Explores lesbian sensibility in 20th century fiction. The history of lesbian writing is relatively short and this text seeks to redefine the canon. It includes discussion of such works as Virginia Woolf's "Orlando" and the poetry of Gertrude Stein.
This text explores lesbian sensibility in 20th century fiction. From the verse of Sappho in 600 BC to Radclyffe Hall's "The Well of Loneliness", published in 1928, there is little women's writing that is recognised as "lesbian". It is short because while romantic friendship between women was an accepted social institution from the Renaissance to the 19th century, and sex between women appears to have been a staple of pornography since the incarnation of that genre, the possibility of seeing oneself as "a lesbian" had to wait until the emergence of English sexologists in the last decades of the 19th century, who defined lesbianism as a social and sexual category. If by "lesbian literature" we mean work in which the subject of lesbianism is the centre, the history is even shorter. Is there a "lesbian sensibility" that can be identified in literature that may not be concerned specifically with lesbian sexuality? Examining works as diverse as Willa Cather's "My Antonia", the poetry of Gertrude Stein, the fiction of Carson McCullers, and the lesbian heroine in the novels of Margaret Atwood, the author seeks to redefine the canon.