Friday, June 1, 2007

Bookgasm: The Literary Lesbians Edition

By Amanda Addison

The theme for this month at Estella is “Heat.” Now I know you’re thinking that I’m being all stereotypical and trying to come up with something full of sexual heat. I am not so clichéd! I was thinking of how hot and stuffy it is in the closet and these lesbian writers have produced novels that are definitely ready to come out! From pulp fiction to classics to contemporary literature, lesbian and bisexual women have been writing and writing about lesbianism for ages. It was difficult to narrow the field to just a handful of writers. To supplement, nab Chloe Plus Olivia: An Anthology of Lesbian Literature from the 17th Century to the Present – edited by lesbian historian and author Lillian Faderman – this is the best anthology I have found to date.

Ann Bannon: Ann Bannon has recently been garnering critical attention for her lesbian pulp classics written in the 1950s. Scholars are interested in how pulp fiction helps to create a community for lesbians. Are the books trashy? Yes. Is Bannon incredibly radical for her time by kicking down the door for women to write, not only about sex, but LESBIAN sex? Oh yes. Check out Odd Girl Out and Beebo Brinker to get started in some kitschy retro reading.

Djuna Barnes: T.S. Eliot and Dylan Thomas were huge fans of Djuna Barnes; her writing is intense and lyrical. Nightwood is her most well known work; it is the story of a Robin Vote – a woman who intensely affects the men and women around her. Also check out The Ladies Almanack a naughty and witty romp about Left Bank lesbians.

Rita Mae Brown: Brown’s novel, Rubyfruit Jungle, is something of an inspirational book; the story of growing up a lesbian in America and being at peace with one’s sexuality. Molly, the novel’s heroine, is unabashed about her sexuality and her feisty temper is what makes her so endearing.

Radclyffe Hall: Hall’s fifth book, The Well of Loneliness, was charged with obscenity at publication because of the protagonist’s open lesbianism (for further information on the infamous case check-out Trials of Radclyffe Hall by Diana Souhami). Peppered with elements of Hall’s own life, this is the story of wealthy girl named Stephan who, from birth, was different from other girls and acted as a son to her father. This is more than just a “lesbian” book; it is a damned good book. Be sure to set a timer when you read it because I forgot, FORGOT, to pick-up my daughter from daycare because I was so enthralled in the tale. You’ve been warned.

Sarah Waters: If you are a fan of historical fiction then Sarah Waters is the right author for you. Her best-known novel, Tipping the Velvet, is a novel about lesbianism in Victorian England. Her other books include Affinity, Fingersmith, and the Man Booker nominee, The Night Watch.

Jeanette Winterson: Winterson’s novels are, by far, more than about sexuality. Although there are lesbian characters in many of her books the text resist being pigeonholed by sexuality. Of the highest literary caliber, Winterson’s writing plays with language, history, and time. For starters try Oranges are not the Only Fruit; a novel that Winterson based on the conflict between her evangelical childhood and her budding lesbianism. Next try the more esoteric works; Written on the Body, Sexing the Cherry, and The Passion are my favorites.


April Boland said...

What is the name of the Rita Mae Brown novel?

Dark Orpheus said...

I'm guessing the Rita Mae Brown novel is Rubyfruit Jungle.