Intimate Friends offers a fascinating look at the erotic friendships of educated English and American women over a 150-year period, culminating in the 1928 publication of The Well of Loneliness, Radclyffe Hall's scandalous novel of lesbian love. Martha Vicinus explores all-female communities, husband-wife couples, liaisons between younger and older women, female rakes, and mother-daughter affection. Women, she reveals, drew upon a rich religious vocabulary to describe elusive and complex erotic feelings.
Vicinus also considers the nineteenth-century roots of such contemporary issues as homosexual self-hatred, female masculinity, and sadomasochistic desire. Drawing upon diaries, letters, and other archival sources, she brings to life a variety of well known and historically less recognized women, ranging from the predatory Ann Lister, who documented her sexual activities in code; to Mary Benson, the wife of the Archbishop of Canterbury; to the coterie of wealthy Anglo-American lesbians living in Paris.
In vivid and colorful prose, Intimate Friends offers a remarkable picture of women navigating the uncharted territory of same-sex desire.
Denied higher education and means of self-support, how did passionately attached women live out their relationships? Vicinus (English, women's studies & history, Univ. of Michigan) describes couples who reconfigured themselves using familial labels, couples who considered themselves husbands and wives, communities of expatriate British and Americans, and women who refused to identify as such. She considers how such relationships fared in the male worlds of law (disastrously) and religion (in one case destroying and another case enabling the relationship). Vicinus is challenged not only by her subjects' aversion to labels but also by the destruction of their personal papers by families and heirs. Refusing a progress narrative, she nevertheless chronicles how intimate female friendship moved from being socially sanctioned (but unexamined) to being scrutinized and mischaracterized by the medical profession in the early 1900s, as exemplified by the treatment of Radclyffe Hall. Free of academic jargon, this accessible work deals with several women whose lives have been extensively documented and introduces a handful of lesser-known Victorian writers. Recommended for collections specializing in women's history and gay and lesbian studies. Ina Rimpau, Newark P.L., NJ Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.