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Lesbian Historic Motif Podcast - Episode 227 – Charlotte Charke - transcript

(Originally aired 2022/04/16 - listen here)

Lesbian Historic Motif Podcast - Episode 226 - On the Shelf for April 2022 - Transcript

(Originally aired 2022/03/02 - listen here)

Welcome to On the Shelf for April 2022.

News of the Field

I had expected Tvordi's analysis of the homoerotic elements in these plays to follow the conventional path and consider the erotics of cross-dressing. But I rather loved this different look at agency and power differentials within the two couples it examines. This is, of course, one of the two articles that led me to discuss this collection in the blog.

I just had to say that, ok? This is an interesting analysis, and tangentially Project-relevant with its focus on a female household, but there were a few odd clunkers in the author's reasoning. It felt a bit like the author is too focused on questions of literary symbolism and not quite familiar enough with gendered aspects of material and social culture.

Just because an article isn't relevant to the focus of the Lesbian Historic Motif Project doesn't mean it isn't interesting. This one is an incisive look into intra-household politics in Colonial Virginia--I believe the only article in the collection that doesn't focus on England.

In any collection, even ones more centrally focused on topics relevant to the Lesbian Historic Motif Project, there are going to be some misses. This is one.

The life of the vagrant--untethered by ties to family or community--was romanticized even in contexts where vagrants themselves were shunned and persecuted, such as the early 17th century that is the focus of this article. There are many points on which the modern western mindset--and therefore the fiction that it produces and desires--is vastly misaligned with the historic eras the fiction intends to represent. Attitudes toward independence and individualism are one such disjunction.

Sometimes we only get glimpses of the communities and alliances women had when we see them being undermined and stigmatized. The example discussed in this article (among many other details) of a law in 16th century Chester that outlawed rituals around birth that had previously been a context for women to gather and celebrate -- all in the name of "cutting down on unnecessary spending" -- remind us that social history is cyclical. Women's history in general (just like queer women's history in specific) hasn't ben some sort of constant "progress" from more oppressed to more empowered.

When writing about women in pre-20th century western history, the topic of domestic service is inescapable. Either you employed maidservants, or you were one, or your economic status was marginal enough that you fell outside these categories--which significantly affected your options. No matter which category your fictional character falls in, there will be a complex web of relationships with the other women in the household where she resides. Who are her allies? Who are her rivals and where to their interests still intersect?

Only a couple of the papers in this collection specifically address topics related to homoeroticism, but very much like my interest in books on singlewomen, this type of history can be both grounding and inspiring when creating stories about lesbian-like characters in history. Too many historic novels envision their sapphic protagonists in isolation, at best making common cause with a love interest to create a cozy cocoon.


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