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The Water Women are Swimming In

Wednesday, March 9, 2022 - 08:00

Only a couple of the papers in this collection specifically address topics related to homoeroticism, but very much like my interest in books on singlewomen, this type of history can be both grounding and inspiring when creating stories about lesbian-like characters in history. Too many historic novels envision their sapphic protagonists in isolation, at best making common cause with a love interest to create a cozy cocoon. But women lived lives rich in interconnections with other women—indeed, for most of history, other women were far more relevant to a woman’s life than any man was, even a possible husband. And those interconnections had plenty of space within them for emotional and romantic bonds. So understanding the feminine matrix of womens’ lives—regardless of sexuality—is essential for composing stories with the rich detail of of the past.

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Frye, Susan & Karen Robertson. 1999. “Introduction” in Maids and Mistresses, Cousins and Queens: Women’s Alliances in Early Modern England edited by Susan Frye & Karen Robertson. Oxford University Press, New York. ISBN 0-19-511735-2

Frye, Susan & Karen Robertson “Introduction”

The importance of relations (of all types) between women to society and to women’s lives has tended to be overlooked in favor of the more visible relations between men or between women and men. Due to the nature of society, men could assume that their relationships were stable and long-lasting, but women’s relationships could easily be disrupted by the lesser control women had over their own lives. Or women’s relationships might be temporary alliances across social barriers, established for a specific purpose.

The introduction to this collection provides a summary of the contents, pointing out the connections between papers and the importance of basic groundwork in making the documentary evidence of women’s lives and work available to scholars. The collection is organized in four themes: Alliances in the City (looking not only at London but other major urban centers in England), Alliances in the Household (examining the many different roles for women within the household and how they interacted), Materializing Communities (covering intentionally-created communities revolving around common social, economic, or religious concerns), and Emergent Alliances (the role of race, class, and desire in women’s alliances).

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