Lanser, Susan S. 2014. The Sexuality of History: Modernity and the Sapphic, 1565-1830. University of Chicago Press, Chicago. ISBN 978-0-226-18773-0
Lanser looks at how certain public preoccupations with women’s sexuality correlate with other historical phenomena, preoccupations, and movements.
I’ve returned to the regular heading for this blog, but I wanted to note that while the organizing principle of this series will continue to be material of use or interest to authors creating lesbian-like characters, I remain committed to an understanding that much of the content is ambiguous in nature or involves intersections of motifs that aren’t unique to lesbians (and even may be unrelated to lesbians in certain historic contexts).
Most of the publications I’ve been covering have been in print for quite some time. I have a backlog of materials from a couple of decades and haven’t been prioritizing acquiring new material unless I stumble across it by chance. This book is one of those chance encounters. I dropped by University Press Books (a bookstore in Berkeley specializing in what their name identifies) just to browse and Lanser’s book was sitting there on the “new arrivals” shelf right by the door. The handful of similarly recent works I’ve covered have all been addressing the early modern period, especially the 18th century. This may be a matter of me following references from one publication to its citations, or it may be that the current fashion in lesbian history is focusing on this era. In any event, the trend is giving me a much deeper understanding of the forces at work during the period when much of my current fiction is set.
I have never had formal training in the theoretical framework of historiography, so my reaction to theoretical terminology and argumentation sometimes hits a breaking point where I find myself asking, "Is this genuinely the technical terminology of a specialized field, or is it obfuscating gobbledygook, meant to disguise the completely speculative nature of the arguments?" (OK, I usually phrase it a bit more pithily.) But I find Lanser's writing--though dense and theory-heavy--relatively easy to follow. I'd never call this a relaxing beach book, but I do think it's accessible to the non-specialist who has a basic familiarity with the dialect of academic historians.
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