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Full citation: 

Jay, Karla & Joanne Glasgow (eds). 1990. Lesbian Texts and Contexts: Radical Revisions. New York University Press, New York. ISBN 0-8147-4177

Publication summary: 


This is a collection of literary studies relating to the theme of lesbianism, whether of the author or content, and specifically within the framework of lesbian/feminism. There are 22 papers in all, however I’ll be holding strictly to my pre-1900 scope. Literary critism is already marginal to the purpose of the Lesbian Historic Motif Project, except to the extent that the articles highlight literary works that themselves are of interest.

Contents summary: 


There is an entire industry devoted to finding homoerotic content in Emily Dickinson’s work and life. Bennett looks at several of Dickinson’s works that provide a gendered addressee (male or female) and interprets the images and the nature of the implied relationship. Also treated are images and metaphors interpreted as portraying female sexuality (whether in relation to a man or woman). Bennett also manages to conclude that a number of Dickenson’s images are specifically clitoral metaphors, although I think this is moving into the realm of speculation rather than interpretation.

Contents summary: 

As the paper’s title indicates, this is a study of both the depiction of friendships between women in Eliot’s novels, and the close friendships--some of them clearly romantic and passionate--she had with other women. These relationships fall solidly into the patterns and expressions of mid-19th century “romantic frienship”, focusing on the emotionally and intellectually transformative nature of the bond, but without any overt sexual element.

The language used--as we see in Eliot’s letters to Sara Hennell--is indistinguishable from what would be considered the language of romantic love if expressed within a heterosexual relationship. Equally relevant is the exclusive nature of the attention. During the period of her correspondence and friendship with Hennell, this romantic language is directed to her alone among Eliot’s correspondants. Eliot even uses explicit language of marriage when speaking of their bond: “I have not been beyond seas long enough to make it lawful for you to take a new husband, therefore I come back to you with all a hsuband’s privileges and command you to love me.... But in the veriest truth and simplicity my Sara, thou art vey dear to me and I sometimes talk to you in my soul as lovingly as Solomon’s Song.” Despite this marriage imagery, Eliot seemed to consider her relationship with Hennell as being no bar to contemplating heterosexual marriage.


The article then moves on to exploring the depictions of supportive female frienships in Eliot’s novels. As with Eliot’s own experience, these friendships supplement, rather than replacing, the characters’ relationships with men. And as Eliot’s career progressed (and with a new general suspicion of desire between women arising in the 1860s), there is a shift in both her personal life and her characters toward a “morbidification” of intense female friendships.