Gender disguise is a major context for exploring homoerotic potential in literature and was a significant tool for establishing same-sex partnerships in real life examples. The most common version is a female-assigned person who presents as male and has access to a male role in relation to a woman. Not all such partnerships may have included sexual activity, but many demonstrably did. Literary examples generally indicate whether the disguise is meant to be situational or is meant to signal transgender identity. Real life examples are rarely clear on this point, due to the legal and social pressures and consequences, and therefore the likely distortion of self-reported motivations.
Our heroines leave Barcelona and travel to Valencia where the find the ladies more socially forthcoming, but jealously protected by their boyfriends. There are intermittent bits of travelogue, but Spain seems not to have made much of a favorable impression on the travelers who were “much fatigued with bad entertainment and abominable beds.” Thence to Toledo an on to Madrid. Once again a letter of introduction to the local French ambassador gains them entrance to society and a brief audience with the king.
In the last session, we ended with an encounter (in London) with a couple that Alithea had met previously in Paris. The man begins telling a long history of what he’s been up to since then, at which his wife retires saying it would embarrass him for her to remain. Well, yes, and it should. Without going into the whole story, he fell in love with her and behaved very badly and unfaithfully towards her while she remained steadfast and faithful until his passion entirely burned itself out (for any woman) and what remained was friendship with her.
When last we left our heroines, they had arrived in Florence and were being entertained by the Marquis Grimoalti and his lovely and witty wife who take the two to an evening’s entertainment. Alithea dances with the Countess de Rinalto and has a playfully philosophical discussion with her about how men’s jealousy only tends to drive their ladies into a greater desire to look elsewhere for love.
When last we saw our heroines, Alithea was teasing Arabella's unwanted suitors while Arabella was getting her affairs in order in preparation for hitting the road with her. Alithea plays cat and mouse with a couple of challenges to duels then heads to Lyons so that the two of them aren't observed leaving town together. While in Lyons she is on hand for a couple of spots of excitement.
This summary is assembled from a Twitter conversation
Me: Our 2 heroines having considered marriage (w Alithea in male disguise) as a way to spend their lives together, and considered the hazards of discovery daunting, Arabella is making arrangements to join Alithea on her travels also in male disguise. Alithea amuses herself by taunting Arabella's suitors. But then Alithea is persuaded to contribute to a kickstarter for some dude's treatise on moral philosophy and yields to the impulse to summarize its contents for 20 pages or so.
When last we saw our heroines, Arabella was going to meet privately with the girl they had declined to purchase (and whose family they instead set on the path to respectability by a charitable donation) to see if she really was romantically attached to her. Meanwhile Alithea goes off to do some sightseeing and to sulk a little. They meet again over dinner with their banker's family where Arabella is once more the object of longing sighs from the banker's daughters.
This article looks at the 1744 novel The Travels and Adventures of Mademoiselle de Richelieu, concerning a cross-dressing lesbian heroine who goes about Europe having adventures. Woodward examines this text in the context at other 18th c novels with similar themes that veer off from the lesbian resolution. She also considers the problem of the work’s authorship. It purports to be a translation into English by a man of a French original, written by a woman, but there are reasons to doubt several aspects of that framing.
Current gym reading is "Adv of Mlle de Richelieu". Alas, there's a reason this is not considered a literary classic. Every character the protagonist meets delivers a multi-page lecture on philosophy, history, theology, etc. or an entertaining and edifying story (a la Chaucer or Bocaccio) unrelated to the main plot. Also much travelogue. So far the framing story is running ca. 5% of text. No lesbians yet (they come later) but 1 amusing "2 women interact both passing as men" episode.