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SEX & SEXUALITY, 1640-1940
Literary, Medical and Sociological Perspectives

Part 2: Romantic friendships and lesbian relationships in literature and history

By opening up a subject that has remained largely inaccessible, this series makes available many writings that have been restricted to specialist libraries and obscure archives. Many of these texts have been the subject of taboo, censorship, prejudice and condemnation and have been relegated to the periphery. Part 1 includes texts chosen from the resources of the Library of the Wellcome Institute for the History of Medicine in London, and the Bodleian Library, Oxford, spanning from the mid seventeenth century to the early twentieth century. These provide a general survey of the literature of sexuality.

Part 2 of Sex and Sexuality examines relationships between women, from the classical period to the beginning of the twentieth century. These range from platonic love through to explicit sexual relations. Where the eighteenth century notion of Romantic Friendship fits into this continuum is a matter for debate. The reader often has to interpret signs and conventions to provide an interpretation of what was going on. This is also true of classical literature where varying translations of works by Ovid, Juvenal and Sappho clearly lead to different interpretations of the nature of sexuality in the ancient world. For Juvenal we include variant translations by Stapylton (1647), Dryden (1693) and Gifford (1802). For Sappho we include The Works of Anacreon and Sappho (1713), a new edition of 1768, Sappho: literal translations (1885) and Sappho: One hundred lyrics (1906). In the late seventeenth century these works could be seen as models for platonic circles of friendship; in later days they were interpreted as being suggestive of more intimate contact. Mary Robinsons Sappho and Phaeon (1796) show how these classical works continued to exert a powerful influence over writers.

John Cleland is an important figure in the history of sexuality and his novels provide explicit evidence of a range of sexual practices including lesbianism. Access to his works has often been restricted, so scholars will welcome the inclusion of his Dictionary of Love (1753) adapted from the Dictionairre damour by du Radier amongst three other key texts.

A number of key women writers are also represented and many have a great deal to say about female friendships and lesbian relationships. Jane Barker is represented by her Poetical Recreations (1688), The Entertaining Novels of Mrs Jane Barker (1719) and The Lining of the Patch-Work Screen (1726). From Eliza Heywood we have The British Recluse: or, the Secret History of Cleomira (1722), Cleomalia (1727), Reflections of the Various Effects of Love (1726) and The History of Jemmy and Jenny Jessomy (1753). Sarah Fieldings writings can also be analysed and we feature the prolific Charlotte Lennox in writings such as Euphemia (1790), The Life of Harriot Stuart (1751), The Female Quixote; or, the Adventures of Arabella (1752), Henrietta (1758), and The Sister (1769).

French writers also had a major role in lesbian discourse as can be seen from works such as Nicolas Choriers Loeuvre...Satyre sotadique (1659), Diderots Les Bijoux Indiscrets (1748), and Pierre Ambroise F Chaderlos de Lacloss Les Liaisons Dangereuses (1748 - with a translation of 1898) which continues to attract attention.

The collection also included travel narratives describing sexual practices in the Ottoman empire in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries; Dr Carrs Medicinal Epistles (1714), Jean Barrins Venus in the Cloister (1683) and two editions of A Description of Millenium Hall (1762 and 1764).

Scholars can compare the attitudes revealed by Eliza Jearys Marina and Amelia: or, the history of Two Female Friends (1808) and Female Friendship (1824) with the views of M A Raffalovichs Uranisme et Unisexualit (1896) and Xavier Maynes The Intersexes (1908). Did the economically driven cohabitation of spinsters lead to tribady? How platonic were romantic friendships? In what way did the rise of sensibility and romanticism effect attitudes toward lesbian relationships?

All of these questions can be explored in this series, which will enhance our understanding of the sexual enlightenment and its aftermath and the way in which individuals have negotiated their sexual practices and beliefs throughout the course of history.

Digital Guide
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