Lesbian/Queer Women link love #2

Some things I’ve found interesting recently.

Julie R. Enszer at Lamda Literary, Lying with women: Meditations on Barrie Jean Borich’s writing, lesbians and liberation 

Crime Reads, The Night Gertrude Stein met Dashiell Hammett (apparently she even had a go at writing a detective novel)

The Advocate, A 75-year-old lesbian discovery 

Lesbian/Queer Women Link Love #1

Some things I’ve found interesting recently

Anne Lister and a Theology of Naming Lesbians

Interview with a Queer Reader – Julie Rak Talks Women’s Bookstores, Gay Biker Books, Finding Your Own Queer History in Books, and More!

Remembering Beth Brant 

Why the UK’s biggest lesbian archive is so important

5 Things (sand, fossils, junk food, vintage lesbians, dresses)

This image is one of my favourites, so I was delighted to discover this article from FACTS.FM which has more astonishing photographs revealing the Hidden Beauty of Sand. I’m especially taken with the grains of sand that are actually tiny fossils.

Continuing with the fossil theme, I adored David Attenborough’s 1989 documentary Lost Worlds, Vanished Lives.  Attenborough’s passion for the subject is so infectious and I think the documentary is improved by being produced before the advent of CGI. Without the option to create CGI images of the animals (which is almost certainly what would happen if this was made now), the documentary has to focus on the actual fossils.  So if you want to see fossils in abundance, this is the one to watch. I think it’s stunning and can’t wait to show it to my nephew when he’s old enough.

Continue reading

Diana Souhami, Wild Girls: The Love Life of Natalie Barney and Romaine Brooks (2004)

Natalie Barney (1876 – 1972) and Romaine Brooks (1874 – 1970) were lesbians whose extremely long lives and 50-year non-monogamous romance spanned a period of time from the fin de siècle to Stonewall.  They were both from wealthy families and active in the arts – Natalie was a poet and novelist and Romaine was a painter.  Between them they seem to have been friends or lovers with most of the famous lesbians of the period.

Let me start by saying that I don’t think this is a very good book. It reads like an extended gossip column (all description and little analysis), the prose is serviceable at best, the title is inappropriate for a book about two such highly complex women and Souhami weirdly intersperses the narrative with episodes that are apparently drawn from her own life.

However, I also have to admit that I enjoyed reading Wild Girls and might call it a ‘guilty pleasure’ if, that is, I felt guilty about reading silly books. Even in such an unsophisticated take on their lives, Natalie and Romaine come across as fascinating characters and I really enjoyed finding out more about them and their relationships with women like the poet Renee Vivien, Oscar Wilde’s niece, Dolly, lesbian writer Djuna Barnes, the dancer, Ida Rubenstein, and of course Radcliffe Hall and her partner Una Troubridge.  Truman Capote once referred to Romaine Brook’s paintings as ‘the all-time ultimate gallery of famous dykes’ and you really can’t argue with him on that one.  The book includes some great photographs and images of Romaine’s paintings.

Romaine, in particular, had an incredibly traumatic upbringing and I would have liked to read a more nuanced and sympathetic approach to her subsequent mental health problems.  Actually, it was the attitude to mental health that made me most uncomfortable with this book, as a lot of the women had problems which come across as sensationalised – Renee Vivien’s anorexia is one example and Dolly Wilde’s depression and addictions another

Wild Girls is a non-challenging introduction to a specific lesbian sub-culture of the fin de siècle and first half of the twentieth century and it’s probably the kind of book best read while lying on the sofa sick with the flu.

The Lesbian Movie Marathon: The Secret Diaries of Miss Anne Lister (2010)

Directed by James Kent and written by Jane English

I was pleasantly surprised by this beautifully filmed drama based on the life of nineteenth-century diarist, Anne Lister (1791 – 1840).  Some parts of Lister’s diaries are written in code which, when cracked, was found to contain remarkably frank descriptions of her romantic involvements and sexual relationships with women. This all rather demolished the idea that unmarried women necessarily had little access to knowledge about sex or lesbian culture before the twentieth century.  It’s apparent that, not only Anne, but also the locals who called her “Gentleman Jack”, had a very good idea of what she was about.  The Lister diaries suggest that there was a well-developed discourse about lesbianism which was available, at least to upper-class women, as a way to understand themselves in the nineteenth century.

One of the most refreshing things about this drama is that it doesn’t make concessions to the straight audience: it doesn’t explain, or apologise, or dumb down the lesbian representation, but nor does it use the lesbian theme to titillate the viewer.  There is one sex scene which I thought very well done.  This may be because the producers were aware that only lesbians and people already interested in the history and literature of the period would be likely to watch it, so there wasn’t much point in trying to entice a wider audience.  It was cast thoughtfully with actresses who made credible nineteenth-century lesbians, and I was particularly pleased to see that thought had gone into how a butch lesbian might have presented herself during this time.   Maxine Peake played Anne with tomboyish energy and great charm, Anna Madeley, as her long-time lover Mariana, was believable as a woman caught between her sexual desires and the life she has chosen as the wife of a wealthy man.  Susan Lynch was excellent as Anne’s hard-drinking ex-girlfriend ‘Tib’ who’d still like to be more than friends.  Gemma Jones and Alan David were also lovely as Anne’s slightly bewildered, but ultimately accepting, aunt and uncle.

I really liked the film but found the documentary with Sue Perkins, ‘The Real Anne Lister’, even more fascinating.  In order to make the drama watchable for a modern audience, the writers modified what we know about Anne to make her appear a great deal more sympathetic than she was in real life.  As Sue Perkins reads the diaries she rather struggles to like Anne, who comes across as a terrible snob and not a particularly nice person.  For example, in the drama, her last relationship with the heiress, Miss Anne Walker, is sweetly presented, but in the diaries it seems a far more cynical arrangement based more on Anne Lister’s desire for a submissive wife and her need for money to invest in her mining projects.  Of course money and companionship were considered perfectly acceptable reasons for marriage in the early nineteenth century, but what is fascinating is that the two Annes do seem to have considered themselves married and even managed to get their relationship blessed by the church.  My own feeling is that Anne Lister probably had to become a rather ruthless person just to be able to live the life she lived in this period.

I would highly recommend this drama and the accompanying documentary for anyone interested in lesbian herstory.

Poem: Sappho, ‘Fragment’

He seems to me equal to gods that man
Who opposite you
Sits and listens close
To your sweet speaking

And lovely laughing – oh it
Puts the heart in my chest on wings
For when I look at you, a moment, then no speaking
Is left in me

No: tongue breaks, and thin
Fire is racing under skin
And in eyes no sight and drumming fills ears

And cold sweat holds me and shaking
Grips me all, greener than grass
I am dead — or almost
I seem to me.

Sappho (6th Century BC), was an ancient greek poet born on the island of Lesbos. Most of her poetry has been lost and we all have left is some fragments.  Her name has become synonymous with lesbian desire.