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20. Lesbian Fiction 1900–1950

Heather Love

Subject Literature » American Literature

Period 1000 - 1999 » 1900-1999

Key-Topics lesbianism, novel and novella

DOI: 10.1111/b.9780631206873.2009.00023.x


The concept of lesbian fiction is shadowed by a persistent cultural understanding of lesbianism itself as fictional – as secondary, derivative, or “hard to believe.” In contrast to male same-sex relations, generally understood as unlawful or morally outrageous, female same-sex relations have tended to pass under the radar, beneath the notice of the law and off the grid of cultural intelligibility. Because of women's lack of social and economic power, and because there have been few frameworks for imagining active female sexual desire, the idea of two women together was, for most of the history of Western representation, unthinkable. The ignorance surrounding female same-sex relations has sometimes meant that women's desires for each other were protected from criminalization and stigma. At the same time, the “impossibility” of female same-sex desire has made it difficult to forge a lesbian literary tradition: one confronts not only the problem of the “empty archive” (so characterized by Duberman, Vicinus, and Chauncy 1989 ), but also the lingering notion that there is something fictitious or improbable about women's relations with each other. This sense of impossibility has persisted long past the moment of the emergence of a public and visible lesbian community in the United States. Modern public homosexual identity emerged in the US at the end of the nineteenth century and developed ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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