Jennings, Rebecca. 2007. A Lesbian History of Britain: Love and Sex Between Women Since 1500. Greenwood World Publishing, Oxford. ISBN 978-1-84645-007-5
This may be the first time I find myself at a loss for summarizing a book because it’s too jam-packed with relevant information. Jennings has set out to discuss pretty much every scrap of historic data addressing lesbians and lesbian-like relationships in Great Britain during the defined time period of 1500 to the present. Reading through it, I haven’t spotted any material that hasn’t been mentioned in other publications already covered by the project. But conversely, the concentration of this material in a single volume (complete with footnotes and extensive bibliography) makes the book an incredibly useful one-stop-shop of information.
The book does have the flaw of focusing solely on Great Britain and rarely touching on how the situation there differed from elsewhere in Europe. And I’ve spotted a few typical errors in sweeping statements, such as the claim that the word “lesbian” was not used in the sense of “a woman who desires women sexually” until the mid 20th century. But these are the sorts of flaws that are to be expected in a work with such scope.
The book is organized thematically in a manner that also reflects trends over time. Chapter 1 covers evidence for sexual desire between women in the 16 -18th centuries. Chapter 2 looks at the phenomenon of cross-dressing, “passing women”, and “female husbands”--topics that were most characteristic of the 17-18th centuries. Chapter 3 covers the theme of romantic friendship as understood in the 18-19th centuries. Chapter 4 looks at the rise of the “new woman” in the later 19th century, and the ways in which women’s demands for independence and equality conflicted with feminine archetypes of the Victorian era. Chapter 5 examines the emergence of “sexology” as a psychological study, and its effects on the understanding of same-sex desire. And chapters 6-10 cover 20th century topics outside the scope of the current Project.
I can strongly recommend this volume for anyone interested specifically of the history of lesbianism in Great Britain.
Due to the nature of the contents, I won’t be providing keyword links, as the lists would be unmanageably long.