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Friday, January 26, 2018 - 07:00

My impressions of this book shifted a lot during the process or reading it. For much of the middle, I was afraid it was going to be one of those “liked but didn’t love” books, and then things really ramped up in the last couple of chapters. Ramped up almost too quickly, in fact, but the shift meant that I was left with a much stronger liking for the book than I thought I would.

The Tiger’s Daughter is a historically-inspired fantasy drawing on various Asian cultures: the dominant Hokkaran empire is primarily Japanese in inspiration, providing one of the protagonists, Shizuka, the niece and heir-apparant of the emperor, while the other protagonist, Shefali, is Qorin which is clearly a Mongolian-inspired culture. Other real-world historic Asian cultures provide less central worldbuilding and minor characters. The setting is simultaneously clearly drawing on this real-world history, while just as clearly placing it in an entirely invented world. (For one thing, the geography is entirely different, as are essential aspects of the social structures. Oh, and there’s magic and demons.) This wholesale borrowing has made some readers uncomfortable about appropriation issues. I don’t have the background to speak to that question one way or another. I found the worldbuilding solid, detailed, and nuanced and was happy that it located the story in a clearly secondary world as a distancing function. But it isn’t my cultures being borrowed in this way (nor is it the author’s culture, which is one of the concerns that has been raised). With that acknowledged, I’m going to talk about the story-that-it-is.

The protagonists are Chosen Ones, born almost simultaneously to mothers who were not only sworn friends, but also powerful and skilled warriors in their respective (and warring) cultures. The force that initially brought them together was the threat of malevolent demons that infect their human victims with “black blood”, turning them demonic in turn. The larger arc of Shizuka and Shefali’s stories (larger than this one book) is how they fight against the demons.

But this is a coming-of-age story, a story of origins. To some extent, an extended back-story for what comes after. That sense of back-story comes in part from the framing structure, with the majority of the text being now-Empress Shizuka (that isn’t her imperial name, but I’m going to stick to their original names to avoid confusion) reading an extended set of letters sent to her by Shefali that recounts their life together, their adventures and sorrows, their gradually developing love story, and the events that tore them apart. The letters are interspersed with Shizuka’s thoughts and interactions in the “now” as she is reading the letters. This device means that much of the narrative is in the second person--an ambitiously perilous voice to attempt, especially in a debut novel.

I have to say that, unlike some readers, this narrative device wasn’t an issue for me. The epistolary format rapidly became an invisible background. I had a certain amount of confusion about the relationship of the framing story to the main narrative, but it was resolved for me by the end. (A few offhand references at the beginning become far more meaningful in the last pages, well after most readers will have completely forgotten about them. A re-read of this book would be an entirely different story than a first read.)

The magical talents of the two protagonists felt seriously underplayed (though I expect they will be more significant in the sequel), serving primarily to make them functionally invulnerable to the perils and enemies they face. That might have felt more artificial if it weren't that the framing story clearly demonstrated that both characters are still alive at the end. Maybe I needed more sense that they truly were Chosen Ones, divinely gifted, rather than feeling that they were simply authorially-gifted. They would have been interesting characters without those gifts, and the gifts seemed to come and go in relevance as the plot required.

I very much enjoyed the slow-burn development of the romance between the two young women, and even more so, the carefully layered-in evidence of other same-sex relationships in the world, and the framing of the roadblocks to their romantic partnership as being political and class-based (“she’s going to be an empress, I’m a barbarian nobody”) rather than being moralistic. One very late twist to the relationship did feel like it came out of nowhere, rather than having been foreshadowed as a possibility, and this brings me to the structural pacing of the story.

During the long middle section of the novel--the point where I was certain it was going to be a “liked it but didn’t love it” book--we get a lot of everyday life, world-building, minor adventures and side-quests, and only very late in the game do we get the introduction of the events that build to the major conflict. Then, in the course of a very short period, everything builds to a climax, a big pile of Important Events happen, disaster strikes...and then it’s years later, the disaster is redeemed and the furniture gets rearranged for the sequel. It was as if the author said, "Oh shit, I have to wrap this up soon and I still have to throw in the Big Fight, the Long Separation, and the Joyous Reunion. We’re 85% through the story when we the ball gets rolling for the climax. And that’s very late indeed, because I came awfully close to DNFing the book in the long middle section. It was good, but it didn’t feel like it was going anywhere.

In summary: world-building, excellent (with the caveats on cultural borrowing mentioned above); character premises, good but with the magical elements a bit uneven; pacing, nearly a fatal flaw; narrative style, worked for me and delightfully different; love story, immensely satisfying.

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Thursday, January 25, 2018 - 07:00

This post brings to a close my doubled schedule of posts covering The Lesbian Premodern. Next week we go back to one post per week and publications that address people and events more directly, rather than examining the theoretical work of "doing history". I hope that this digression into theoretical concerns has added to my readers' understanding of the complex dynamics that lie behind "just the facts, ma'am." I've certainly enjoyed this tour through the landscape of historiography.

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Full citation: 

Wiegman, Robyn. 2011. “Afterword: The Lesbian Premodern Meets the Lesbian Postmodern” 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.

Wiegman, Robyn. 2011. “Afterword: The Lesbian Premodern Meets the Lesbian Postmodern”

Wiegman connects this volume to its thematic predecessor The Lesbian Postmodern and considers how theoretical approaches can provide the very responses they warn and react against. Resistance to a concept is a sign of attachment to it. Both the premodern and postmodern volumes show a desire to reanimate and reorient critical studies of “the lesbian.” The current book is filled with reactions against the postmodern reactions against identitarianism. Those postmodern reactions center the concept of the lesbian even when applying the tools of queer theory. If modern queer theory considers the lesbian an anachronism, she asks, “When was the lesbian not considered an anachronism--something always out of place in its own time?”

These papers, instead of seeking legibility and legitimacy, demand an entirely different approach--one not bound by the structures of periodicity and historicism. At the same time, other papers promote the importance of that other historiographic anachronism: material studies--the importance of identifying and interpreting things, not just playing with ideas.

Wiegman returns to the central question: why does “the lesbian” need a history and what does it benefit historians to work to provide it? What continues to unite scholars who seek “knowing” and those who consider knowing impossible? The answer, she concludes, is love--the theme of love between women is a through-line in the articles. There is a resonance underlying all the critical incompabilities that leads scholars to continue to forge alliances and connections across the divides. (The essay continues on this theme at some length, but I think that covers the essence.)

Wednesday, January 24, 2018 - 07:56

I'm in the unusual position of having a number of review to-dos stacked up. Rather than scheduling them for the next half dozen Fridays, let's just have some extras now.

My response to The Shape of Water is inextricably linked to my memories of, and response to, the movie it's a remake of: The Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954) which I saw as a child on tv. The shared plot structure is: amphibious humanoid being is kidnapped from the Amazon and forceable brought to "civilization" for study and display. He forms an emotional connection with a woman who is a peripheral adjunct to the kidnappers and this connection is relevant to the being's escape.

The 1954 film follows a standard and rather pernicious trope-structure popular among "monster movies" of the day, in which the non-human (and always male) "monster" fixates romantically/sexually on a decorative white "damsel" who then becomes a focal point of conflict between the "monster" and the white male protagonists who subdue, defeat, and often kill the "monster". It's inescapable that this trope is deeply steeped in racialized symbolism, bringing in the assumption that innocent/helpless white womanhood is an automatically desirable object, and that the racially-coded "monster" is a sexual threat to white womanhood. With the "monster" overtly standing for the Other and simultaneously behaviorally coded as deficient in civilization, intellect, and typically communication skills, the white male protagonists are given narrative authorization to capture, torture, and murder the "monster" at will. We may be signalled to transient sympathy for the "monster's" plight, but that sympathy is undermined by his agressive behavior toward the white woman, by which he is meant to destroy our sympathy and "earn" his own destruction.

As a child viewing the 1954 film, I was oblivious to the racial undertones (being a product of a comfortable white middle class upbringing in a region where everyday racism was not particularly overt). But I found myself wholeheartedly in sympathy with the Creature, feeling that the kidnapping and torture placed him in a position of moral superiority that justified any agressive actions taken. The "damsel", I felt, had bought into the creature's captivity by her presence and support, despite any pity she displayed, and therefore could not entirely be considered an innocent bystander. I entirely discounted the theme of "non-human creature is romantically/sexually attracted to human woman" and interpreted that aspect of the story as the Creature simply fixating on the only human who had shown any sort of "humanity" toward him. And, of course, the Creature received my sympathy by default precisely because of being an Other, which was my primary emotional identity as a child.

So that's what I bring to my viewing of del Toro's The Shape of Water. I've noted the plot-structure overlap, but what of the differences? TSoW has distracted greatly from the most problematic racial aspects of the original, in part by framing the female protagonist, Elisa Esposito, as Hispanic, as well as giving her a Black friend and ally. This move is weakened somewhat by the extent to which Zelda (the Black friend) represents a fairly stereotyped "Sassy Strong Black Woman with a Useless Boyfriend". To complete the set of marginalizations among the team of good guys, Elisa's housemate is a lonely middle-aged gay man also given a number of stereotyped characteristics. Oh, and Elisa is mute (but not Deaf), setting her up to be the ideal candidate to try to communicate by sign language with the also non-verbal Creature. (Elsa Sjunneson-Henry has an excellent analysis of disability issues in the movie over on and her discussion helped me greatly in articulating some of my thoughts on that topic.)

The notion of the Creature's captors being framed as heros is completely undermined by portrayal of the project head as callous and sadistic. His villainy is also reinforced with a very broad brush by his behavior toward our female leads. As if it were needed, the last nail in the "white all-American man as hero" coffin is pounded in by the visual imagery of his life, taken from '50s advertising images of happy suburban families and fancy cars. (The use of advertising imagery is reinforced by the gay housemate's profession of painter of advertising images.) It's a stunning and effective use of visual symbolism, but it's far from subtle. Subtle is in the next universe over.

In TSoW, Elisa is not a passive pitying subject who exists to be a pawn for male erotic conflict, she is the driver of the action and the architect of the Creature's liberation. She is not Object but Other herself. But the way she is framed as Other due to her disability is itself problematic. One can easily see the overarching message being that being mute makes her a monster, and that therefore her only escape from isolation and loneliness is to partner with the more overt monster. It's an improvement on the 1954 film but still Has Issues. I will say that one high point of Elisa's characerization is showing her as a sexually desiring being (and eventually a sexually fulfilled one).

So what did I like about the movie? It presented the Creature as clearly the intended sympathetic protagonist and made a team of marginalized people the heros of the action. The visual imagery and effects are absolutely stunning. Within the understanding that certain elements of the plot are presented in a dream/fantasy context, we are allowed to believe that the ending is happy rather than tragic. And the film delivers on pretty much every piece of foreshadowing it offers up. (I'm thinking especially about the scars on Elisa's neck and how that reframes aspects of the resolution at the end.)

What didn't I like about the movie? In addition to the occasional issue with clumsy stereotyping in the characters, there are a few moments of gruesome body horror that I had to look away for. They were generally well telegraphed, but still...not my thing. The moral issues were painted with far too broad a brush for my taste, which detracts from what the film's message could have been. On the other hand, this is a monster movie at heart; they were never about being subtle.

But overall, the things I liked completely outweight the bits I didn't like.

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Tuesday, January 23, 2018 - 07:05

Deborah J. Ross, the editor of Lace and Blade 4, is posting a series of interviews with the contributors as a lead up to the book's release on February 14, 2018. (Have you pre-ordered yet?) This week, my interview went up. Check it out for some background on how I came to write "Gifts Tell Truth" and general chat about my writing.

I'm excited to have an Alpennia story published in a mainstream SFF context. Although I have a number of pieces of Alpennia short fiction planned, what I don't have is a clear plan for how to get them to readers. "Three Nights at the Opera" was always a free giveaway from the start, in part because I wanted to have an appetizer to offer people who'd never read anything of mine. And I have plans to make advance access to Alpennia shorts one of the benefits of subscribing to my mailing list, especially for the pieces that are more in the way of character sketches rather than free-standing stories. But the weird neither-this-nor-that nature of the series makes it hard to identify potential publication venues. In essence, "Gifts Tell Truth" was written specifically for the theme of Lace and Blade. The specific story wasn't one I'd been planning to write all along.

The eventual end-game, once the series as a whole is complete, will be to put out all the short fiction in a convenient collection, but that's quite a ways down the road.

What "fill-in" stories would you love to read about Alpennia? Especially if I'm not constrained to telling stories centering on the lesbian characters?

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Gifts Tell Truth
Monday, January 22, 2018 - 07:00

The cyclicity of both history and theories of history has been one of the themes in this collection. Vicinus looks at examples of those cycles through the lens of a Victorian writer she's been studying.

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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”

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.

Saturday, January 20, 2018 - 23:10

Lesbian Historic Motif Podcast - Episode 18c - Book Appreciation with Kathleen Knowles


(Originally aired 2018/01/20 - listen here)

This month's author guest, Kathleen Knowles, talks about some historic novels that she particularly enjoys, including works by Mary Renault, Rebeccah S. Buck, and Justine Saracen.

(No transcript is available for this podcast.)

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Friday, January 19, 2018 - 07:00

Another summing-up article that looks at the contents of the volume from a number of different angles. Although there is a great deal of repetition in this section of the collection, I like the focus on a deep understanding of the progression of theoretical frameworks that affected both what was studied and how it was interpreted.

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Full citation: 

Garber, Linda. 2011. “Necessity is the Invention of Lesbians” 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.

Garber, Linda. 2011. “Necessity is the Invention of Lesbians”

Garber reviews the progress of lesbian studies from an overly exuberant "laying claim", to the development of more nuanced criteria and engagement with Foucaultian social constructionism, as well as the overlap/intersection of lesbian and transgender themes in history. The 1970s were obsessed with how broadly or narrowly to define “lesbian,” both in the past and present. The nature of premodern evidence makes a strict social-constructionist approach problematic, even as the wide net premodern historians cast makes coherent boundaries impossible. Acknowledging a Foucaultian divide around 1869 doesn’t mean accepting that as the only definition for the scope of lesbian history. Like the other summing-up papers in this collection, Garber reviews the contents of the volume in the context of these contrasts. She reiterates the political nature of historical study and the place of fantasy and invention within that political context. Is there a direct comparison to the social history of, for example, ethnic minorities? Ethnic histories work to reconstruct the nature of a provable past, whereas lesbian history is often required to demonstrate the very existence of the past it wants to study.

Thursday, January 18, 2018 - 07:00

The second category of Jae's Lesbian Book Bingo 2018 challenge is Historical Fiction. Check here for the thread with suggestions of books for this category, and for a chance to win prizes if you comment.

As I announced previously, since I don't read enough books to have a chance at filling my bingo card, I thought I'd play along by writing short fiction pieces for each square, using a historic setting and tying them all up loosely in a single overall story. But what do I do for a historical fiction category given that I'm trying to do the whole thing in a historic setting? Obviously the solution is to include something that is historical fiction for the characters in my setting! We're still following the same two characters currently, but I've switched viewpoints. (There will be more characters later, but they'll all connect up in the end.) At this point, I've sort of narrowed down the setting of the current ficlets to the Nine Years' War some time in the early 1690s. I'm dodging making too-specific references to what military action my heroines might be taken part it since I haven't pinned down a more specific date (or exactly which regiment they're with). If you're interested in more details of passing women in the military in the Low Countries and Germany in this general era, there's no better source than The Tradition of Female Transvestism in Early Modern Europe by Dekker and van de Pol.

My book Daughter of Mystery will be one of the featured book suggestions for the fantasy category, but my work fits in a lot of different categories on the bingo card. For those who might be visiting here for the fiction and brainstorming for ideas for their bingo squares, here's a brief rundown of what categories the Alpennia books and my self-published novelette fit into.

  • "The Mazarinette and the Musketter" (self-published novelette, see links below for information on all books) - LGBTQIA+ characters (bi women, trans man), historical fiction, you might possibly fit it into "women in uniform" since a Musketeer uniform is a key plot point.
  • Daughter of Mystery (Alpennia #1) - friends to lovers, butch/femme (sort of), fantasy, historical fiction
  • The Mystic Marriage (Alpennia #2) - LGBTQIA+ (one main character is demisexual), friends to lovers, age difference, fantasy, I think you could even use "workplace romance" since the romance develops in an alchemy lab, historical fiction
  • Mother of Souls (Alpennia #3) - friends to lovers, fantasy, historical fiction, LGBTQIA+ (since both women are bi), but I'd rather people didn't use it for the "women of color" square because I'd prefer people to chose own-voices books for that in preference to mine

And now, on with the fiction!

All the Stage is a World (Lesbian Book Bingo: Historical Fiction)

The only thing more miserable than standing sentry through the wet miserable night on the edge of the army camp would have been sitting inside the walls of the town we were besieging. No, even worse for everyone would come when the siege broke into open battle but I mostly avoided thinking about that before time and tried to forget it afterward. The dark was thick with the smoke of campfires and the orange glow of them was scattered across the fields like a hellish reflection of the stars above.

Lena—no, I needed to think of her only as Pieter, and I’d only called her Lena for a few days anyway. Not long enough that the name should seek to betray us like that. Pieter shuffled a few steps to keep her legs warm. Another hour at least before we’d be relieved.

A trickle of wet fell into the collar of my uniform coat and I adjusted the wide brim of my hat to send the rain somewhere less uncomfortable. “Are you cold, Pieter?” I asked.

She snorted. “Of course I’m cold, Martijn! Times like this I wish I hadn’t traded skirts for breeches.”

Skirts for breeches, a job serving beer at De Leeuw in Zendoorn for the army life, but I knew she didn’t regret the gamble. I saw it in her eyes ever time we marched past towns and rivers she’d never seen before. No matter how sore our feet were or how quickly sleep seized us when we made camp, that look of wonder and surprise never dimmed.

I moved closer and huddled against her for a little more warmth but she stepped away with a shake of her head.

“You never know who might be watching.”

She was right. As bad as it would be for anyone to guess that we were women, it would be worse if they decided we were too-affectionate men. Sharing a bedroll for warmth was one thing, but embracing while on watch was another. The pleasant tumble we’d had back in Zendoorn rarely had a chance to be repeated.

“I’ll tell you a story to pass the time,” I offered. Even the stories I’d grown tired of were new to her. “What would you like?”

“Tell me about…” She thought in the darkness for a while. “Tell me a story about people like us. Tell me that we aren’t alone. You said you’d had sweethearts before…”

I didn’t want to tell her about Mayken, not all the private memories. But… “I know a story about people like us. I saw it on a stage when I was in London. A grand story set in olden times with pagan gods and two girls just like us. Would you like that one?”

“Oh yes!”

I tried to remember everything I could about the play, all confused with shepherds and gods and comic rustics. In the end, the play had left me shaking and filled with questions.

“Once upon a time, there was a band of shepherds who had angered the god Neptune, I don’t remember why. But Neptune demanded that every ten years they must sacrifice the most beautiful and most virtuous maiden in the land. You might think that fathers would be proud to have beautiful and virtuous daughters. Neptune wasn’t the only god in the story. The virgin goddess Diana roamed the woods near where the shepherds lived, and she loved chaste girls. Or you might think that the shepherds would encourage their daughters to be a little less virtuous, if it meant they would live. And the goddess Venus was happy to encourage them in that. But men are strange creatures, so they protected their daughters’ virtue carefully and the mourned what came of it.

“There was a girl named Gallathea who was so pretty and so pure that her father was certain that she would be chosen as the sacrifice, so he took her away to the woods and commanded her to dress in men’s clothing and hide herself away until after the choice was made. Gallathea was embarrassed to wear breeches and a doublet—just like you were at first, Pieter. I still remember how you blushed looking down to see your legs showing! But she did what her father commanded and went to hide in the woods.

“And there was another beautiful virgin named Phillida.  Her father was also certain that she would be chosen to be the sacrifice. So he took her aside and said she must disguise herself as a man and hide away in the woods until Neptune had received his due. Phillida thought it was an immodest thing to do, but she obeyed her father and she, too, put on breeches and a doublet and went to hide herself.”

“Well that was a silly thing!” Pieter said. “Wouldn’t anyone notice they were gone? Wouldn’t they remember two such pretty girls and ask what happened to them?”

“Hush,” I scolded. “It’s a play. People do silly things in plays. Now let me continue. So Gallathea and Phillida chanced to meet each other in the wood, and of course each one thought that the other one was a boy. A very pretty boy.” I smiled at Pieter in that way I knew would make her blush, though I couldn’t see it in the dark. “And they fell in love.”

I couldn’t see her, but I heard her sigh—a quiet little sigh that I remembered from times when I’d touched her just so.

“Both Gallathea and Phillida, they each thought they were in love with a boy, you see? And while they’re hinting at being in love with each other, Diana’s virgin huntresses meet up with Cupid and mock him and he decides to make them all fall madly in love. Some of them fall in love with shepherds and some with Gallathea and Phillida, thinking they were men, but Gallathea and Phillida fall in love without Cupid’s help. But when they each see that the other spurns the love of Diana’s ladies, they begin to suspect that the other might be a woman in disguise.”

Pieter gave another disgusted snort. “I know you said people do silly things in plays, but why would they think that? There are lots of reasons to spurn a woman who’s chasing after you.”

“Ah,” I said, “but they both are thinking a lot about being in disguise, so maybe it just seemed more likely to them. Let me finish. Do you want a story or not?” It had worked to distract us from the cold, but now I wanted to tell Pieter how it ended.

“So Gallathea is worried that if Phillida is really a girl like her, then her love won’t be returned. But if Phillida is a boy like she seems, then falling in love puts her chastity at risk. And Phillida is thinking the same thing. And at the same time, the shepherds pick a different girl to be the sacrifice, but Neptune won’t take her because she isn’t pretty enough. And he gets mad at the shepherds for cheating him, and he’s mad at Diana for making girls all worried about being virgins and then Diana and Venus have a fight about whether it’s better to be in love or to be a virgin.”

“They don’t sound like gods, they sound like people arguing over the price of cabbages in the market.”

We both giggled at that, because it was true.

“Anyway, the fathers confess what they had done when Gallathea and Phillida come back and then the two know they’ve both fallen in love with a girl, and they’re unhappy because they think it means they can’t be together but they swear to all the gods that their love is true and they’ll never love anyone else.”

Pieter gave a little sigh again, but this time it was the kind of sigh you give when you see people being happy. I felt a bit of worry twisting up my belly, because I think Pieter thought we were in love like the girls in the play. And I…I wasn’t sure. I liked her well enough, but I wasn’t sure about being in love. Not like Gallathea and Phillida were in love.

“What happened next?” Pieter asked all in a rush.

“Venus tells everyone that love will triumph and that she’ll turn one of them into a boy so they can get married.”


There was a long silence after that. I couldn’t tell what Pieter was thinking, just that she was disappointed in how the story ended.



“Martijn…would you want to turn into a boy if it meant you could marry the girl you loved?”

I’d thought about it. I’d thought about it when I'd seen the play. I'd thought about it when I’d been with Mayken. We’d talked about getting married and me leaving the army to settle down with her. And I just…I wasn’t sure. In the army I was Martijn and Martijn was a soldier and a man. But I wasn’t sure I wanted to be Martijn for my whole life. Not even if it meant I could marry Mayken. That was why she’d stayed behind and I marched away.

I shook myself to push the memory away. “There aren’t really pagan gods, you know. They can’t do that. Only God can make miracles and God isn’t going to make that kind of miracle so it doesn’t matter. It’s just a story.”

I don’t know what I would have said after that, but I saw a lantern bobbing in the dark and two voices called out the sign. We answered with the countersign and the watch had changed.

Back in our tent, it took an hour of holding each other close to warm up enough to sleep. I lay there wondering what happened to Gallathea and Phillida after the end of the play.

(copyright 2018 Heather Rose Jones, all rights reserved)

[Continue to the next installment]

* * *

*Historic note: John Lyly’s play Gallathea was first performed in 1588. I haven’t yet pinned down the precise date of these sketches yet, but my current approximation is during the Nine Years’ War of the Grand Alliance, in the 1690s. It’s extremely unlikely that Lyly’s play was still being performed at that date, though some plays of the era did have long runs through multiple revisions and adaptations. But I’ve taken the liberty of having my character see a performance.

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Monday, January 15, 2018 - 07:00

In my focus on the "facts and documents" end of historic research, I tend to have little patience for discussions of "theories about theories" far removed from a consideration of the lives and experiences of actual people in history. That doesn't mean that I don't value them. The study of history is far from an objective, value-neutral practice, and if we don't examine and address the subjective, value-infused context in which history is done, we end up accepting those contexts as "fact" when they are far from any such thing. Freeman's discussion here brings exactly that sort of challenge to historic theory, using the imagery of a religious transformative experience as metaphor. I've ended up enjoying reading and thinking about these theoretical articles a lot more than I expected to. And if any of you find yourselves intrigued by the summaries of them that I'm presenting here, you might enjoy reading the collection itself as well.

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Full citation: 

Freeman, Elizabeth. 2011. “Sacramentality and the Lesbian Premodern” 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.

Freeman, Elizabeth. 2011. “Sacramentality and the Lesbian Premodern”

Where “lesbian” once signaled the avant-garde, it now is often interpreted as quietly normative, as pre-post-modern in comparison to “queer.” Freeman plays around with the semantics of “pre” and “post” for a while. She considers how the roots of historical theory are found among medievalists but that the primary texts and their analysis are often ignored by current theoreticians. She makes a comparison suggesting that lesbian/feminist scholarship occupies a similar relationship to queer theory: the concrete roots of the theory are ignored or unknown to those working in current theory. Freeman calls for a re-valuing of those roots, if only to better evaluate and critique the theory. There follows much discussion of that process of evaluation and critique. Freeman considers historical theories as “secular” but points out that this framing excludes a definition of religion as “a set of knowledge practices and embodied rituals.” From that point of view, secular modernity is a “habitus” of religion rooted in Protestantism, and conversely the critical avant-garde has a sort of sacramental approach to the concept of history as a systematic whole. In this framing, “sacramental” history includes more subjective “ways of knowing” that include desires, bodies, and fantasies. The acceptance of theory becomes like the experience of the Eucharist: a passive transformative acceptance. Can texts be treated as sacraments and experienced via transformative incorporation? Could this result not in expertise over, but community with, the past? The paper ends with an extensive discussion of how this framing would apply to the various papers in the volume.

Saturday, January 13, 2018 - 12:05

Lesbian Historic Motif Podcast - Episode 18b - Interview with Kathleen Knowles

(Originally aired 2018/01/13 - listen here)

A series of interviews with authors of historically-based fiction featuring queer women.

In this episode we talk about

  • Kathy’s interest in reading about the LGBT history of San Francisco
  • Her favorite historians, including Lillian Faderman, Martin Duberman
  • What inspired her three connected novels set in turn-of-the-century San Francisco, culminating with the Great Earthquake
  • Historic eras Kathy would like to tackle in future books, including the US Suffragist movement, post-World War II San Francisco, and the Paris salon culture of the 1920s

Kathy’s historic novels:


Bold Strokes Books Website:

Amazon Page:


  • @knowleskathy


(No transcript is available at this time)

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