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LHMP #112a Castle 2003 The Literature of Lesbianism: A Historical Anthology from Ariosto to Stonewall Part 1: 16th Century

Full citation: 

Castle, Terry (ed). 2003. The Literature of Lesbianism: A Historical Anthology from Ariosto to Stonewall. Columbia University Press, New York. ISBN 0-231-12510-0

Publication summary: 


This is a massive (over 1000 pages) collection of works and excerpts of literature relevant to lesbian history. I’ve broken my coverage up in fractions of centuries that produce very roughly similar numbers of items, rather than according to the organization in the book itself.

Part 1: 16th Century

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Unsurprisingly, the material here is (with one possible exception?) filtered through male authors. We have literary tales of same-sex desire under the cover of gender disguise. There are medicalized case studies that--to a modern reader--sound more like intersex and transgender individuals, but those concepts were inextricably tangled with understandings of lesbianism at that time. And we have two poems, placed in the voice of a female narrator who is trying to come to terms with desiring another woman (though one is known to have been written by a man).

The overall message is that if you are a woman who desires a woman, you are either monstrous, or mistaken, or you must actually be a man.

Ludovico Ariosto, Orlando Furioso (1532) -- (Translated) Within the context of a heroic poem, an amazon enounter involving a woman falling in love with a cross-dressed woman.

Pontus de Tyard “Elegy for a Lady Fallen for Another Lady” (1573) -- (Translated) A poem in the voice of a woman who is confused and upset by having fallen in love with another woman.

Ambroise Paré “Memorable Stories About Women Who Have Degenerated Into Men” (1573) -- (Translated) A collection of case studies of individuals assigned as female at birth who, at puberty, developed male genitalia. (The relevance to lesbian history is in how this concept was used as a precedent in cases of individuals assigned female at birth who desired/married women, even when there was no evidence of male genitalia.)

Michel de Montaigne from The Journal of Montaigne’s Travels in Italy by Way of Switzerland and Germany (1581) -- (Translated) Case history from the town of Montirandet of an individual assigned female at birth who lived as a man and married a woman, and was condemnded to death for this. Also a duplication of one of the anecdotes contained in Paré’s work above.

Anonymous “Poem XLIX” from The Maitland Quarto Manuscript (1586) -- A Scottish poem in the voice of a woman who has fallen in love with a woman and desires to change her sex in order to be able to marry her.

Sir Philip Sidney from The Countess of Pembroke’s Arcadia (1590) -- An excerpt involving the love of the maiden Gynecia for the Amazon Zelmane (who is actually a man in disguise). The passage shows Gynecia coming to terms with what she genuinely believes to be love for another woman.


John Lyly from Gallathea (1592) -- The concluding scenes of this play based on Ovid’s Iphis and Ianthe in which the two maidens, Phyllida and Gallathea, who have fallen in love while both were disguised as men, maintain their love and convince Venus to allow them to marry by changing one or the other into a man.

Time period: 

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