as naively “innocent” of sexual overtones, Moore suggests that the concept of romantic friendship always existed in parallel with--and was a direct response to--awareness of the possibility of sexual relations between women.

Gubar looks at the ways in which poets and writers have used and reinterpreted both the poetry and the image of Sappho across the ages, particularly in the context of sexuality. In the early decades of the 20th century, as translators were shifting to honoring the female pronouns in Sappho’s work and classicists were re-examining the myths of her life, a wide range of women writers focused on Sappho as an inspiration and model for their own work.

This is a deeply contextualized edition of the correspondence of romantic partners Rose Cleveland and Evangeline Simpson Whipple, covering the period from around their first meeting in 1890 to Cleveland’s death during the Spanish Flu epidemic of 1918.

[Note: I have followed Horváth’s treatment of pronouns within the article’s content, which is somewhat inconsistent and leans toward using female pronouns for individuals in the “man-woman” role described in this article. Although the cross-gender social role discussed here does not correspond fully or precisely to modern definitions of transgender, and not all such individuals occupied fully male-presenting roles, it is clear that most or all of the specific individuals discussed in the article identified as male and were unremarkably treated as such by their community.]

Neff looks at shifting concepts and images of masculinity in England through the lens of Lord Byron (1788-1824) who stands in for an era when both masculinity and aristocracy were receiving increased scrutiny as privileged classes. Interpretations of homoerotic elements in Byron’s biography have been contested ground as he fails to fit neatly into the modern categories of sexuality. Neff declines to take a position on categorization and instead looks at the details of Byron’s life that raise the question in the first place.

Meem looks at the development of a public understanding of lesbian identity in 19th century English society through the life, journalism work, and novels of Eliza Lynn Linton. Linton was a contradictory figure, described by one historian as “a radical conservative, a militantly feminine antifeminist, a skeptical idealist, and a believing atheist.” Her journalism was shot through with misogyny and a belief that women should stick to the domestic sphere, while claiming economic and social independence in her own life.

Clark came up with the poetic label “twilight moments” to identify practices relating to sexuality that are not openly acknowledged--and certainly not accepted--but that are treated as temporary and “recoverable” lapses, even if they are lapses that happen repeatedly and throughout a society.

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 article covers much of the same territory as Bauer’s article from the same volume (Bauer 2009) except from a specifically Italian perspective. The concept of “sexual inversion” entered Italian medical literature in 1878, but female same-sex desire was a familiar concept already and was associated with excessive sexual longing, female masculinity, and certain women-only environments. The article looks at how those concepts were interpreted during the devopment of sexology as a study at the end of the 19th century.

Bauer examines the discourse around female homosexuality at the turn of the 20th century in the context of the discipline of “sexology”, i.e., the supposedly scientific study of sexual desire and expression. Bauer points out that the dominant Foucaultian approach to historical understandings of sexuality has in many ways marginalized issues of gender, centering the male experience as the default. How does this gendering of sexual theory affect the ways in which sexuality is understood and studied?

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