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Friday, September 15, 2023 - 07:07

It sort of figures that the second chapter of this book that solidly focuses on women is, functionally, a recap of a book I've already covered. I mean: it's a great book! But it means there isn't really anything new here in terms of the Project.

Major category: 
LHMP
Full citation: 

Velasco, Sherry. 2014. “How to Spot a Lesbian in the Early Modern Spanish World” in The Cambridge History of Gay and Lesbian Literature ed. E.L. McCallum & Mikko Tuhkanen. Cambridge University Press, New York. ISBN 978-1-107-03521-8

Publication summary: 

A collection of articles meant as a critical reference work on literature across time and space that might be considered “gay and lesbian literature.” Only articles with lesbian-relevant content will be blogged in detail.

Chapter 10 - How to Spot a Lesbian in the Early Modern Spanish World

This chapter begins with a discussion of historic terminologies for women who loved women and the eternal problem of whether to use the label “lesbian”. Should the historian look for specific acts, or for evidence of emotional intimacy? And as a literary historian, should one distinguish between literary, artistic, or dramatic depictions, and “non-fictional” content in the fields of law, medicine, and theology?

An example of these themes colliding is in envisioning, a performance of Pérez de Montalbán’s 1626 play The Lieutenant Nun (based on the real-life story of Catalina de Erauso) portrayed on stage by popular actress Luisa de Robles. How would audiences have received and understood that performance in which a favorite actress openly flirted with women on stage, when depicting a woman known to have been attracted to women?

The historic record that contains unmistakable evidence of women desiring women is overlaid by the evidence of “attempts to suppress, destroy, or tamper” with that evidence.

The article then goes into a brief summary of documentary evidence from legal, medical, and theological texts. All these tended to approach the topic of lesbian sex from a heteronormative viewpoint, focusing on penetrative acts “like a man with a woman.” But other texts focused on romantic attachments, such as descriptions of — or concerns about — “special, friendships” in convents. Lesbians might be identified by a certain “look” (i.e., a masculine appearance), but also by how they “looked” at each other, betraying desire.

For all that discussions of lesbian desire in Spanish literature show discomfort or our framed humorously, they provide evidence that people could imagine such things, and were openly discussing the possibilities. The article concludes with cases where a person assigned female at birth framed their desire and actions in transgender terms, rather than same-sex ones, complicating the historic record.

[Note: for many more details on the content of this chapter see, Velasco’s book Lesbians in Early Modern Spain.]

 

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Wednesday, September 13, 2023 - 19:52

I actually had hopes for this article once I started reading it but, well, to sum up: "Goldberg manages the feat of discussing the exclusion of women from literary history without actually managing to include them."

Major category: 
LHMP
Full citation: 

Goldberg, Jonathan. 2014. “English Renaissance Literature in the History of Sexuality” in The Cambridge History of Gay and Lesbian Literature ed. E.L. McCallum & Mikko Tuhkanen. Cambridge University Press, New York. ISBN 978-1-107-03521-8

Publication summary: 

A collection of articles meant as a critical reference work on literature across time and space that might be considered “gay and lesbian literature.” Only articles with lesbian-relevant content will be blogged in detail.

Chapter 9 - English Renaissance Literature in the History of Sexuality

This article starts out with the question, “what is literary history?” It points out that, however approached, literary history, has traditionally, avoided considerations of gender and sexuality, while focusing either on literary personalities and influences, or literary context. But this article isn’t so much concerned with literary history itself, but with the history of literary history, opening with a consideration of how Sir Philip Sydney’s Defence of Poetry and George Puttenham’s Arte of English Poesie approach the subject, but how questions of gender and sexuality are implicitly embedded in those works.

[Note: I can’t help but notice that, in this collection generally, if the article is not overtly framed in a specific cultural context, it defaults to English history.]

Sydney muses on a concern that poetry should be a trumpet call — inspiring masculinity — and that he finds love poetry unmoving and feminizing, a pervasive theme at the time that a man’s desire for a woman feminized him.

Puttenham, on the other hand, writes — not a defense of the worth of poetry — but a manual for how to produce it, and how to use the role of poet to succeed at social politics. He, too, touches on the claim that poetry — especially the use of poetry to please and flatter a female monarch — risks emasculation.

Goldberg help these discourses and the historical study of the relations between authors, exclude women from consideration, except is an abstract image that the men are negotiating around.

[Note: Never as actual poets themselves. In fact, Goldberg manages the feat of discussing the exclusion of women from literary history without actually managing to include them.]

The article continues from this point to discuss male poets, and the homoerotic themes in their work and lives.

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Tuesday, September 12, 2023 - 07:26

I'm happy to discover that my predictions about the (lack of) f/f content in some of these articles aren't entirely accurate. This article has a few interesting tidbits and leads on a couple more sources, including the dissertation that provided the quoted material. (I think I can pull copies of dissertations through ProQuest if I go on campus -- which I haven't done since before Covid.)

Major category: 
LHMP
Full citation: 

Arvas, Abdulhamit. 2014. “From the Pervert, Back to the Beloved: Homosexuality and Ottoman Literary History, 11453-1923” in The Cambridge History of Gay and Lesbian Literature ed. E.L. McCallum & Mikko Tuhkanen. Cambridge University Press, New York. ISBN 978-1-107-03521-8

Publication summary: 

A collection of articles meant as a critical reference work on literature across time and space that might be considered “gay and lesbian literature.” Only articles with lesbian-relevant content will be blogged in detail.

Part II - Renaissance and Early Modern; Chapter 8 - From the Pervert, Back to the Beloved: Homosexuality and Ottoman Literary History, 11453-1923

This chapter concerns Early Modern Ottoman, poetry, primarily about love, and primarily about love between men. This is not solely love of adolescent boys, but a wide array of male beloveds. Changes in cultural influences, especially westernization in the 19th century, reframed this dynamic as perverse. The focus of the article is Istanbul and relations between men, but one section of the article looks at female poets, and female same-sex topics.

The article surveys of the themes and genres of same-sex love poetry, including catalogs of beauty, lyric poetry, treatises on the intersection of medicine and eroticism, and humorous disputes on the superiority of one type of love object over another. One dynamic in the 19th century reframing of Ottoman love poetry was the western stereotype of Ottoman men as sodomites. (There was also a fascination in Western culture with the idea of lesbianism in the harem.) These perceptions affected western studies of Ottoman literature, including the imposition of heteronormative readings onto overtly homosexual poems, i.e., seeing them as abstract and metaphorical. Another approach was to attribute homoerotic culture to the consequences of a gender-segregated society. All these approaches get in the way of studying Ottoman literature on its own terms.

[Note: although the generic beloved in these discussions is often described as a “boy”, the texts often focus on a beloved who is just beginning to grow a beard or mustache, and some clearly indicate a mature man. This doesn’t discount pottential age and power imbalances, and the fact that love objects were often enslaved people, and so had questionable rights over their own bodies.]

Ottoman literary scholarship has rarely touched on female same-sex relations, but early travelogues regularly referred to the topic, often attributing the practice to gender segregation. Some hints on the topic can’t be found in medical or debate literature, though from the point of view of men writing for men.

The article includes several quotes from a 16th century text describing women who use masculine presentation and dildos in their sexual relations with women, but generally ignore the possibility of non-penetrative sex between women.

From the 16th century writings of Deli Birader Gazali: “In big cities, there are famous dildo women. They put on manly clothes, they ride cavalry horses, and they also ride kochis [covered wagons] for fun. Rich and noble women invite them to their houses and offer them nice shirts and clothing. These women tie dildos on their waist and grease them with almond oil, and then start the job, dildoing the cunt.”

There is a brief review of female poets, some of whose work hints at addressing a female beloved, though the language is typically ambiguous.

The article concludes with a discussion of how, in the 19th century, with increasing Western influence, as well as anti-Sufi movements, homoerotic literature became less prevalent. The article ends with something of a call to revive older concepts and vocabulary as part of modern sexuality discourse to avoid the ways in which stigmatizing concepts have shaped modern Turkish sexuality vocabulary.

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Sunday, September 10, 2023 - 16:07

Having finished reading the entire first section of this collection (ancient & medieval topics), out of 7 articles, one focuses specifically on female topics (Sappho), one includes a proportionate amount of female content (the medieval article) and 5 articles focus solely on male topics, either because of the specificity of the genre being discussed or because "there isn't much data on women and it's not what I study anyway."

I'm taking a slightly different approach to blogging this content than I have previously in similar situations. Rather than just listing the chapters/articles that don't have anything relevant, I'm creating an entry with a brief discription but not creating the usual "blog envelope." So you can read those entries by clicking through to the LHMP entry, then on the righthand sidebar, select "whole publicaton on one page."

If I had to guess from the article titles and authors, the Renaissance/Early Modern section will have 1 out of 5 articles with any relevant content, the section on "Enlightenment Cultures" is harder to guess at, so we'll see. And I think the last three sections of the book will all fall outside the temporal scope of the LHMP. So I may finish up this collection pretty quickly, except for the part where I have to read everything to see if there's anything relevant. (Sigh.)

Major category: 
LHMP
Full citation: 

Lochrie, Karma. 2014. “Configurations of Gender and Sexuality in Medieval Europe” in The Cambridge History of Gay and Lesbian Literature ed. E.L. McCallum & Mikko Tuhkanen. Cambridge University Press, New York. ISBN 978-1-107-03521-8

Publication summary: 

A collection of articles meant as a critical reference work on literature across time and space that might be considered “gay and lesbian literature.” Only articles with lesbian-relevant content will be blogged in detail.

Chapter 5 - Configurations of Gender and Sexuality in Medieval Europe

Reading pre-modern literature in terms of gender and sexuality requires abandoning, modern sexual categories, even when continuities can be identified. The chapter begins with a review of major historians that shaped the study of medieval (homo)sexuality. It discusses the complicated structure of medieval, thinking around gender and sexuality. Discussion of specifics, primarily focuses on male homoerotic relations with brief nods to female relations. There is discussion of same-sex friendship in religious communities, such as beguines and convents, including poetry, between nuns, expressing erotic desire, and mention of the legends of cross-dressing saints. There is also a brief survey of secular literature, such as Le Livre de Manieres, Iphis and Ianthe, Yde and Olive, and the Romance of Silence.

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Friday, September 8, 2023 - 07:20

The chronology of this volume starts out with Sappho and I was a bit relieved to recognize the name of the author tackling the topic. This brief chapter packs a great summary of Sappho's work and legacy into a small space!

Major category: 
LHMP
Full citation: 

Andreadis, Harriette. 2014. “The Sappho Tradition” in The Cambridge History of Gay and Lesbian Literature ed. E.L. McCallum & Mikko Tuhkanen. Cambridge University Press, New York. ISBN 978-1-107-03521-8

Publication summary: 

A collection of articles meant as a critical reference work on literature across time and space that might be considered “gay and lesbian literature.” Only articles with lesbian-relevant content will be blogged in detail.

Part I - Reading Ancient and Classical Cultures, Chapter 1 The Sappho Tradition

This chapter begins with a discussion of what is known about Sappho, her poetry, and her reputation among her contemporaries in ancient Greece. The tragically fragmentary nature of the written legacy of her work is traced, including the nine volume collection lost in the 9th century and the recovery of fragments of her work from papyrus sources in the late 19th and 20th centuries.

New work of Sappho is still being discovered up to the current date. However, due to this long gap in familiarity with her actual work, Sappho’s reputation throughout most of Western history has been based on secondhand accounts of her poetic reputation and myths about her personal life.

Only two nearly complete poems that were transmitted by other writers, the Ode to Aphrodite, and the poem, beginning “That man seems to me…”, formed the basis for translations, reinterpretations and pastiches in western languages beginning around the 16th century. Besides that, Sappho’s image was largely based on the fictional Sappho of Ovid’s Heroides, the one who was said to have given over the love of women for the ferryman Phaon, for whose sake she committed suicide.

This fictional tradition combined with the difficulty historic cultures had in reconciling the two faces of Sappho—the famous poet and the lover of women—resulted in a tradition of two Sappho’s: one desexualized and chaste and one promiscuous and lesbian. In the tradition of “there can be only one,” Sappho became the sole icon of female poetic excellence, erasing the existence of other female poets, which had the side effect of associating, female poetics with questionable sexuality.

By the early modern period, Sappho had split further into three images: the renowned poet, the example of transgressive sexuality, and the mythologized, suicidal abandoned woman of Ovid. The modern era has added a fourth image: that of the heroic lesbian pioneer and proto-feminist muse.

The next section of the article discusses the themes and content of Sappho’s poetry, and the traditions of translation that inspired an entire industry of versions of Sappho’s small oeuvre. Part of this tradition has always been, especially for male translators, to reconfigure the gender of the poetic voice such that Sappho is instead expressing desire for a male beloved, or to imply that the poetic voice of the poem is male, thus removing same-sex desire from the equation. This section includes a fairly extensive catalog across the centuries of poets who have translated or reworked Sappho’s most complete fragments. Only in the 20th century has Sappho’s legacy largely been picked up by female authors, retaining the same-sex context of the content.

The next section traces the historic reflections of Sappho’s image as a poet, as well as her transgressive sexuality, which was largely viewed negatively before recent times. Then we have a section tracing the development and legacy of the Phaon myth, and how it affected the image of Sappho, especially in the early modern period. Finally, the article closes with a section entitled “Sappho as Modern Lesbian Heroine,” which looks at the reclamation of Sappho as a positive figure, while also as an image of female homoeroticism. This is the era in which the use of “lesbian” and “sapphist” to indicate female same-sex eroticism became widespread.

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Thursday, September 7, 2023 - 08:11

For unknown reasons, I'm feeling energized and inspired to get up at my "commute alarm" time on non-commute days to work on personal projects. So let's start working though this collection.

Major category: 
LHMP
Full citation: 

McCallum, E.L. & Mikko Tuhkanen. 2014. “Introduction” in The Cambridge History of Gay and Lesbian Literature ed. E.L. McCallum & Mikko Tuhkanen. Cambridge University Press, New York. ISBN 978-1-107-03521-8

Publication summary: 

A collection of articles meant as a critical reference work on literature across time and space that might be considered “gay and lesbian literature.” Only articles with lesbian-relevant content will be blogged in detail.

Introduction

The introduction discusses the definition of “gay and lesbian literature” and the problem of organizing a volume like this, in the context of a series that primarily focuses on nation, era, or genre. It discusses the focus on expressions of same sex desire, while at the same time problematizing the definition of “same-sex”. There are problems with using terms like homosexuality, much less gay and lesbian, with respect to cultures outside the relatively modern Western context in which those terms developed. As a result, the chapters in the book are sometimes in conversation with existing debates about the nature of gay historiography. The discussions do not focus solely on authors that might today be identified as gay or lesbian, but also on works that suggest same-sex eroticism, regardless of the identity of the author. The discussions recognize the distinctness that may exist between lesbian and gay literary history, and individual chapters may focus on one or the other, or treat them in separate sections of the same article. The authors of the individual chapters take a variety of approaches to terminologies, whether to use “gay” and “lesbian” in an ahistoric overarching sense, or to focus on culturally specific terms, or to avoid labels entirely. The book definitely does not work on the assumption that there is a single tradition of gay and lesbian literature. Although the chapters are grouped in sections identified by various historical eras, this is not meant to suggest a strict chronology regarding the content, but rather may indicate eras in the development of gay and lesbian literature within different cultures. Chapters vary enormously with regard to specificity and focus.

Monday, September 4, 2023 - 16:53

OK, I'm doing something unusual here. I'm going to blog the entirety of The Cambridge History of Gay and Lesbian Literature, but I'm not going to do it now. But I can't do only the article on gothic literature in my usual format, because I don't know how many individual entries I'll be writing and everything will get out of order. So here's what will eventually be the blog on that article outside of the normal LHMP framework, and then I'll tuck it into the usual format after I've worked on the rest of the book. That's likely to be a fairly quick exercise (for a rather thick book) because more than half the book focuses on the 20th century, and out of the 17 earlier articles, at least 9 of them look like they're solely male-focused. (Sigh.) So in the interests of finishing up my gothic reading, here you go.


Bruhm, Steven. 2014. “The Gothic Novel and the Negotiation of Homophobia” in The Cambridge History of Gay and Lesbian Literature ed. E.L. McCallum & Mikko Tuhkanen. Cambridge University Press, New York. ISBN 978-1-107-03521-8

 

Although this article is placed in the “Enlightenment Culture” section of the book, this survey article begins with references to several modern horror/gothic works that connect the themes of hidden supernatural terrors with hidden sexualities. But despite the modern recognition of how these themes are connected, and despite the graphic depiction of a wide range of “forbidden” sexualities featured in the historic gothic genre, male homosexuality is startlingly absent in historic gothic works (though not in historic pornographic works). Examining this problem, Bruhm notes that in 19th century gothic works, homosexuality is hinted at with innuendo or vague threat and is concealed under symbolic tropes. To illustrate this, he focuses on two works: Matthew Gregory Lewis’s The Monk: A Romance and J. Sheridan Le Fanu’s Carmilla.

In The Monk, the apparently pederastic desire between the head of a monastery and the mysterious, attractive young novice is resolved away from homoeroticism when the novice is revealed to be a woman in disguise, after which the story turns to more traditional heterosexual gothic transgressions when the abbot sexually assaults and murders a second woman who turns out to be his sister. The looming threat of male homosexuality is vaguely present, but never directly articulated, then is resolved by the gender reveal followed by the quite directly articulated heterosexual sexual transgressions. Homophobia inserts itself in the “unspeakability” of the (illusory) same-sex desire.

In Carmilla, by contrast, the looming threat is the vampire Carmilla who insinuates herself into the life and bed of the young woman, Laura, caressing her both in dreams and in reality, and stealing both her innocence and life by drinking her blood. Carmilla represents, not simply lesbian desire, but sexual liberation in general. Nor is she entirely unsympathetic, adopting gothic tropes of the orphan cast alone in the world on the kindness of strangers. But at the same time, Carmilla embodies the icon of the aristocratic, languorous predator who features in decadent literature largely as a male fantasy. Here, homophobia appears in the framing of Carmilla and Laura’s relationship as predatory (as well as in the opinions of literary critics who sometimes insist that the story’s lesbianism is not about lesbianism, but is a symbolic stand-in for something else entirely).

Major category: 
LHMP
Monday, September 4, 2023 - 15:47

My heart leapt when I ran across the article that was a preliminary to this book and then the book itself. Surely this would be foundational to my discussion of lesbian gothic literature! Well, it's definitely useful in organizing some of my thoughts, but the focus of the book is on lesbian genre literature of the 1970s through 1990s so it neither covers early gothic literature with lesbian themes, nor current lesbian gothic novels. Still and all, useful reading.

Major category: 
LHMP
Full citation: 

Palmer, Paulina. 1999. Lesbian Gothic: Transgressive Fictions. Cassell, New York. ISBN 0-304-70154-8

This is one of several articles that I’m reading for the podcast on lesbian gothic literature. These articles will not necessarily focus on pre-20th century material.

Note the publication date (1999) which means that this study of lesbian gothic literature will be far from up-to-date, and will reflect a previous generation’s ideas and experiences (as well as not reflecting the boom in queer literature that the e-book revolution has enabled). The introductory material suggests that the study’s scope will focus strongly on what today might be classified as paranormal (witches and vampires) rather than more classical gothics.

She notes the difficulty of defining exactly what the gothic genre is, but quotes one definition as the intersection of themes of inheritance and claustrophobia. From its origins structured around tropes of archaic settings, suggestions of the supernatural, the experience of terror, and the popular motif of the naïve heroine and wicked villain, the genre expanded in the 19th century to encompass vampires, ghosts, the search for illicit knowledge, and the figure of the “wanderer.” By the 20th century, Palmer’s definition of the scope of the gothic seems to include most of the genres of horror, thrillers, and the paranormal. Gothics often appear to challenge realist viewpoints in embracing the supernatural and social or sexual transgression, while at the same time often reinforcing the values of the dominant culture. From its roots, there have been separate strands of the “female gothic,” focusing on women trapped in a castle or mansion, and a gothic flavor more associated with male authors involving persecution, guilt, obsession, and dislocation.

From there, Palmer moves on to explore what she means by “lesbian gothic” within this study. Rather than gothic tropes being used to “decorporealize lesbian desire” (per Terry Castle’s The Apparitional Lesbian), these works written in the 1970s to 1990s [note the book’s publication date] “emply them to explore…erotic female relations and their transgressive dimension.” [Note: in choosing this timeframe, Palmer is focusing on stories that do not feel a need to conceal the lesbian nature of the characters and themes.] In the context of the early history of gothics, she notes that (especially) female authors treated themes that lent themselves well to lesbian contexts, including women’s problematic relationship to their bodies, the inherent transgressiveness of female sexuality, and the complications of female friendships and antagonisms, including mother/daughter relations. Women “haunting” other women is a common trope. Also noted is the contradictory role of the figure who is both courageous heroine and persecuted victim. The focus of gothic fiction on creating an emotional response in the reader blends easily with the depictions of repressed emotions and desires. There are structural parallels to closet/coming-out narratives in the themes of secrets, frustrated desire, shame, and persecution. The family/domestic sphere is depicted as a source of danger and claustrophobia, and heterosexual family structures are often viewed as threatening and the peril that must be escaped.

In traditional gothics, the lesbian-coded figure is typically assigned the role of villain and predator, but in contemporary lesbian gothics she becomes a protagonist, or the point of view shifts such that her vengeful and predatory actions are vindicated. Traditional gothics typically focus on an ominous history, either in terms of a family legacy or the physical reality of crumbling ancient monuments. History is the enemy. But lesbian gothics may be concerned with rediscovering and reclaiming a history that had been denied.

The individual chapters of Palmer’s book examine specific works within specific genre themes: the witch, the ghost, the vampire, and the thriller.

[Note: Palmer’s book has a certain historic interest as a study of the state of lesbian genre fiction as of the late 1990s, and an example of an academic work taking that field seriously as a subject of study. I personally found it a bit too all-encompassing to have a coherent take on the concept of “lesbian gothic,” at least from a current viewpoint. But the introductory material has been quite useful.]

 

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Monday, September 4, 2023 - 12:21

This one isn't very useful for my purposes, but what the heck.

Major category: 
LHMP
Full citation: 

Yiannitsaros, Chirstopher. 2010. “’I’m scared to death she’ll kill me: Devoted Ladies, feminine monstrosity, and the (lesbian) Gothic Romance” in The Irish Journal of Gothic and Horror Studies 8: 41-52.

This is one of several articles that I’m reading for the podcast on lesbian gothic literature. These articles will not necessarily focus on pre-20th century material.

The author makes a connection between themes prominent in the “coming-out story” (i.e., secrecy, guilt, persecution, and the fragmentation of the self) and the dominant themes of gothic fiction. Similarly there are connections in the reframing of the domestic sphere from a place of love and security to a site of secrets and maltreatment. As a genre rooted in marginality (of taste, politics, and sexuality) he argues that there is an inherent connection between gothic literature and representations of homosexuality.

From this starting point, the author takes a deep dive into Molly Keane’s 1934 novel Devoted Ladies which, he argues, is a parody of the gothic genre, focusing on a lesbian relationship that is simultaneously presented as ordinary and everyday, and as inherently flawed, unequal, and monstrous. Their relationship is eventually disrupted by the “femme” partner’s refocusing on a heterosexual relationship and the murder of the butch partner by a third party who wants to prevent her from interfering.

The connections the author makes with gothic literature primarily involve more recent work, such as Du Maurier’s Rebecca, and similarly recent formulations of the gothic genre.

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Monday, September 4, 2023 - 11:52

Let's see if I can get back into the blogging thing and catch up on all the gothic-related reading I want to do for a gothic themed podcast. A number of the articles I've collected for this are not ones I'd blog purely for the Project, so I may be skimming more briefly than usual.

Major category: 
LHMP
Full citation: 

Parker, Sarah. 2008. “’The Darkness is the Closet in Which Your Lover Roosts Her Heart’: Lesbians, Desire and the Gothic Genre” in Journal of International Women’s Studies, Vol. 9, Issue 2: 3-16.

This is one of several articles that I’m reading for the podcast on lesbian gothic literature. These articles will not necessarily focus on pre-20th century material.

It’s always a good reminder to “check the publication date” when reading academic studies of popular culture. This article, having been written in 2008, can’t reflect a more up-to-date range of lesbian gothics. But perhaps more to the point, it focuses almost entirely on two specific works: Djuna Barnes’ Nightwood (published 1936) and Sarah Waters’ Affinity (published 1999), so it reflects an even older approach to lesbian themes in gothic fiction (while still addressing modern fiction rather than fiction from the origins of the gothic genre).

This context comes out in the analysis of how gothic fiction uses the exploration of “unconscious fantasies and forbidden desires” to make lesbian desire legible and to “counter the repressive  effects of ‘lesbian panic’” – a theory circulating at the time that much women’s fiction (of the time) was fixated on a negation of lesbian possibilities because they disrupted the gender economy in which women’s value derived from their value to men.

In discussing the characteristics of the gothic genre (and how it lends itself to articulating lesbian desire), Parker focuses on the themes of boundaries (“from the physical limitations of the domestic space – castle walls, prisons, locked chests – to the ancestral ‘line’ of the aristocratic family”) and how gothic texts allow the reader a “safe” encounter with transgressing those boundaries, but representing repressed desires via fantastic and supernatural elements. Thus, the gothic is structured by patriarchal order even as it uses transgressions against that order for its emotional impact. (For example, the regular threat of incest and its literary punishment.) Passion and desire may be experienced because the text inevitably contradicts, erases, or diffuses their experiential reality.

In Nightwood and Affinity, Parker argues, the lesbian desire that is at the heart of the story is this threat to patriarchal order that provides the reader with a pervasive sense of threat that—in these cases—is allowed to persist and be realized. In Affinity (as in many historic female-authored gothic novels) the apparently supernatural elements that contribute to the atmosphere are revealed as rational in the end. The character who fills the role of “lesbian predator” is allowed her own happy ending, even as the nominal protagonist is victimized by her.

[Note: I’m less able to follow the discussion of Nightwood, and overall this article has only tangential relevance to the gothic theme I’m currently exploring.]

 

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