Lesbian Historic Motif Podcast - Episode 35a - On the Shelf for June 2019 - Transcript
(Originally aired 2019/06/01 - listen here)
Welcome to On the Shelf for June 2019.
It’s been a busy month for me, what with giving a paper on cross-dressing women at the International Medieval Congress in Kalamazoo, and then finishing up the month at BayCon the local science fiction and fantasy convention. But all my immediate project deadlines are complete and I can relax a bit in June and July.
Next month I plan to start seriously plugging the 2020 fiction series for the podcast. I want people to make it as hard as possible for me to choose just four stories to publish, by inundating me with great lesbian historical short fiction. So this time I’ll be reminding folks on a regular basis. Just keep in mind that submissions still won’t be open to send them in until January, but that gives you a lot of time to brainstorm and then polish up your best ideas.
Publications on the Blog
So what’s the blog been doing lately? I started out May by finishing up the last couple articles from the Journal of the History of Sexuality, one of them on love magic in Coptic Egypt that has only tangential references to the use of love magic for same-sex relationships, and the other on formalized cross-gender roles in the Balkans. May finished up with a couple of sourcebooks, presenting texts from a variety of genres. The first, A Rainbow Thread: An Anthology of Queer Jewish Texts from the First Century to 1969, was a bit disappointing as it had relatively little lesbian-relevant material, and most of what it did have was not that different from non-Jewish texts of similar eras. But the second sourcebook is one I recommend highly: Same-Sex Desire in Early Modern England 1550-1735.
For June, I’m tackling some publications that have been getting kicked down the road for a while for various reasons. Precious and Adored is a critical edition of the correspondence between Rose Cleveland and Evangeline Simpson Whipple around the turn of the 20th century, tracing the ups and downs of their romantic relationship. I’ll also be covering the new bilingual edition of the medieval romance of Yde and Olive, and finally working my way through a French article on medieval cross-dressing romances from the Journal of the History of Sexuality. If it arrives in time, I may complete the theme with a discussion of the cross-dressing themes in another medieval French romance, Aucassin and Nicolette. Since I’ll be expanding the cross-dressing paper I gave at Kalamazoo for publication, I have a number of publications that I’ll be prioritizing for that purpose.
New books acquired for the blog are primarily from the academic presses that exhibit at the medieval congress. There are a couple of interesting articles in the collection Illicit Sex: Identity Politics in Early Modern Culture edited by Thomas Dipiero and Pat Gil.
I’ve turned up another collection of articles on single women: The Single Woman in Medieval and Early Modern England: Her Life and Representation edited by Laurel Amtower and Dorothea Kehler. The field of singlewomen studies is extremely relevant to my project as it explores lives outside the marriage economy and thus normalizes the lives of women who might choose not to marry for reasons of sexual preference.
Victoria Blud’s book The Unspeakable, Gender and Sexuality in Medieval Literature 1000-1400 is generally about the intersection of language and the concepts of gender and sex, but it includes a chapter on “the unspeakable sin” that includes discussion of female sodomy.
Just yesterday, I received a couple books that my girlfriend spotted in the Kalamazoo bookroom but that I didn’t get a chance to buy there. Like Man, Like Woman is about gender roles in classical Rome, and Knights, Riddles and Cross-dressing Saints looks like it has some useful discussion of cross-dressing motifs in medieval literature.
So all of that should keep me going for a while, although some of the books themselves are still in transit. I’ve gotten into the habit of having my Kalamazoo purchases shipped, not simply to save the space in my luggage, but because it’s like getting presents at random intervals for the next month!
This month’s podcast guest will be Anna Clutterbuck-Cook. Anna is a librarian and a reader of queer fiction. We ended up spending two podcasts talking about a wide range of topics around her favorite books, the books she wants to read but can’t find, the dynamics of queer fiction communities, and all sorts of other things.
For this month’s essay, I’m planning on combining a multi-person review of the new Emily Dickinson movie, Wild Nights with Emily, and a discussion of how and why Emily Dickinson has become a point of contention around topics of sexuality.
And the month’s podcasts will finish up with our second audio short story. At the beginning of the year, I pledged myself that I’d get the fiction all recorded and set up far in advance this time--a pledge that I haven’t managed to keep at this point. So the choice of which story I’ll be broadcasting is partly going to depend on which one I can make arrangements to record in time. But maybe this means I’ll get them all recorded and fulfill part of my pledge after all.
Recent Lesbian Historical Fiction
And now we come to recent and forthcoming lesbian historical fiction. Only five titles this month, and only three of them are June books.
Dipping back to April, we have Clio Rising by Paula Martinac from Bywater Books. This one uses the popular “historic research” motif to explore the lesbian salons of 1920s Paris.
In 1983, Livvie Bliss leaves western North Carolina for New York City, armed with a degree in English and a small cushion of cash from a favorite aunt. Her goal is to launch a career in publishing, but more important, to live openly as a lesbian. A rough start makes Livvie think she should give up and head home, but then a new friend helps her land a job at a literary agency run by the formidable Bea Winston. Bea hopes Livvie’s Southern charm and “boyish” good looks will help her bond with one of the agency’s most illustrious clients—the cranky Modernist writer Clio Hartt, a closeted octogenarian lesbian of the Paris Lost Generation who has rarely left her Greenwich Village apartment in four decades. When Livvie becomes Clio’s gofer and companion, the plan looks like it’s working: The two connect around their shared Carolina heritage, and their rapport gives Clio support and inspiration to think about publishing again. But something isn’t quite right with Clio’s writing. And as Livvie learns more about Clio’s relationship with playwright Flora Haynes, uncomfortable parallels begin to emerge between Livvie’s own circle of friends and the drama-filled world of expatriate artists in the 1920s. In Clio’s final days, the writer shares a secret that could upend Livvie’s life—and the literary establishment.
Another early 20th century story came out in May: The Rhythm of the Tide: A lesbian romance self-published by Lia Curling. (I confess that I’m conflicted about book titles that feel they have to explicitly tell readers “Hey, this is a lesbian story.” On the one hand, it makes it easier to figure out whether they’re relevant to the podcast. But on the other hand, it always feels like maybe you could just indicate that in the cover copy?)
London, 1913. After bombing the Prime Minister’s house, suffragette Natalie Petrov is chased by the police. She is rescued by Lady Thompson, an aristocratic doctor who offers her a way out: Natalie will stay at the Thompson’s country house for six months, until her name vanishes from the ‘most wanted’ list. She agrees to work as a maid for Lady Thompson’s daughter, Elizabeth, a cold and distant socialite who doesn’t know Natalie’s true identity. However, the task becomes progressively harder as Natalie finds herself attracted to her mistress.
The June books start with another early 20th century story, An Impossible Distance to Fall by Miriam McNamara from Sky Pony Press.
It’s 1930, and Birdie William’s life has crashed along with the stock market. Her father’s bank has failed, and worse, he’s disappeared along with his Jenny biplane. When Birdie sees a leaflet for a barnstorming circus with a picture of Dad’s plane on it, she goes to Coney Island in search of answers. The barnstorming circus has lady pilots, daredevil stuntmen, fire-spinners, and wing walkers, and Birdie is instantly enchanted—especially with a girl pilot named June. Birdie doesn’t find her father, but after stumbling across clues that suggest he’s gone to Chicago, she figures she’ll hitch a ride with the traveling circus doing what she does best: putting on a convincing act and insisting on being star of the show. But the overconfidence that made her belle of the ball during her enchanted youth turns out to be far too reckless without the safety net of her charmed childhood, and a couple of impulsive missteps sends her and her newfound community spinning into freefall.
Mainstream publishing offers us a highly anticipated book in Olivia Waite’s A Lady's Guide to Celestial Mechanics: Feminine Pursuits from Avon Impulse. This Regency-era romance looks like it was designed to hit all my sweet spots.
As Lucy Muchelney watches her ex-lover’s sham of a wedding, she wishes herself anywhere else. It isn’t until she finds a letter from the Countess of Moth, looking for someone to translate a groundbreaking French astronomy text, that she knows where to go. Showing up at the Countess’ London home, she hoped to find a challenge, not a woman who takes her breath away. Catherine St Day looks forward to a quiet widowhood once her late husband’s scientific legacy is fulfilled. She expected to hand off the translation and wash her hands of the project—instead, she is intrigued by the young woman who turns up at her door, begging to be allowed to do the work, and she agrees to let Lucy stay. But as Catherine finds herself longing for Lucy, everything she believes about herself and her life is tested. While Lucy spends her days interpreting the complicated French text, she spends her nights falling in love with the alluring Catherine. But sabotage and old wounds threaten to sever the threads that bind them. Can Lucy and Catherine find the strength to stay together or are they doomed to be star-crossed lovers?
Jenn LeBlanc’s Louisa (Trumbull Family Saga Book 8) from Illustrated Romance is another Regency story. The book description includes a content warning for sexual assault.
When Ellie and Lou fall in love, it is with great abandon. And they have grand ideas. A small cottage, a garden, a goat to manage the weeds, sheep for wool to knit. But the truth of the matter lies in the reality. Louisa must marry, to the satisfaction of her father, and so must Ellie—whose family hopes for a title to add legitimacy to their status, opening doors in the ton. And when Louisa’s father discovers them together nothing can ever be the same. A friend rescues Louisa from a horrible fate, sending her into hiding for her own protection. For three long years, Louisa remains in exile out of fear of what her father could do. Necessity returns Louisa to London, and as soon as she does, the memories of her beautiful Ellie haunt her. But Louisa has no idea if Ellie is even here, or unmarried, or still in want of her as Louisa is and has been since that first moment she saw her across the shimmering ballroom. Louisa fears discovering the truth of it all, that she was but a passing fancy born of the excitement of the heat of a first season. Will she find Ellie? Will the woman still want her? And even if so, what can they do now that they couldn’t do before? Nothing has changed, but everything is different.
What Am I Reading?
And what have I been reading in the last month in the realm of lesbian historical fiction? I enjoyed Proper English, by K.J. Charles, a short Edwardian country-house murder mystery layered in with a bit of romance. If you enjoy seeing awful people get their just desserts in a murder mystery, this should be right up your alley.
There are no questions for the Ask Sappho segment this month. Remember that you can send in questions about queer women in history for a quick answer on the podcast.
And that’s the show for June.
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Books and Links