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LHMP #112c Castle 2003 The Literature of Lesbianism: A Historical Anthology from Ariosto to Stonewall Part 3: 17th Century (second half)

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 3: 17th Century (second half)

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Following the theme of “who tells your story?”, this set of selections diverges strongly between male and female authors. We have three named male authors including lesbian themes in pornography or crude sexual satires. We have five female authors writing poetry of intense romantic friendships, sometimes tinged with an erotic sensibility but never explicit. And we have two anonymous works of varied nature.

Nicholas Chorier from Dialogues on the Arcana of Love and Venus by Luisa Sigea Toletana (1660-78) -- Excerpts from the pornographic Satyra Sotadica that describe sexual activity between two women as part of a wider range of transgressive sexual adventures.

Anonymous from The Life and Death of Mrs. Mary Frith, Commonly Called Moll Cutpurse (1662) -- Excerpts from a biography of a woman who openly cross-dressed and refused to follow expected feminine behavior.

Katherine Philips “To My Excellent Lucasia, on Our Friendship”, “Parting with Lucasia: A Song”, “Orinda to Lucasia”, “Friendship’s Mystery: To My Dearest Lucasia”, “Injuria Amici” (1664) -- A selection of homoerotic poetry addressed to Anne Owen by her poetic name Lucasia. The language goes beyond the conventions of romantic friendship but without being overtly sexual.

Pierre de Bourdeilles, Seigneur de Brantôme from Lives of Gallant Ladies (1665-1666) -- (Translated) An extensive collection of anecdotes involving sexual encounters between women.

Aphra Behn (1640-1689) “To the Fair Clorinda, Who Made Love to Me Imagin’d More than Woman”, “Verses Design’d by Mrs. A. Behn to be sent to a Fair Lady, that Desir’d She Would Absent Herself to Cure her Love” -- A collection of love poems addressed to women.

Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz “Accompanying a Ring Bearing the Portrait of la Señora Condesa de Paredes. She Explains”, “Inés, Dear, with your Love I am Enraptuerd” (ca. 1686) -- Poems addressed from Sor Juana to her patroness, using romantic and erotic imagery.

Anne Killigrew “On a Picture Painted by Herself, Representing Two Nymphs of Diana’s, One in a Posture to Hunt, the Other Bathing”, “On the Soft and Gentle Motions of Eudora” (attributed) (1686) -- Two poems that emphasize a sensual appreciation for the recipient’s beauty.

John Dryden from The Satires of Decimus Junius Juvenalis (1693) -- A translation of a Roman satire on women having sexual encounters with each other (although the intended imagery takes a bit of extraction from the text).

Elizabeth Singer Rowe “Love and Friendship: A Pastoral” (1696) -- A poem celebrating female romantic friendship that subtly equates it with heterosexual love.


Anonymous “Venus’s Reply” (1699) -- A ribald poem that was written in answer to the poem “The Women’s Complaint to Venus”, which spoke in the voice of women complaining that the prevalence of male homosexuality was depriving them of lovers. In this poem, Venus tells the women it’s their own fault for turning their desires to other women (described in quite graphic terms). Given the unambiguously sexual context, the poem is valuable for examples of the slang term “game of flats” and use of the word “odd” to imply homosexuality.

Time period: 

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