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The Literature of Lesbianism written by Terry Castle


The Literature of Lesbianism written by Terry Castle


Since the Renaissance, countless writers have been magnetized by the notion of love between women. From Renaissance love poems to twentieth-century novels, plays, and short stories, The Literature of Lesbianism brings together hundreds of literary works on the subject of female homosexuality. This is not an anthology of "lesbian writers." Nor is it simply a one-sided compendium of "positive" or "negative" images of lesbian experience. Terry Castle explores the emergence and transformation of the "idea of lesbianism": its conceptual origins and how it has been transmitted, transformed, and collectively embellished over the past five centuries. Both male and female authors are represented here and they display an astonishing and often unpredictable range of attitudes. Some excoriate female same-sex love; some eulogize it. Some are salacious or satiric, others sympathetic and confessional. Yet what comes across everywhere is just how visible -- as a literary theme -- Sapphic love has always been in Western literature. As Castle demonstrates, it is hardly the taboo or forbidden topic we sometimes assume it to be, but has in fact been a central preoccupation for many of our greatest writers, past and present.

Beginning with an excerpt from Ariosto's comic epic poem, Orlando Furioso, the anthology progresses chronologically through the next five centuries, presenting selections from Shakespeare, John Donne, Katherine Philips, Aphra Behn, Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz, Alexander Pope, the Marquis de Sade, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Charlotte Bronte, Emily Dickinson, Guy de Maupassant, Henry James, Willa Cather, Virginia Woolf, Ernest Hemingway, Nella Larsen, Colette, and Graham Greene, among many others. It also includes some anonymous works -- several published here for the first time -- as well as numerous translations from the writers of antiquity, such as Sappho, Ovid, Martial, and Juvenal, whose rediscovery in the early Renaissance helped shape subsequent Western literary representations of female homosexuality.


In assembling this anthology, Castle (humanities, Stanford U.) assumed that the category of lesbianism itself was in need of historical examination. So, rather than gather representative writings by women presumed in some sense to be lesbians, she has included works by Western men and women in which the theme of erotic desire between women plays some significant part. The selections span five centuries of writing and include poems, stories, and dramas from famous and anonymous writers alike. Annotation ©2003 Book News, Inc., Portland, OR

Library Journal

Editor Castle (humanities, Stanford Univ.) brings her characteristic good humor and wide-ranging intelligence to bear on a theme she first discussed in The Apparitional Lesbian, namely, what she sees as the ubiquity of "the lesbian idea" in Western literature-"the collective apprehension that women might intimately conjoin for their own sexual pleasure." Her self-described comically diverse assortment of writings-over 1000 pages and by deceased writers only-includes excerpts from the usual suspects, including Emily Dickinson, D.H. Lawrence, and the Marquis de Sade, as well as, surprisingly, Ernest Hemingway, the Book of Ruth in the Bible, and Isaac Bashevis Singer. Arranged chronologically, these excerpts-preceded by biographical sketches of their authors, a summary of their attitudes toward lesbianism, and a bibliography-range from a satire on intrigues at the court of Queen Anne of England, to a 17th-century diatribe against masturbation, to the overwrought effusions of the French decadent writers, to journal entries detailing the exhilaration, ambivalence, and exasperation with which several women writers chronicle their lived and fictionalized experiences. Recommended for women's studies, sexuality, and comparative literature collections.-Ina Rimpau, Newark P.L., NJ Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.

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