The submissions have all been read and sifted through, the contracts have been sent out and signed, and now it's time to announce the Lesbian Historic Motif Podcast's 2018 original fiction line-up! When I finished the first read-though of submissions, I knew immediately that I had a problem: there were just too many good stories that I wanted to buy. Fortunately, I could solve this with an executive decision. Rather than buying two stories for a half-year trial run of the fiction project, I'd just go ahead and buy four to cover all the "fifth Saturday" episodes for the entire year. That will also give me more data to see whether and how I want to extend the fiction project in the future.
The first story will be airing at the end of March and I'm already in negotiations with one potential narrator. I haven't decided on the order of appearance for the whole season yet, but here are the selections in chronological order of setting:
I'm especially happy that after I'd identified the best stories I'd received, I found I also had a broad variety of time-periods, cultures, and types of story. We have young love and love returned to late in life. We have adventure and quiet friendship. We have women who transgress gender norms and those who find love within conventional structures. We have happy endings, bittersweet ones, and stories where the eventual end is yet unknown. I'm so excited to be able to bring these stories to my podcast listeners!
Sexual activity has a long and creative history of being described and referred to by slang and euphemism. But when the source domain of the euphemism--the "literal" meaning--is an equally ordinary everyday action, the ambiguity creates problems of interpretation. And in a field like the study of historic same-sex relations, where there is a long tradition of going to some contortions to deny even the scraps of available evidence, euphemism has long been interpreted selectively depending on the genders of the participants. "They weren't, you know, sleeping together, they were just sleeping together."
This article examines one of those euphemisms in a context where both the wider use of the phrase and supporting evidence from the text argues for an unambiguously sexual interpretation. (The article also gives me a new historic text to try to track down.)
Watt, Diane. 1997. “Read My Lips: Clipping and Kyssyng in the Early Sixteenth Century” in Queerly Phrased: Language, Gender, and Sexuality, ed. Anna Livia and Kira Hall. New York, Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-510471-4
A collection of linguistics papers relating to queer and feminist theory. From a historic context, the coverage is somewhat shallow and oddly focused (most likely due to having been written by linguists rather than historians). In particular there are regular gaps in knowledge about this history of terminology, or confusion about linguistic transmission and equivalence across languages. I have only included the three papers with relevance to the Project.
Watt, Diane “Read My Lips: Clipping and Kyssyng in the Early Sixteenth Century”
This article examines the context of the phrase “clippyng and kyssyng” that occurrs to describe physical interactions between the female protagonists in the early 16th century English translation of the tale of Yde and Olive (in the Huon of Bordeux cycle). The translation is from an early French text, but this article is specifically concerned with the 16th century English context.
Although “clipping” (hugging, embracing) and “kissing” could occur in non-sexual contexts generally without erotic implications, in the tale it is juxtaposed with the emperor’s reaction that, if the two individuals engaging in it are indeed both women (which is true, but an unproven accusation at this point in the tale), then what they are doing is “boggery” (buggery) and deserves the death penalty. The article summarizes the context of the story (for which, see items tagged with Yde and Olive) and discusses the general context of women crossdressing in religious and secular literature. In general, the disguise is a means to an end, especially one that inolves freeing oneself from female roles and hazards. But Watt considers Yde and Olive to stand outside this tradition to the extent that it overtly creates a context for homoerotic feelings and actions, especially Olive’s choice to continue as a loyal and loving wife after she discoveres Yde’s female identity.
“Clipping and kissing” are common as an activity in Middle English texts and both words can cover both sexual and non-sexual contexts. In heterosexual contexts the phrase can be used as a eupehmism for sexual intercourse. The actions occur in this tale in a context where physiology is not revealed--Yde’s identity as a woman is disclosed verbally later. But the emperor’s assignment of the word “buggery” makes it clear that he sees the clipping and kissing as sexual. At the time of the original French text (which also uses a form of the word buggery) the word buggery had implications of heresy as well as sodomy.
Watt discusses the oft-proposed idea that a lack of terminology for female same-sex relations indicates their non-existence. She notes the OED as a basis for the late entry (late 19th century) of the words “lesbian” and “sapphist” into English but then gives a nod to Emma Donoghue’s work that identifies earlier examples of both words. Watt indicates that no similar vocabulary survives in English from the 16th century but notes that texts such as Yde and Olive demonstrate that the concept of sex between women didn’t require specific terminology. As another example, she cites Brown’s work on the trial of Benedetta Carlini (early 17th century Italy) where a wide variety of language is used to refer to same-sex acts that--from the descriptions--are clearly sexual.
The artcile has a survey of European medieval and Rennaissance penalties for women’s same-sex activity but Watt notes the significant differences between continental and English legal traditions. She concludes with a discussion of how, based on the evidence, women’s same-sex relations were considered transgressive to the extent that the women were considered to be claiming male prerogatives, rather than for the sexual acts themselves.
I've gotten a little behind on the Book Bingo story schedule, as this post was meant to go up over a week ago. I need to work harder at these ficlets being easy off-the-cuff things! The most recent square for Jae's Lesbian Book Bingo was "doctors and veterinarians" so I got a little tangled up in researching the state of woman physicians in western Europe in the 1690s. ("Tangled up" as in, found a new reference book I didn't have time to hunt down for the story, but will now go after and then will need to write something else to use it.) For those who have grown attached to my pair of soldiers, I hope you won't mind that the stories are going to drift away from them for a while. It would be nearly impossible to hit all the themes with only a narrow set of characters! I'll be circling back to Martijn and Lena/Pieter later. For now, they provide the cross-over to some new characters.
The Lesbian Book Bingo challenge is a fun year-long communal reading project to fill bingo cards with various popular themes and tropes from lesbian fiction. There are prizes for completing rows and entire cards, as well as a chance to win books by participating in the blog posts. In addition to filling out my own card (4 squares so far!) and having my books featured as suggested reading, I'm playing along by writing one of these mini-stories for each square, all loosely connected in a historic setting (to prove that pretty much any story can be a historical story). And just to remind folks, although Daughter of Mystery is being featured for the "fantasy" square, my books hit a lot of the themes and you can use them for anything they fit.
I could tell when the gates were opened by the change in the sound of the crowd below in the town square. Early in the morning, the sight of Marshall Luxembourg’s relieving forces in the distance beyond the fortifications of the Grand Alliance had raised a muted cheer from the people of Montigny. The siege had left them too wearied for louder joy.
All through the day the noise of the battle had filtered past the town walls and even deep into this fortified tower from which Baron de Maricourt had led the defense. The sounds of the fighting had faded at last and now the streets were filled with the joyful shouts of our saviors. It was a consequence of my profession that behind the shouts I could only hear the groans of torn and wounded men and see blood and shattered limbs.
Luxembourg could have relieved us at any time he chose, but Montigny was no Mons or Namur, no important bone for the hounds to squabble over in a great show. We’d been left to hold for ourselves. Rather, de Maricourt and his people had. I had been caught up in the siege for a different reason entirely.
“What is it? I heard shouting.”
I turned from the narrow window that looked out on the square and rushed to Isabel’s side where she leaned on the doorway from the inner chamber, clutching the edges of her dressing gown together.
“What are you doing out of bed?” I demanded, softening my tone to tender chiding.
Isabel shook her head but she didn’t refuse my arm as I helped her across the small room to the cushioned seat in the window embrasure.
“I thought I heard the baby,” she said. “But then I realized the noise came from out in the streets.”
“You can trust the maids and the wetnurse to see to the baby.” And then I was sorry I’d said it, for Isabel’s mouth twisted. Not that a woman of her station would have been expected to nurse her own child, but expected and unable were two different matters. “You shouldn’t have been put though this at all,” I said fiercely. “De Maricourt should have sent you to safety in Reims or even Paris before this all began.”
Isabel took my hand and pressed it to her lips. “But I had you, Laura, so I knew all would be well. I had the best woman physician ever trained at Bologna. I had both you and Henri at my side and I knew my duty. I am where I was meant to be.”
There was no point in reminding her that I was one of the only women trained in Bologna in recent times, or that a good midwife could have done as much for her as I had. De Maricourt had decided his wife needed the best of care, and as I could receive no license in France, my skills lay fallow. But I had no complaints that fate had led him to my door, and me to her bedside. No complaints except for the unknown future, now that my skills were no longer needed. So many things were uncertain. How could I have the courage to face the possibility that Isabel and I would be parted forever?
I bent down and cupped her face in my hands and claimed her lips with my own. Isabel responded with an eagerness at odds with her frail form. She reached for me and I settled onto the cushion at her side, my arms finding a place between support and an embrace. There had been so few chances of late simply to enjoy each other’s presence.
We hadn’t expected the siege to last so long or the outcome to be so much in doubt. De Maricourt could see to it that his pregnant wife never went hungry even when the rest of us tightened belts or laced stays more closely, but he couldn’t shield her from the knowledge and guilt that he’d done so, or from the worry of what would happen if we were forced to surrender the town.
“You did more than your duty,” I said as we separated at last and I stood, offering my hands to help Isabel rise. “You gave de Maricourt a son—a healthy son—and now that you’ve done that, your duty is to get well yourself. So back to bed and rest.”
I couldn’t rest, though, not with what I knew lay outside the walls. So I called for one of the maids to help me change into a simple gown of black frieze, covered by an apron borrowed from the kitchen, and to pin my hair up under a linen cap. I still had my instruments and medicines, even if I had no license. And a battlefield forgave many transgressions.
* * *
Casualties within the town had been few today and addressed well before the gates were opened. I made my way against the flow of men and carts bringing supplies in for the townsfolk until I came to the open space before the walls. Tents were being erected on the broken ground that had been no man’s land the day before. The shelters where the wounded had been carried were easy enough to find from the sounds—and from the line of shrouded forms laid out behind them.
A man in the blue of Marshal Luxembourg’s guard stopped me at the entrance, looking suspiciously at my surgeon’s case.
“Who is that to be delivered to? I’ll have it taken in—this is no place for a woman.”
I stiffened my spine at looked him in the eye. “I am Madame Laura Alberti, Baron de Maricourt’s personal physician. I’ve come to help with the wounded.”
He disappeared for a few moments and returned, followed by a balding man wearing a blood-soaked apron.
“Madame, with all respect to de Maricourt, we haven’t time to waste with vapors at the sight of blood. There will be time enough to need help with the nursing when this butchery is done.”
Vapors. Did the man have no idea how much blood women dealt with every day? How closely a childbed could resemble a charnel house if matters went wrong? I kept my voice even. “I have been trained in surgery at the University of Bologna—”
He raised a hand to cut me off. “Madame, I haven’t the time. But perhaps they will be desperate enough for your services.” He gestured off to the other side of the broken ground where the remnants of the Alliance forces were gathering their own wounded, without even the benefit of a shelter against sun and wind. Without waiting for an answer, he disappeared back into the tent and the guard returned to a position that barred my way.
Well, a wounded man was a wounded man. I would help where I was permitted.
No one barred my path when I reached the field where the Alliance wounded were laid out in haphazard groups. There was no path to bar and no one with a moment free to do the barring. The groans of the men were a cacophony of Dutch, German, English, Spanish, and the more familiar French, but bullets and shattered bones needed no translation. I set to work with knife and saw, pressing into service as an assistant whoever stood nearby who seemed less injured than the others. Half of my patients died under my hands.
The other surgeons—or those acting as such—scarcely noted my presence except to point to where a pile of dirty linen was being torn into strips. As twilight turned to darkness, someone brought me a lamp. The ranks of the wounded were thinning as the dead were carried away in one direction and those who might live were taken up by their fellows to the meagre shelter of the prisoners’ camp.
Out at the edge of the thin lamp-light I’d noticed two patient figures, a wounded man half-propped by his companion with a bloody rag tied closely around one outstretched leg. The unhurt man’s air of resigned patience had argued against urgency when the ground had been full of groans and screens, but now I gathered my things and moved in their direction.
One of the other surgeons stopped me with a hand on my arm. “Don’t bother. He’s been refusing treatment ever since his fellow dragged him over here under protest. Save your skills for those that want them.”
I nodded thanks, but continued over to crouch beside the pair and opened my bag before starting to loosen the bandage.
The wounded man’s eyes fluttered open. He muttered something first in Dutch, I think. Seeing me, fear crossed his face and he changed to French. “No! No madame, let it be. Don’t touch me.”
I looked him over with a professional eye and a long day’s practice in the sort of hurts the battle had brought. He hadn’t the grayish cast of deep wounds or broken bones—not a musket ball then, or at least one spent before it hit. Perhaps the work of a blade, perhaps splinters from what a cannonball had struck.
I closed my bag and stood. “If the thought of a woman physician treating your wound is so distasteful you’d rather risk losing the leg when it turns putrid, the choice is yours.”
As I turned, I heard the other man talking rapidly, pleading. But all I could make out was the wounded man’s name: Martin. And then, with a scrambling movement, his companion was at my side, pulling at my sleeve and begging. I didn’t need any Dutch to guess the direction of his pleas.
The man…no, a boy really. The thought struck to my heart. Giovanni had been no older than this when he marched away so many years ago, though he’d seemed a man because I had only been a child. I remembered the feel of father’s hands on my shoulders, keeping me from running after him. But in truth he’d been little more than a child like me. A boy fallen on a battlefield such as this, never to return home. For the first time that day, the soldiers were more than broken flesh. A lump rose in my throat and I ruthlessly dismissed it. Fie on me for being what they’d warned me of: a weeping woman pretending to a man’s occupation!
I knelt down again at the man’s—Martin’s—side. “Be still and let me work.”
The crude bandage was cut off quickly. Martin protested again when I worked at the the fastenings of his breeches to expose the leg more plainly. Such modesty for a battleground! One might think he…ah, no. Not modesty alone!
I sat back on my heels looking him…her…in surprise. I’d heard of such things. Of women passing for a soldier. What could drive someone to such a life? The two watched me closely, frozen like cornered rabbits. Realization dawned. Both of them. Not boys, but not men either. Two comrades watching each other’s backs against the world. And for what? I saw how they looked at each other. Yes, that I could understand.
I looked around to see if anyone else was watching and Martin said in a quiet pained voice, “Please, madame.”
I returned to removing the breeches and gestured to the second soldier to move around to Martin’s far side to block any view from where the other surgeons were working, though I doubted anyone had a thought to spare beyond their own tasks.
With the leg laid bare the problem, too, was exposed. Centered in a smear of gore, a large splinter of wood from a gun carriage was driven deep into the muscle of the thigh. That gave me more hope. Extraction and cautery and a good chance it wouldn’t putrefy. I showed Martin’s companion how to hold her down. No amount of mere courage would carry her through what came next. Then I set to work.
* * *
Dawn was lightening the battlefield when I finally raised my head to see no more wounded to attend. There would still be those lying out in the field with no one to carry them in for treatment. Others might seek them out, but I had other duties to return to. I looked around, at the last, for the two female soldiers but they had been taken away with the other prisoners still capable of walking.
The image of them stayed with me when I returned to the fortress to strip off my bloody gown and scrub away the blood and dirt. It was impossible to keep the war entirely away from Isabel, but there was no need to bring its signs before her so clearly.
Isabel was sitting up in bed, having broken her fast on a far better meal than any of us had enjoyed in a month. She was holding the babe in her arms, but handed him away to the nursemaid when I entered.
“Oh, Laura! The told me you had gone out into the battlefield!”
I settled myself on the edge of the bed and reached for her hand. “Not the battlefield itself, only to help with the wounded outside the walls.” I thought of the worries that had plagued me. The fear that Isabel was convalescing too slowly. The expectation that I would be torn from her side now that my work was done. The hint of jealousy for her newborn son. They seemed such quiet, homely fears now.
“Let me tell you a story of courage,” I said to her. “Of great courage and of love.”
Lesbian Historic Motif Podcast - Episode 19b - Interview with Ellen Klages
(Originally aired 2018/02/10 - listen here)
I talk with Ellen Klages about her novella "Passing Strange" and her love of 20th century history.
No transcript is available for this show at this time.
“The Price of Meat” is a horror novelette set in a mildly alt-historical London with casual inclusion of both female and male same-sex couples while definitely not being a romance in format. The setting and characters have the feel of being spun off of an existing alternate history setting--as if we’re expected to be familiar with the two men and their backstory, and with the points of historical divergence established economically in the opening paragraph--but the author indicates otherwise. It doesn’t in any way detract from the story, which is complete in itself, but I guess I was a bit disapointed that there weren’t any other stories about the daring Joanna Oakley and the imperiled heiress Arabella Wilmot waiting for me out there.
From a realistically-sketched Victorian madhouse to a more industrialized version of Sweeney Todd’s *ahem* food service supply chain in a lawless London underworld neighborhood, there’s just enough horror to keep the reader squeamish without going too far for my sensibilities. (I personally don’t care much for body horror. There was a smidge of that, but not too graphic.)
I’ve been aware of K.J. Charles as a celebrated writer of gay male historical fiction and fantasy for quite some time and enjoyed having this excuse to try her work where it intersected with my own interests. The writing is excellent and the historic setting feels solid and inhabited. It makes me jealous that she doesn’t write more stories focusing on female characters.
My friend Karen periodically holds a "backyard writing retreat" for a small circle of friends. The idea is to set aside the day for actual writing, not chit-chat (though we do some of that) or web surfing (though that happens too) or getting caught up on ancillary tasks (yup, check). So for this past Sunday's writing retreat, I committed to actually starting the revisions on Floodtide, which has been "fermenting" in messy first draft since...oh my goodness, since before last year's Worldcon? I'd have to check.
What do I mean by "messy"? In addition to a number of significant changes to specific plot points based on discussions as I wrote, there are still a lot of placeholders (**insert the conversation Roz has with the housekeeper about not getting her back pay when she's fired**). There are duplications where I still have both (or more) versions of what I drafted (#1 Nan sneaks out and tells Roz how they got caught; #2 the footman who's been macking on Nan comes out and tells Roz he got her fired; #3 Roz is left completely in ignorance of how they got caught and why Nan didn't get fired alongside her until a later point in the story). There are many characters to name (Roz's aunt back in Sain-Pol to whom she was sort-of-apprenticed to learn the laundry trade and who used her connections in Rotenek to get Roz her position...and for that matter I have no idea yet what Roz's surname is, and the housekeeper needs a different name because it's too similar to an existing character in the sereis). And all that is just in the first scene.
Sunday I started by making an official backup file of the draft-as-is (although Scrivener and TimeCapsule both have backups--I'm just a belt-and-suspenders-and-superglue sort of person). Then I skimmed through the entire file deleting or moving around editorial notes as necessary, stripping out the timeline framework from where it overlapped with Mother of Souls, deleting the files for scenes that never got any content, highlighting sections that I know for certain need to be entirely changed, moving some scenes around that I hadn't been sure where to place when I wrote them, and adding some reminders for things I glossed over in the first draft (e.g., Liv has a service dog that needs to be included in the casual description a lot more, not just when it's doing something plot-relevant).
Currently the file is 89,000 words. That's significantly shorter than any of the previous books (which all ended close to 150,000 words) but may actually be more than I end up with, if I'm ruthless. Floodtide is meant to be different in structure: more of a YA story, single point of view, and able to be read independently of the existing series. So the wordcount needed to follow multiple primary points of view, or to bring the reader up to speed on What Has Gone Before aren't going to drive the length (as much).
I've already made some changes to the original plan in support of that. For example, originally I had included Anna Monterrez as part of the "group of teenagers" that I wanted to focus the story on, but Anna really isn't part of that age cohort, as the overall series has evolved. She's one of the adults, for all practical purposes. And every time I got to a point in the outline where originally I thought she'd be intersecting the plot of Floodtide, it just didn't work. There was no plot-based reason for her to be present in Roz's life, and setting up who she was and what she was doing there would have taken the plot off sideways. She'll get mentioned tangentially in a couple of places, but she isn't on stage. (So some of the key things that are going on in Anna's life during this period are going to go into a shorter story focused entirely on her that primarily parallels the time-frame of Mistress of Shadows.)
One of the main things I need to clearly set up, in terms of structure, is exploding any sort of reader expectations that Floodtide is a "romance" in structure. And that's going to be hard, because my publisher has this notion that books need to be framed as romances to get people to read them. Never mind the grief I've gotten from readers who went into the books expecting the primary, dominant plot to be a HEA romance and deciding they were badly written books because that wasn't what they got.
Roz starts off being unwillingly separated from her girlfriend. Being a pragmatic (and red-blooded) sort, she gets over it and falls in love again...with near-disastrous consequences. She runs into her original girlfriend once more and they definitely do not get back together. She has a lot of interactions with another character that might end up romantic if this were a romance novel, but it never goes in that direction. And the primary emotional relationship she develops over the course of the book is not (currently) romantic and teaches her some important things about the breadth of possible relationships one can have in one's life and how not everything needs to be about pants-feelings. At the end of the book, Roz has a number of very strong bonds with people of rather different types, but none of them are (currently) erotic and she's ok with that for the moment. How do I set readers up to see that as a happy ending?
That's what I mean by "messy", from the trivial to the over-arching.
What's my plan? I'd thought that I needed to go through and layer in lots of editing notes so I wouldn't lose track of things, but as I skimmed though the file, I could feel the future structure coalescing under the current surface. I think I can just wing it as far as that goes. So my plan is to start from the very beginning and simply rewrite from start to finish. Not "rewrite" in the sense of opening a new file, but going through each and every bit of text and treating it all as mutable. The clay is there, but I'm not quite ready to fire up the wheel. I think this is still the stage of wedging and kneading. But I can see the shape of the pot already.
I’ve interleaved a fair amount of criticism and corrections inside my summary of this article, simply because I feel that the material involves so many gaps and oversights that it moves from “flawed” to “misleading”.
Bonnet, Marie-Jo. 1997. “Sappho, or the Importance of Culture in the Language of Love” in Queerly Phrased: Language Gender, and Sexuality, ed. Anna Livia & Kira Hall. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-510471-4
A collection of linguistics papers relating to queer and feminist theory. From a historic context, the coverage is somewhat shallow and oddly focused (most likely due to having been written by linguists rather than historians). In particular there are regular gaps in knowledge about this history of terminology, or confusion about linguistic transmission and equivalence across languages. I have only included the three papers with relevance to the Project.
Bonnet, Marie-Jo “Sappho, or the Importance of Culture in the Language of Love”
This article looks at French historical terminology for women who loved women to consider whether changes in the prevalent terminology reflected social shifts in attitudes toward such women, on the basis that “naming grants recognition”. Unfortunately the article is deeply flawed by unfamiliarity with earlier examples of some terms, and by overlooking terms that were as common as the ones considered (if not more so). This results in conclusions based on faulty premises.
For example, the author fails to consider Brantôme’s 16th century use of “lesbienne” in the modern sense and identifies only “tribade” as being in pre-modern use in French, dating it only to the mid 16th century. She entirely ignores the distribution of “fricatrice” and “fricarelle”.
When considering language deriving from Sappho and Lesbos, she mistakes iconicity with causation, calling Sappho “the founder of lesbian love”. She considers the early absence of terminology derived from Sappho to be due to patriarchal suppression of the idea of egalitarian female same-sex love.
The author is also unfamiliar with the complex semantic history of “sodomy” and related terms and erroneously claims that there is “no specific term for women’s [same-sex] sexual practice in the Middle Ages”. She views the medieval church as uninterested in women’s same-sex behavior unless there is appropriation of male attributes (ignoring penitential evidence for that interest).
She attributes to Henri Estienne the first use in French of “tribade” and see this as a consequence of the revival of interest in Greek and Latin texts (as opposed to reflecting a shift from Latin to French for the types of records discussing such topics). She seems to accept at face value the claims by writers such as Estienne that displaced lesbian relationships into the classical era, asserting that such behavior in the 16th century was novel and unheared of. Rather than tracing the continued use of derivations of Greek/Latin “tribade” through the ages, she considers it a Latin invention (from Greek roots) with no Greek antecedent. And--noting that all the classical citations of the word “tribade” are from male authors, in combination with the absence of Sappho-based terminology, interprets this as a specific preference for male antecedents for sexual models. While a preference for male sources is quite possibly true, she overlooks medieval and Renaissance references to Sappho in the context of same-sex love, which would contradict this interpretation. This curious blindness also appears when she quotes Brantôme extensively while failing to note that he contradicts her claim that “lesbienne” was a later invention.
Brantôme’s discussions of lesbian love make it clear he considered it a “harmless game”, but she notes that women who made more transgressive life choices, such as marrying women in male disguise (see e.g., Montaigne) were punished more harshly. In this context, she considers that the focus on condemning only the “active” sexual partner and the alleged preference for the term “tribade” (which she sees as reinforcing an active/passive distinction) was a deliberate program to undermine a hypothetical egalitarian same-sex love associated with Sappho.
The author considers the changing dictionary definitions of “tribade” during the 18th century to reflect an ongoing philosophical debate around the meaning of the term and sees the driver of these changes as the rise of socially and culturally elite women who openly expressed their passion for othr women. [It seems odd to me that a linguist would treat dictionary entries as a reflection of contemporary usage and debate, rather than being conservative, prescriptive sources.] She considers expressions of passionate friendship in the 18th century as presumed to indicate sexual relationshps. She views the French revolution as constituting a cultural break between Renaissance culture and 19th century women who led a new wave of sexual openness that shifted into decadence and scandal. George Sand’s Lelia is presented as a turning point.
The author attributes the modern sense of “lesbienne” to Charles Baudelaire in the mid-19th century, suggesting that it was the association of the word with decadence and damnation that made it acceptable for general use (by men, presumably). Unfortunately this theory is undermined by the documented earlier use of the word as far back as the 16th century. She reviews lesbian terminology that has connotations focusing on the absence of men, such as “anti-homme” in L’Espion Anglais and “anandrine” in Revolutionary-era literature, and compares these terms to the root senses of “virgo” and “parthenos”. And finally, the author traces the rise of the word “homosexual” in parallel with the medicalization of sexuality in the early 20th century.
The article cites an early example of a prosecution for cross-dressing that I don’t think I’ve seen published elsewhere, so I thought I’d quote it here. It appears to refer to two separate events and there is no indication that there were sexual transgressions involved.
“In the thirteenth century, two women were burned at Péronne by Robert le Bougre for having porté l’habit d’homme (worn men’s cothing).” [Cited in the notes as: “These events ocurred between 1235 and 1238, notes Michèle Bordeaux, Professeur de Droit at the University of Nantes, to whom I am endebted for providing me with this information.”]
Lesbian Historic Motif Podcast - Episode 19a - On the Shelf for February 2018 - Transcript
(Originally aired 2018/02/03 - listen here)
Welcome to On the Shelf for February 2018.
By the time you listen to this, the submissions for the podcast’s fiction project will be closed and I’ll be in the middle of the difficult task of sorting out which stories I want to buy. But at the time I’m recording, that deadline is still in the future and I have no idea what I have yet to receive. So you’ll have to wait for next month’s On the Shelf episode to find out what the results are.
I had a bit of a “duh” moment recently and realized that this monthly roundup should include mention of new releases of lesbian historical fiction. I honestly don’t know why I didn’t think of it earlier, since I’ve had a couple of author guests that I scheduled around new releases. But my excuse is that I haven’t been doing the weekly format very long and I’m still settling in. So here’s the deal: each month I’ll tell you about what’s new in the world of lesbian historical fiction that I know about. And that’s the catch. I can only talk about it if I know about it. I’ll be monitoring the websites of the lesbian publishing houses that I know have published historicals in the past. And I’ll keep my eyes peeled for announcements online. And I’ll put out a regular reminder on twitter and facebook asking people to send me information. But I can’t guarantee I’ll catch everything, so if you have a book or story coming out that you think my listeners would be interested in, let me know. The contact information is in the show notes. And don’t agonize too much about whether the book you’re telling me about counts as historic. Give me the information--the blurb and the description--and I’ll decide if it fits. I’ll definitely be including historic fantasy and alternate history and may include stories with settings inspired by historic cultures even if they aren’t technically set in real-world history.
While I’m doing general announcements, I’d like to give a shout-out to the Lesbian Book Bingo reading challenge that Jae is organizing. This is a year-long fun challenge to read books fitting 24 specific themes (plus one free square) on a bingo card, with a chance for prizes for those who complete rows and squares and who participate in the book recommendations on her blog. One of the squares is for historical fiction, but a lot of them have to do with particular types of characters and plots, so you could fit a lot of historic titles in if you’re clever. I don’t know if I’ll manage to get any bingos, but I’ll be cheerleading for the challenge throughout the year. And as a special bonus, I’m writing a mini-story for each of the categories, all tied loosely together in a historic setting. Check my blog every two weeks for a new installment.
The New “History is Gay” Podcast
A few weeks ago, I saw on Twitter a notification for a brand new queer history podcast, and I have invited the proprietors of that podcast on to tell my listeners about it.
Gretchen: Yay, thank you so much for having us!
Leigh: Yeah, thank you so much!
Gretchen: This is exciting!
Heather: So tell my listeners who you are, and and what the name of your show is.
Leigh: I am Leigh.
Gretchen: And I’m Gretchen.
Leigh: And our podcast that just launched is called “History is Gay.”
Gretchen : Where we are examining the underappreciated and overlooked queer ladies, gents, and gentle enbies that have always been there in the unexplored corners of history. ‘Cause history’s not as straight as you think, and we want to shed light on that.
Heather: And it looks like we have a fairly similar intent in the program except that you cover a much wider spectrum of the queer world.
Leigh: We were really fascinated by the fact that we have such a wide breadth of experiences and intersections in our community and a lot of other communities, and it’s sad that there isn’t a central place that we can go to talk about these things or find information. It’s a lot of digging around and piecing things together and creating kind of a global timeline and global community. And so we kind of want to look at all the different experiences we can and show people ways to find those commonalities and that comfort in knowing that what they experiences is not new.
Heather: Yes, it’s the “We are everywhen” phenomenon.
Leigh: Ooh, I like that!
Gretchen: I like that too! Yeah, exactly. Like a huge part of why I first wanted to do this podcast, and led to a conversation between Leigh and I, was I had an interaction on Twitter where someone was going off on, like, you know, “All of these gender identities are all new,” and you know blah, blah, blah, whatever noise. And I said, like, “No, like, we’ve always existed. We’ve always been here. And it was at that moment that I realized that most people don’t know that. That there are a lot of people and--even within our own community--who were never told that Egypt had three genders, or--
Leigh: --that people you’ve heard stories about, and read their entire repertoire of work. Suddenly you’re like, “Wait, hold on. That person carried on a relationship with a person of the same gender for twenty years? And no one in school taught me this? No one anywhere, no book that I ever read said anything about this?”
Leigh: I was looking through one of our texts last night and--just flipping through the pages--and was like, “Wait! What?”
Heather: And I know that there has been an explosion of academic research in the field of history of sexuality in the last twenty years or so, but so little of it has trickled out to the general public.
Gretchen: Mm hm, exactly. And that’s really what we want to do, is like, we have the time and the energy and the interest and the training to look through all of these sources and find them all and compile them and then share them with people. And if we can make people happy, and help people understand that there’s a tradition, there’s a story that we can all connect to that tells us who we are, and we can situate ourselves in history, and in ourselves and our identity. Like that’s what we want to do.
Leigh: We also really want to make it accessible. The great thing about the internet and about podcasts and being able to make content like this is that everyone has a really easy time getting access to it, and these long, breadthy discussions aren’t locked up in an ivory tower of academia any more.
Heather: So, tell the listeners where they can find your podcast. I know you’re on iTunes because that’s where I’m subscribing. And what other places?
Leigh: We’re pretty much anywhere you can find podcasts. We’re on iTunes, Stitcher, any of the other podcatcher apps. We have an email: email@example.com. And we also have lots of different social media that Gretchen can tell you about.
Gretchen: Yeah, we are on Twitter as @HistoryisGayPod, on Tumblr as historyisgaypodcast, and you can always go to our website, which is historyisgaypodcast.com. And you can always listen there. Plus that’s where we have our awesome show notes and we’ll often have, like, images and poems and things that we can’t always have time to talk about. And we put all of that in our show notes on our website.
Heather: And speaking of show notes, I will put all of these links in my show notes so people can find you easily. Thank you so much for coming on and sharing your show with us.
Both: Oh, thank you for having us!
Gretchen: We’ll have to have you on our podcast to talk about yours.
Heather: That would be fabulous!
Publications on the Blog
In January, the blog finished up covering the articles in the collection The Lesbian Premodern, which concluded with a series of considerations on the place of lesbian history in academia, and various approaches to how to study and write about it. This was followed by three articles from a collection centered around linguistics. Randy Connor looks at language used for homosexuals in 16th century France. Marie-Jo Bonnet tries to connect shifts in the terminology used for homosexual women in French with changes in social attitudes toward them. And Diane Watt looks at the phrase “clipping and kissing” (that is to say, hugging and kissing), used in a 16th century English translation of the story of Yde and Olive, and lays out the social context of whether and when these terms indicated sexual activity.
After those articles, I move on to a couple of publications about 19th century American actress Charlotte Cushman, who was famous for playing male roles on stage to the swooning delight of female fans, and who was the center of a colony of artistic woman in Rome, including several of Cushman’s lovers and various other female couples. This is one of those occasions where I’m coordinating the blog with the podcast essay, because at the end of February I’ll be doing a program on Cushman and her circle. I’ve come to the conclusion that we really really need a tv mini-series on Cushman and her social circle. So if you have any connections in Hollywood, see who you can poke to get the idea circulating!
This month’s author guest will be Ellen Klages. Ellen is known for stories that skim lightly across the fantastic and follow fascinating people caught up in unexpected events. She’s written about everything from the Manhattan Project, to women’s baseball leagues, to swamp monsters in Florida, and the focus of our interview, her 2017 novella Passing Strange, set in San Francisco at the time of the World’s Fair on Treasure Island during World War II. Listen to the interview to find out more about her stories.
Recent Lesbian Historical Fiction
So what’s new in lesbian historical fiction that’s coming out in February?
There’s an anthology of queer young-adult historical stories coming out this month titled All Out: The No-Longer-Secret Stories of Queer Teens throughout the Ages, edited by Saundra Mitchell and published by Harlequin Teen. This covers a whole range of queer identities. The blurb reads: “Seventeen of the best young adult authors across the queer spectrum have come together to create a collection of beautifully written diverse historical fiction for teens. From a retelling of Little Red Riding Hood set in war-torn 1870s Mexico featuring a transgender soldier, to two girls falling in love while mourning the death of Kurt Cobain, forbidden love in a sixteenth-century Spanish convent or an asexual girl discovering her identity amid the 1970s roller-disco scene, All Out tells a diverse range of stories across cultures, time periods and identities, shedding light on an area of history often ignored or forgotten.” Kirkus Reviews notes that the contents focus heavily on the 20th century and the United States, although the casts are ethnically diverse. It’s hard to tell from the table of contents how many of the stories involve girls who like girls, but I see names like Tessa Gratton, Malinda Lo, and Dahlia Adler who might be good bets.
I’ve been hearing for a while about a blog titled The Comfortable Courtesan that presented the fictional memoirs of a Regency-era courtesan, whose interests are bisexual and whose social circle includes lesbian and gay figures. The blog is now being published in several volumes as The Comfortable Courtesan: Being Memoirs by Clorinda Cathcart (that has been a Lady of the Town these several years), by L. A. Hall, published by Sleepy Wombatt Press. Volume 1 is already out, and volumes 2 and 3 will be released shortly, or perhaps may be out already by the time you hear this. The book has a witty tone that matches the historic setting and looks to be a delightful read if you’re ok with a fairly pansexual approach to relationships.
I can’t believe I forgot about this next story and had to come back and splice this in! There will be a new Alpennia story coming out in the anthology Lace and Blade 4 edited by Deborah J. Ross. Set during the Napoleonic occupation of Alpennia, this is one of several planned stories about the early life of Jeanne Vicomtesse de Cherdillac. “In The Mystic Marriage, Vicomtesse Jeanne de Cherdillac tells another character, ‘I have loved—truly loved—only four women. One of them is dead. One never found the courage to say either yes or no. You were the third.’ When I wrote those words, I knew relatively little about those first two women, but I had the first inkling that Jeanne might have some interesting stories to tell. This is not the story of either that first or second love, but of the time between them when grief and regret had not yet been replaced by archness and a cultivated sophistication.” Lace and Blade offers a bouquet of sensual, romantic, action-filled stories.
There are works that are hard to classify as either being historical or not historical. I figure I’ll have three categories of publications that I include in my forthcoming books. The first will be strictly historical works. The second will be historical fantasy; stories that are set in a particular time and place in history but have fantastic elements of some sort. This would include stories with time-travel and alternate histories as well as stories with magical elements and that sort of thing. The third group would be what I call historically inspired fantasy. This includes stories that are clearly not anchored to our world, but where the world-building has drawn on elements of historic cultures. The last two works I want to mention this month fall in this category.
First is the ongoing serial Tremontaine, based on the Riverside novels by Ellen Kushner and written by a whole team of authors, with episodes coming out weekly during each run from Serial Box Publications. Riverside is both clearly based on a vaguely 18th century-ish Western Europe, and very clearly not a real-world historical setting. The serial is packed full of queer characters, with the majority of the female point of view characters having same sex relationships at some point (generally with each other). The story is packed with intrigues, politics, romantic adventures, and a great deal of sex of all types. The current season has just concluded, but you can still get all three seasons, either in text or audio format. I really enjoy listing to the audio version. Each episode covers one day’s commute listening very nicely!
Another historically inspired fantasy coming out this month is the second book in G. L. Roberts young adult “Shieldmaiden” series, title Jewel of Fire, published by Bella Books. The world of the setting draws on medieval European cultures of the British Isles and Scadinavia, but stitched together in new ways and with a splash of magic, as you might be able to tell from the blurb, which reads, “In the highlands of Alban near the waters of the Inbhir Nis, Lady Athebryn waits for her dragon to bring word of the enemy across the sea. At her side is her beloved Princess Thalynder. Once handmaiden to the Princess, Lady Athebryn now stands ready to lead the hastily gathered army of clanns and kingdoms to battle against the marauding Vík Ingr. If they are successful, Lady Athebryn will win the hearts and minds of all, uniting Alban under one banner. But if they fail, then all hope for a united Alban may be forever lost.”
If you know of books of interest coming out in March, or know of something I missed this month that I should come back and mention, please let me know. My contact information is in the show notes.
This month’s Ask Sappho question is another one from podcast fan Amy Herman-Pall on the Lesbian Talk Show facebook group. She asks, “I believe that your area of study and expertise is mostly European in nature, but I wonder if you know of any historical accounts of lesbians in other cultures, especially in Asia, or the Indian sub-continent?”
It’s true that my personal interests are focused primarily around Europe and the Mediterranean area. People have probably noticed that my coverage is a bit lighter even on American history. That’s just a natural consequence of the fact that I have to do the project for my own satisfaction to stay motivated. I’d always be happy to have other people contribute entries for publications on cultures they’re interested in.
But I have run across research on other regions of the world in the course of my work and I can give pointers to a few useful starting places. One thing to keep in mind when straying outside Western culture is that many of the organizing concepts of the study of homosexuality in history are very specific to Western culture and revolve around assumptions and interpretations that don’t necessarily make sense in other cultural contexts. So often the best and most reliable work in the field is being done, not by people who are looking for practices and lives that resemble those of queer people in Western culture, but those who are working within the dynamics of those cultures to understand varieties of sexuality and gender within their own cultural context. For example, although I’ve run across a few articles that discuss historic same-sex relations in sub-Saharan African cultures, I hesitate to recommend the ones I’ve seen as I have concerns about some of the racist and colonialist underpinnings in them that even I can identify. And this is another concern I have: my ability to read and summarize critically for cultures and topics outside my own field of knowledge. So I do my best to include non-Western cultures when I have confidence in the sources I’ve found, but I’m more cautious outside my expertise.
With that in mind, I have to say that one source I don’t recommend--which is a shame because it’s very ambitious in its coverage--is Leila Rupp’s Sapphistries: A Global History of Love between Women. Although she tries to tackle the entire history of the world, from the Ice Age to the present day, and covering every continent, her discussions feel very Western-centric and she has a habit of conflating modern traditional cultures with historic practices in a way that makes me very suspicious and uneasy. To some extent, the enormous scope of the work means that no particular culture can be covered in a nuanced fashion, but there are flaws even beyond that (which I go into in more detail in my blog entry on the book).
One region of the world that I have some excellant sources on is the Arabic-speaking and Islamic-influenced cultures around the Mediterranean Sea. And this is largely due to the excellent work of two specific academics. Sahar Amer has written some extensive comparative studies of medieval Arabic and French attitudes towards love between women, especially as depicted in heroic literature in her book Crossing Borders: Love Between Women in Medieval French and Arabic Literatures. She has a number of other publications drawing on the same research. In the course of this work, she provides a detailed background of medieval attitudes towards woman and sex in the Arabic-speaking world.
The second writer that I was delighted to find working in this area is Samar Habib, who has put together something of an exhaustive catalog of pre-modern Arabic writings on love between women in her book Arabo-Islamic Texts on Female Homosexuality: 850-1780 A.D. In addition to the catalog of references to love and sex between women in historic Arabic literature, with a discussion on the historic, literary, social, and religious context of the material, she also provides an insider’s analysis of the problem of studying homosexuality in Islamic cultures when done from a European framework.
I have a couple of good insider sources on the Indian sub-continent. The two articles that I’ve covered in the project at this point are both by Ruth Vanita, who discusses lesbian-like themes in historic Indian literature and religious traditions. Vanita seems to be a major figure in this field because my “to be read” list for the project includes several other works and collections she was involved in, including Same-Sex Love in India: A Literary History, and co-editing Same-Sex Love in India: Readings in Indian Literature with Saleem Kidwai. Let me pause a moment to order those. [pause] OK, I’m back.
Based on a few scraps I’ve seen, I’m fairly certain that there is interesting history to be uncovered from Chinese history--and of course many other cultures where I haven’t even found scraps yet--but I haven’t yet found a good entry point. One of the things about academic literature is that once you’ve found one good source, you can follow the trail of breadcrumbs in their bibligraphy to find out who else is working on the same topic, and then look at their bibliographies to find more sources, and so on, and so on. That’s one of the ways I find interesting new sources to track down. But because my starting point tends to be from works focusing on Europe, the branching bibligraphy trails tend to circle around the same topics. So I appreciate getting questions that push me outside those specific circles. Thanks, Amy!
As usual, all the publications mentioned here will be linked in the show notes.
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Lesbian Book Bingo 2018
History is Gay podcast
The musical Hamilton has quite deservedly stirred up a lot of interest in the Revolutionary War era and, from a separate angle, in history as experienced through lives that don’t fit the straight white male Christian default. The collection Hamilton’s Battalion operates at the intersection of those two topics, being a collection of three historic romance novellas focusing on respectively a Jewish couple with the woman joining the army passing as a man (“Promised Land” by Rose Lerner), a same-sex male couple, one of whom is black (“The Pursuit of...” by Courtney Milan), and a same-sex female couple, both of whom are black (“That Could Be Enough” by Alyssa Cole). And additional unifying theme is a direct personal connection to Alexander Hamilton via the framing device of Mrs. Hamilton’s quest to collect stories and anecdotes about her husband after his death. This is a review only of the third story, though I intend to read the others at a later point. [* But see note below.]
Mercy Alston works as a maid for Mrs. Hamilton as well as a part-time secretary, taking and transcribing dictation of the interviews that are being collected. Her past includes a childhood in an orphanage and a series of romances with women that were shipwrecked on the rocks of the absence of social models for their permanence. She’s buried her romantic dreams along with her earlier ambitions as a writer. Andromeda Stiel appears in her life bringing her grandfather’s story to add to Mrs. Hamilton’s collection, as well as bringing a free and open sensuality and a definite interest in breaking through Mercy’s cynical pessimism and capturing her heart.
This was an absolutely lovely story that wove a strong historical knowledge of the lives of singlewomen and the Revolutionary-era African American experience in New York City with a believable and positive romantic arc that felt true to its times in almost every aspect. (And I’m not going to quibble over the few things that felt a bit modern-minded to me, because there was quite a variety of experience of women’s same-sex relationships in that era.) The personalities and past experiences of the two women created enough conflict and tension to give the romance time to develop and the requisite speedbump late in the story was neither artificial nor avoidable. It’s too easy to say, “This could have been avoided if people had just talked things out” when you’re dealing with a modern world that has expected paradigms for same-sex relationships. I felt that Mercy’s reaction to the “speedbump” was perfectly in character given the times and her own history. [** See also note below.]
Cole’s writing is beautiful and lyrical and I could wish that she’d turn her hand to writing romances between women again...and soon.
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*Note 1: It's been brought to my attention that Mercy Alston makes appearances as a minor character in the first two stories via the narrative frame, and that this can affect how one reads her own story. So you may not want to follow my lead in reading "That Could Be Enough" in isolation like this!
**Note 2: Having seen some other reviewers' reactions to the "they should have just talked things out when the problem came up" I'd like to toss in a plea from a different life experience, and one that isn't necessarily specific to the precarious position of women who loved women in pre-modern settings.
It's all very easy to say, "If the person you've fallen in love with has done something that gives the appearance of treating your relationship as being of no lasting value, as being a passing fancy to be discarded and left behind, obviously what you should do is to challenge them about it and risk having your worst fears and self-doubts confirmed from her own mouth (as your last lover did), rather than keeping your mouth shut, burying your hurt, and pretending you aren't wounded." Very easy, right? Wrong.
It may be easy for certain personality types, but if I'd been in Mercy's situation? I'd have kept my mouth shut, buried my hurt, pretended I didn't care, and added it to my past experiences as a confirmation of how the world works and that I'm not worthy of love and loyalty. And everyone who says, "This is an idiot plot. This isn't believable." is saying that I am not a believable character. There really are people who react like this in real life, and we deserve to see ourselves reflected in fiction and promised our happy endings despite our paralyzing anxiety over emotional confrontations.
The submssions period for the Lesbian Historic Motif Podcast closed last night. When I woke up, my in-box contained one last item. (Being in California, I could set the cut-off as "when I wake up on the 1st" and know that I'd included all time zones up through midnight.)
I'll start reading submissions this weekend, but in the mean time, here are some interesting stats on what came in. Since I asked people to include the time and place of the setting in the header information, I can survey those topics before reading.
In total, I received 24 submissions. A solid number, though I confess I wouldn't have been surprised to receive a lot more than that. (There's an old saying in the short fiction publishing business that if you announce a new magazine, on the first day you'll get five subscriptions and 500 submissions.) One third arrived during the first 20 days of the month. The second third arrived in the next 9 days. And the last third showed up on the 30th and 31st. So you can see why I indulged in a bit of nail-biting!
The word-count limit was 5000 words, and almost a third came in right at the limit (which--if the authors are like me--probably means that they were frantically editing to get down to that length) and a total of 10 were somewhere in the 4000-5000 range. Six were in the 3000-4000 range, and the rest at shorter lengths, down to some flash-length pieces. (If my top choice stories include a couple of shorter works, I may expand my buying, but being shorter won't give a story an advantage in being selected otherwise.)
I strongly encouraged people to explore settings outside the popular choice of 19th century Anglophone countries. At the point when half the stories had come in, only 2 had pre-19th century settings. (And 3 were disqualified for failing to follow the guidelines and having 20th century settings.) Somewhere around that point, I mentioned in the publicity that I really really hoped to see a bit more diversity to choose from, and maybe that encouraged a few writers because the second half of the submissions included only 2 19th century settings. Overall, I have 5 stories set in eras up to the 10th century, 4 in the 11-16th centuries, 3 in the 17-18th, 9 in the 19th century, and 3 disqualified for being 20th century.
There was a lot more diversity of location from the very start. Within the first half of the submissions, stories already covered 4 continents, with a 5th continent being added in the later half of the submissions. No stories set in South America or Antarctica. (Antarctica might have been difficult, given that I can't find any evidence of women among the 19th century explorers of that continent.) But even within the continental distribution, the only countries for which more than one story was submitted were the USA, England, and Ireland, and each of those only had 2. Very heartening!
As I emphasized above regarding length, story quality (and fit within the other content guidelines) will be the determining factor in which stories I select to buy, but it's hard to buy stories with non-default settings if no one submits them. So at least I can be happy on that point!
As noted above, I plan to do the first read-throughs this weekend. I hope to have the stories I want selected by the weekend after that. Announcements won't be made until after contracts have been signed.