Lesbian Historic Motif Podcast - Episode 21a - On the Shelf for April - Transcript
(Originally aired 2018/04/07 - listen here)
Welcome to On the Shelf for April 2018.
Have you had a chance to listen to the Lesbian Historic Motif Podcast’s first original fiction episode? Last week we debuted the new series with Catherine Lundoff’s “One Night in Saint-Martin” and we have three more equally great stories lined up to come out this year. If you enjoy the story, make sure to recommend it to your friends.
One of the things I really enjoy about my blog and podcast is the opportunities they provide for me to be in contact with other authors and readers in the field. I have to confess that I’m usually far too shy to contact someone out of the blue to tell them how much I enjoy their writing. Which--folks, don’t be shy like me! Authors love to have random strangers tell them how much they enjoy their books! It’s totally ok! But it’s a bit easier when I can say, “Hi, I love your books and would you be interested in being on my podcast?”
Sometimes the intersections are a bit more interesting. Let me tell you a funny story. I was on a book-buying spree for the Lesbian Historic Motif Project blog recently, and due to an error in an Amazon listing that confused two similar titles, I ended up with a duplicate copy of Jeffrey Merrick and Bryant Ragan’s sourcebook Homosexuality in Early Modern France. Like you do. I mean, it could happen to anyone, right? It had been fairly cheap, and the error was partially my own for not noticing the error in the listing, so I figured I’d just find a good home for the book and posted on a facebook group for people researching historical romance that I’d ship it to the first interested person with a US shipping address. I got an immediate response from a woman that I’d interacted with a few times on twitter. But when I asked her to message me her shipping address she said, “So I just looked at your profile, and you could save the postage because we live in the same town.” We ended up meeting at a local coffee shop for the book hand-off and to chat about writing and publishing and books we loved and whatnot. So you never know where those random internet contacts may take you.
Publications on the Blog
As I mentioned last month, I’ve lined up a lot of journal articles to cover on the blog. In fact, now that I’ve had a chance to read through them and sort them into thematic groups, it looks like I have enough material to take me into August. So here’s a run-down on what the blog has covered in March and will be covering in April.
I’m always interested in articles on my favorite 18th century cross-dressing novel, The Travels and Adventures of Mademoiselle de Richelieu and Caroline Gonda takes a look at the story within the context of cross-dressing novels as a genre, both in France and in England. Her conclusions suggest that it’s even more curious in that context than it first seems.
Next I cover four articles from a collection entitled Body guards : the cultural politics of gender ambiguity. These papers look at various aspects of gender presentation across the ages and its relationship to categories of sex and sexuality. The first article looks at a particular genre of medieval Arabic literature that discusses categories of non-normative sexual practice. The Arabic material is a good way to shake up your preconceptions both of what medieval attitudes toward sexuality and gender were like and of what medieval Islamic cultures were like. The second article looks at the concept of the hermaphrodite in Renaissance writings and how the idea of people with ambiguous bodies or with ambiguous gender presentation were a key factor in a shift from medieval concepts of sex and gender to the beginnings of more modern concepts--though we must be careful not to understand “modern” as meaning either “more evolved” or “more true”. The theme of the relationship of sex, gender, and sexuality is continued in the third paper, which looks specifically at the rise of the concept of homosexual orientation as an identifiable category around the 18th century. And the fourth paper I cover from this collection is about women playing male roles on stage, and particularly about 18th century English actress Charlotte Charke. Interesting that both the 18th and 19th centuries had a prominent actress named Charlotte who was famous for her trouser roles!
I follow that collection with a pair of articles from a volume titled Queer Renaissance Historiography. One looks at the function of private secretary in 16th and 17th century England, focusing in particular on women serving as secretaries to other women. It discusses how the dynamics of secretarial functions within a gender-segregated society created and relied on personal intimacy at several levels and created homoerotic potential even within the framework of patriarchal power structures. I timed my coverage of this collection for the second article of interest, which is about Renaissance and early modern representations of the goddess Diana and her nymphs that show how definitions of female chastity in that era were considered compatible with female same-sex erotics. The author of the article posits that images of “Diana’s Band” created a context for women with erotic interest in women to form a community of interest. I’ve been wanting to do a podcast episode on the image of Diana as lesbian, and this article gave me the inspiration to carry through on it.
This month’s author guest will be Alyssa Cole who wrote an absolutely lovely lesbian romance novella set just after the American Revolution as part of the collection Hamilton’s Battalion. And this month, our Book Appreciation segment will feature reviewer Liz Bourke, talking about some of her favorite recent historicals with queer women. Liz is also a great resource for finding great science fiction and fantasy with queer female characters. I recommend her blog at the SFF site Tor.com.
Recent Lesbian Historical Fiction
I’ve searched the net and social media to bring you information about new and upcoming historically-based fiction with queer women. Remember that I can only include books that I know about, and as we all know, historical novels about queer women can be hard to find. So if you have or know about a forthcoming book that you think would fit into this podcast, drop me a note so I can follow up.
We all have our favorite sub-genres and I’ll freely confess that Regency Romances are near the top of my list. So I was overjoyed to hear about The Covert Captain: Or, A Marriage of Equals by Jeannelle M. Ferreira. It came out in March, but I didn’t hear about it in time to get it in the March announcements. Here’s the blurb. “Nathaniel Fleming, veteran of Waterloo, falls in love with his Major's spinster sister, Harriet. But Nathaniel is not what he seems, and before the wedding, the truth will out... Eleanor Charlotte Fleming, forgotten daughter of a minor baronet, stakes her life on a deception and makes her name—if not her fortune—on the battlefield. Her war at an end, she returns to England as Captain Nathaniel Fleming and wants nothing more than peace, quiet, and the company of horses. Instead, Captain Fleming meets Harriet. Harriet has averted the calamity of matrimony for a decade, cares little for the cut of her gowns, and is really rather clever. Falling in love is not a turn of the cards either of them expected. Harriet accepts Captain Fleming, but will she accept Eleanor? Along the way, there are ballrooms, stillrooms, mollyhouses, society intrigue, and sundering circumstance.” At the moment, the book is only available through Amazon, but I’ll be waiting anxiously for the next couple of months until it’s out in other formats.
Justine Saracen has another of her impeccably-researched World War II novels out with Berlin Hungers. Here’s the blurb: “In the years after World War II, the alliance that saved Europe is breaking down as the Soviet Union and the West compete for control of Germany. When Russia blockades Berlin, everyone, it seems, is hungry: Russian soldiers for German women, the Soviet leaders for territory, the Berliners themselves for food. But the hardest hunger of all is between a Royal Air Force woman and the wife of a Luftwaffe pilot who helped set fire to half of London.”
We move into the realm of alternate history and steam punk with Alex Acks’ Murder on the Titania and Other Steam Powered Adventures. “Captain Marta Ramos, the most notorious pirate in the Duchy of Denver, has her hands full, what between fascinating murder mysteries, the delectable and devious Delilah Nimowitz, Colonel Geoffrey Douglas (the Duke of Denver’s new head of security) and her usual activities: piracy, banditry and burglary. Not to mention the horrors of high society tea parties. In contrast, Simms, her second in command, longs only for a quiet life, filled with tasty sausages and fewer explosions. Or does he? Join Captain Ramos, Simms and their crew as they negotiate the perils of air, land and drawing room in a series of fast-paced adventures in a North America that never was.” This is a collection of stories in something of a mystery-adventure vein. To be clear, this isn’t romance although there’s a definite same-sex flirtation running through the stories, very much with an enemies-to-well, to sparring partners flavor. Come for the casual queerness, stay for the derring-do.
When I started doing this upcoming books segment back in February, the first book in K. Aten’s “Arrow of Artemis” series had just come out, but I didn’t include it in the listings because it looked like it was pure fantasy rather than historical fantasy. I’m still not sure quite where it sits on the continuum, but since the third book in the series mentions the Roman Empire, I’ll give it the benefit of the doubt. Book two in the series is coming out in April, titled The Archer and following the adventures of Kyri, fletcher and archer and new recruit to an Amazon band.
I’ve had this month’s Ask Sappho question sitting in the in-box for a while, and to some extent this is a confession of failure. The question was from Ann Terpstra, who asks, “I was wondering if you could recommend a few non-fiction books focusing on lesbians or queer women in the 1920s. I have an idea for a book set in 1920s Chicago focusing on lesbians and speakeasies. I've run down a few good possibilities, but I thought you might be a good resource for other suggestions.”
Ann, I wish I could pull out a list of recommendations for you--if you’d asked about the 1820s, I could do it. But when I set up the scope of my history blog, I put the cut-off at the beginning of the 20th century for several very practical reasons. The first is that there’s simply so much more research available on gender and sexuality in the 20th century that I’d get swamped by all the possibilities. I know that doesn’t make the research sound any easier to find when you’re just starting out! But believe me that it’s out there. The second reason is that people’s understanding of sexuality in western culture went through a seismic change at the beginning of the 20th century. Most people today who know anything about queer history will know the basics of the 20th century experience. So my history blog is focusing on earlier eras because the attitudes and experiences were so different from what our own experience has been and it’s more important for an author to ground herself in those differences to write them well. A third reason is that historic sources for the 20th century are more likely to be available in popular formats--history books aimed at a general audience. In contrast, research on earlier eras is more likely to be hidden away in academic journals or specialized books that the average library isn’t going to carry. So I think I can be more useful in building bridges for the earlier material because it’s harder for the average person to stumble across it.
All of this is to say that I can’t easily put together a solid suggested book list for 1920s Chicago from my own reading. But I can offer some directions and hope that they don’t duplicate what you’ve already found.
When I plugged the keywords “Chicago 1920s lesbian history” into Google, I found some useful leads. The first hit was for an article on gays and lesbians in a site called The Encyclopedia of Chicago. It only has one paragraph covering the 1920s but it also cites as one of its sources an organization called the Chicago Gay and Lesbian History Project that collects oral histories, although there’s no guarantee they’d have any from that particular era.
There’s a popular history book titled Chicago Whispers: A History of LGBT Chicago before Stonewall by St. Sukie de la Croix that looks like it would be useful. And there’s a text titled Homosexuality in the City: A Century of Research at the University of Chicago, available as a free pdf file, which is a museum exhibition catalog and covers some useful topics. My own experience is that the best way to find more detailed information is to start with one good book and then look for gems in its bibliography. I’d guess that both Chicago Whispers and Homosexuality in the City will have really useful bibliographies to start from. I’ve listed all of these sources in the show notes with links.
New and Forthcoming Books