Sapphic Literature

Queer literary classics: a gender-changing nobleman, girls' of the Lord... from Lesbian literature it's a lesbian WWI ambulance driver who instigates a UK TRAIL and, a book ban!

Sapphic Books   |   Sapphic Poets

Lesbian Literature

Slap my wrist - I am a terrible novel reader. It's partly because (why is this word so dissed?), I fail to pick up on where I have left, and also because I hate silence. I love, however, short stories ala Oscar Wilde, Angela Carter. So please forgive this short list of Classic Lesbian Fiction that I recommend. It comprises of a few lesbian novels which Cameo Girl suggested to me when I was seeking to find out which team I played for and, when gays were rarely depicted in movies and television.

At the time, some lesbian Literature rocked my boat, yet generally I was disappointed by the "...then their vines intertwined" metaphors! Moreover, some sapphic books where so heavy going that I felt I was a climbing a H.U.G.E mountain to to reach the end. Though not a fiction reader, BRAVO to those early novelists for their huge couraggio in publishing their liberating prose, and in particular to Radclyffe Hall ...

for The Well of Loneliness and her subsequent nightmare trial.

1928 - In July of 1928, Radclyffe Hall's The Well of Loneliness was published in which the most raciest line was... "she kissed her full on the lips like a lover". But, the protagonist, Stephen Gordon, was not a He but a... She (groovers, rememver this is 1928 :). Malicious editor of The Sunday Express, James Douglas, wrote that he "would rather give a healthy boy or a healthy girl a phial of prussic acid than this novel." Subsequently, Douglas launched an evil campaign to suppress the book, which rose all the way up to Britain's Home Secretary, Sir William Joynson-Hicks. The Prime Minister, Stanley Baldwin, his Chancellor, Winston Churchill, and Home Secretary Sir William Joynson-Hicks went to great lengths to suppress the book. Douglas's relentless bullying pushed matters to court and a trial for the novel, The Well of Loneliness, being obscene began on November 9, 1928 at Bow Street Magistrates' Court, London.

Hall's publisher mailed 160 letters to potential witnesses who might be willing to stand against the trail. Only 57 courageous esteemed writers and scientists, replied, of which many of whom were ready to defend the novel's social and political function as a call for equality and freedom.

Documents record how the Director of Public Prosecutions, Sir Archibald Bodkin, wrote to several doctors asking for a clinical analysis of what he called "homo-sexualists". In a letter to the Regius Professor of Medicine at the University of Oxford, Sir Farquhar Buzzard, he wrote: "I want to be able to call some gentleman of undoubted knowledge, experience and position who could inform the court of the results to those unfortunate women (as I deem them) who have proclivities towards lesbianism, or those wicked women (as I deem them) who voluntarily indulge in these practices - results destructive morally, physically and even perhaps mentally."

Through Sir William Henry Willcox, consulting medical adviser to the Home Office and physician at St Mary's Hospital in London, Bodkin got the testimony he needed: "[Lesbianism] is well known to have a debasing effect on those practising it, which is mental, moral and physical in character," he said. "It leads to gross mental illness, nervous instability, and in some cases to suicide in addicts to this vice. It is a vice which, if widespread, becomes a danger to the well-being of a nation..." Willcox further elaborated that the publication of The Well of Loneliness, would risk its being read "by a large number of innocent persons, who might out of pure curiosity be led to discuss openly and possibly practise the form of vice described."

On 16 November 1928, the chief magistrate, Sir Chartres Biron, ruled that the novel The Well of Loneliness was an "obscene libel" and ordered that it be destroyed. Poignantly, Hall's contemporary, Virginia Woolf's Orlando was published on the 11 October 1928, three months later, which features a male nobleman who undergoes a mysterious change of sex, but Orlando was never banned. The Well of Loneliness was finally re-published in Britain in 1949, by Falcon Press with no legal challenge, sadly after Radclyffe Hall's death.

1979 - present: Gay's the Word, 66 Marchmont St, London, opened, and become the UK's oldest LGBT bookshop. Imagine, for three years I walked by it everyday to get to my Hall of residents (Canterbury Hall) and was too shy to go in, nor join the UCL gay Society! I am real a muppet!

1988 - Section 28 / Clause 28 of the Local Government Act was enacted on 28th May 1988. It was a condemning piece of UK legislation that stated that a local council "shall not intentionally promote homosexuality or publish material with the intention of promoting homosexuality" or "promote the teaching in any maintained school of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship".

Imagine books like ????? being banned at High School.

To set the time: in the late '80s the spread of AIDS brought about widespread fear, much of which was directed at gays and bi's, as some believed (completely falsely) that they played a key factor in the spread of AIDS. In 1983, the Daily Mail reported that a copy of a book entitled Jenny Lives With Eric & Martin, about a little girl who lives with her father and his gay partner, was provided in a school library run by the Labour-controlled Inner London Education Authority. Later, parents contacted Baroness Knight, Chairman of the Child and Family Protection Group, strongly objecting to their children at school "being encouraged into homosexuality and being taught that a normal family with mummy and daddy was outdated".

Quoting Baroness Knight: "They gave me some of the books with which little children as young as five and six were being taught. There was The Playbook for Kids about Sex in which brightly coloured pictures of little stick men showed all about homosexuality and how it was done. That book was for children as young as five. I should be surprised if anybody supports that. Another book called The Milkman's on his Way explicitly described homosexual intercourse and, indeed, glorified it, encouraging youngsters to believe that it was better than any other sexual way of life. This all happened after pressure from the Gay Liberation Front. At that time I took the trouble to refer to their manifesto, which clearly stated: 'We fight for something more than reform. We must aim for the abolition of the family'."

2000 - Section 28 / Clause 28 was repealed in Scotland and in 2003, the rest of the UK. In 2018, Baroness Knight, said during an interview she was sorry if the law "hurt" anyone. At the time, I was not out to myself so I shied away from Clause 28 and it's impact. While researching this and in hindsight, it is utterly shocking that the UK, in the 1980's, would enact such a legislation. Moreover, some of my gay girl friends have given birth to beautiful kids - hurrah. I desperately hope all children will grow up in a nurturing gay-friendly and non prejudice school environment. Having said that, call me an advocator of the innocence of youth, I would wish no child of mine to be taught sex education at the age of five! When the time feels right, I would rather hint subtly about the birds 'n the bees.

2019 - Staying with UK school education, FOOK-OFF Birmingham demonstrators who protested outside Anderton Park Primary School, against LGBT+ and same-sex families equality teaching. Bravo to the High Court judge who said activists protesting against LGBT+ equality lessons had "grossly misrepresented" what was being taught to children and ruled in favour of a permanent exclusion zone to protesters around Anderton Park Primary School, Birmingham.

Footnote: Not only are gay books banned / requested to be banned but other genres of book have been in contention, for example... Harper Lee's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel To Kill a Mockingbird for it's discussion of sexuality and rape, strong language and use of the n-word. Imagine To Kill a Mockingbird being banned! Long let freedom of creativity reign.

Sapphic Books: Orlando - Virginia Woolf

Orlando ❤

Dashing nobleman Orlando is commanded by Queen Elizabeth I to stay forever young. He lives through several centuries experiencing a variety of lives, relationships and, gender changes...

Author: Virginia Woolf | Published: 1928

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Sapphic Books: The Well of Loneliness - Radclyffe Hall

The Well of Loneliness

Gent, fails to find love and understanding. Her "inversion" is revealed to her mother, who orders her to leave home. While serving in an all-woman ambulance WWI corps, she falls in love...

Author: Radclyffe Hall | Published: 1928

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Sapphic Books: The Price of Salt - Patricia Highsmith

The Price of Salt

Aspiring photographer working in a Manhattan department store serves an alluring lady. A glove left at the counter. The lady invites her on road trip to escape her difficult divorce proceedings...

Author: Patricia Highsmith | Published: 1952

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Sapphic Books: Desert of the Heart - Jane Rule

Desert of the Heart

Uptight woman Professor, in the 1950s, goes to a Nevada ranch to establish six weeks of residency in order to obtain a quickie divorce. She becomes drawn (aye :) to the ranch owner's daughter...

Author: Jane Rule | Published: 1964

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Sapphic Books: Thérèse and Isabelle - Violette Leduc

Thérèse and Isabelle

Disenchanted French teen is abandoned by her loving mother who remarries and left at a boarding school. There she meets older rebellious girl...

Author: Violette Leduc | Published: 1968

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Sapphic Books: Rubyfruit Jungle - Rita Mae Brown

Rubyfruit Jungle

Adopted girl is aware of her lesbianism and has flings at high school. When her relationship with her uni roommate is discovered, she is put into their psychiatric ward...

Author: Rita Mae Brown | Published: 1973

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Sapphic Books: The Color Purple - Alice Walker

The Color Purple

A black Southern American woman struggles to find her identity after suffering abuse from her father and others over four decades...

Author: Alice Walker | Published: 1982

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Sapphic Books: Zami: A New Spelling of My Name - Audre Lorde

Zami: A New Spelling of My Name

Biomythography, chronicling Audre Lorde from her childhood in Harlem weak and half-blind to her coming of age, to happiness in friendship, work and S.E.X!

Author: Audre Lorde | Published: 1982

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Sapphic Books: Curious wine - Katherine V. Forrest

Curious wine

Broken-up girl needs a break and her colleague friend convinces her to stay at a friend’s log cabin in Lake Tahoe for a ski weekend with some other women. Enter high powered lawyer...

Author: Katherine V. Forrest | Published: 1983

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Sapphic Books: Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit - Jeanette Winterson

Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit

Adopted and brought up, North, as one of God's elect, zealous Orange is destined for life as a missionary. Holy Moly, then she falls for one of her converts...

Author: Jeanette Winterson | Published: 1985

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Sapphic Books: Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe - Fannie Flagg

Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe

Unhappy housewife befriends an old lady in a nursing home and is enthralled by the tales she tells of a 1920's tomboy beecharmer and a preacher's daughter...

Author: Fannie Flagg | Published: 1987

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Sapphic Books: Aimée & Jaguar - Erica Fischer

Aimée & Jaguar

Nazi officer's wife meets and starts a passionate affair with a Jewish woman who lives under a false name and belongs to an underground organisation, in 1943 Berlin...

Author: Erica Fischer | Published: 1994

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Sapphic Books: The Sewing Circle -  Axel Madsen

The Sewing Circle ❤

Revealing the fascinating double life of "The Sewing Circle", a group of Hollywood clandestine lezzas and bi's that included such famous stars as Greta Garbo, Marlene Dietrich, Tallulah...

Author: Axel Madsen | Published: 1995

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Sapphic Books: Two Friends: And Other Nineteenth-Century Lesbian Stories By American Women Writers -  Susan Koppelman (Editor)

Two Friends...

Koppelman demonstrates in 11 short stories by 19th-century female writers, the different ways that lesbianism could be made ambiguous, so as to ensure the social acceptability of an author...

Editor: Susan Koppelman | Published: 1995

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Sapphic Books: Tipping the Velvet - Sarah Waters

Tipping the Velvet

Victorian young seaside waitress falls in love with charming music hall male impersonator. They move to London, waitress joins the act- happy. Then cheated upon (of-course), but new loves...

Author: Sarah Waters | Published: 1998

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Sapphic Books: Truly Wilde: The Unsettling Story of Dolly Wilde, Oscar's Unusual Niece - Joan Schenkar

Truly Wilde...

Truly Wilde: The Story of Dolly Wilde, Oscar's Unusual Niece. Dolly frequented the salons and the bedrooms of some of London's and Paris's most interesting women...

Author: Joan Schenkar | Published: 2000

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Sapphic Books: Fingersmith - Sarah Waters


Young thief, engages in a scam to defraud a young heiress of her inheritance by becoming her maid, in Victorian England. Things take an unexpected turn when maid and heiress...

Author: Sarah Waters | Published: 2002

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Sapphic Books: The Secret Diaries Of Miss Anne Lister - Anne Lister

The Secret Diaries Of Miss Anne Lister

Landowner orphan lives with her aunt and uncle who her anxious for her to marry well. She is betrayed by her lover who succumbs to a lavender marriage so must seek new love...

Editor: Helena Whitbread | Published: 2010

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Sapphic Books: Under the Udala Trees - Chinelo Okparanta

Under the Udala Trees

In the Nigerian Biafran civil war, her father is killed and her mother is forced to send her away to live with family friends. There she develops a friendship with another orphaned war girl...

Author: Chinelo Okparanta | Published: 2015

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