Slap my wrist - I not a book worm. 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 Books 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 rose 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 reach the end. Though not a fiction reader, BRAVO to those early lesbian 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.
Author: J. Sheridan Le Fanu | Published: 1872
Deep in the Austrian forest, in an isolated castle, a teenager leads a solitary life with only her ailing father for company. One moonlit night, a horse-drawn carriage brings an unexpected guest - the beautiful Carmilla...
Carmilla, predates Bram Stoker's Dracula (1897) by circa 26 years and spawned the lezza vampire movie genre!
Adaptations - Movie: Et Mourir De Plaisir (Blood and Roses) (1960), Dir: Roger Vadim | Mel Ferrer & Elsa Martinelli.
Author: Liane de Pougy | Published: 1901
Set in the Belle Époque, after a performance, a beautiful courtesan meets a young American and they start a passionate yet turbulent affair ...
At the time it was published, Idylle Saphique shocked French readers with its amorous lesbian love story. The novel is based on Liane de Pougy's affair with legendary Natalie Barney. Liane was a famous dancer of the Folies-Bergère music hall, who also gained notoriety as a courtesan yet had various lesbian relationships with dancers, writers and actresses of fin de siècle Paris.
A hundred and twenty years later, Idylle Saphique was finally translated into English, titled A Woman's Affair, in 2021.
Author: Lydia Zinovieva-Annibal | Published: 1906
Hmmm, I googled until my fingers turned pink, but, no synopsis?
As one of the first openly lesbian novella in Russia, Thirty-Three Abominations and the Devil was apparently banned in Russia. FYI Lydia Dmitrievna Zinovieva-Annibal (1866–1907) was a Russian writer and dramatist whose partner was poet Vyacheslav Ivanov... a man.
Author: Nobuko Yoshiya | Published: 1916 - 1925
Flower Tales comprises of 52 tales of romantic friendships and often female-female desire. Check out Yellow Rose (Kibara - Translated by Sarah Frederick): on a train to her new teaching post, teacher meets final year student whose clutching a bouquet of yellow roses...
From 1916-1924, Nobuko's Flower Tales, were originally serialised in a girl's magazine Shoujo Gahou and were classed, as Class S literature described platonic relationships based on strong emotional bonds and very close friendship. Class S literature became extremely popular but sometimes crossed lines, so the Japanese government banned Class S literature in 1936 until after WWII.
Author: Anna Elisabet Weirauch | Published: 1919
Over three volumes a growing girl searches for love and her acceptance of her "different" sexuality, during the Weimar Republic...
Der Skorpion is accoladed as a pioneering novel of lesbian literature that depicts lesbian love in a positive way. FYI in German, a Skorpion ('scorpion'), is a more masculine-presenting lesbian. Under the guise that it could corrupt young woman, in 1926, Der Skorpion was not widely distributed in Germany.
Author: Compton Mackenzie | Published: 1928
During WWI, young Italian Rosalba lands on the island of Sirene with two women in tow: the monocled Aurora (Rory), and the hopelessly devoted Giulia but, soon there are others, too ...
Hands-in-the-air - it's written by a B.O.Y, BUT the novel's ensemble cast is apparently based on some of the legendary gay Capri set and Natalie Barney's circle, who Compton met there: Rosalba = Maria Franchetti (the daughter of Venetian composer Baron Alberto Franchetti), Rory = Radclyffe Hall, Giulia = Francesca Lloyd (?), pianist Olimpia = Romaine Brooks, Cleo = Renata Borgetta ...
1928, a bumper year for lesbians in English fiction: Woolf's "Orlando", Bowen's discreet "The Hotel", Hall's "The Well of Loneliness" and Mackenzie's "Extraordinary Women". Only Radclyffe's novel was banned. Apparently the uK Home Office toyed with banning "Extraordinary Women" but decided that Compton's novel was less likely to "inspire readers to adopt the practices".
Author: Virginia Woolf | Published: 1928
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...
Virginia Woolf specifically wrote Orlando for her ex-lover and fellow writer Vita Sackville-West. Sackville-West's son Nigel Nicolson would later call Orlando "the longest and most charming love letter in literature".
Adaptations - Movie: Orlando (1992), Dir: Sally Potter | Stars: Tilda Swinton & Charlotte Valandrey
Author: Radclyffe Hall | Published: 1928
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...
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. The Well of Loneliness was finally re-published in Britain, 21 years later, in 1949, by Falcon Press with no legal challenge - sadly after Radclyffe Hall's death.
Author: Mary Casal (pen name of Ruth Fuller Field) | Published: 1930
A glimpse into the life of a real turn-of-the-century lesbian - her journey of self-discovery and relationships with women, including a commercial artist, a theosophist, and a famous male impersonator of the vaudeville stage ...
Ruth's true identity wasn't discovered until 2003, during research undertaken by Sherry Ann Darling for her doctoral thesis: A Critical Introduction to The Stone Wall: An Autobiography (Tufts University.)
Although some of Ruth's views in her autobiography are completely outdated like... masturbation causes illness (seriously!) she did advocate for better sex education for children and cognised that women have sexual desires that need to be met just as well as men do.
Author: Patricia Highsmith | Published: 1952
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...
Originally, Patricia Highsmith's publisher, Harper & Bros, rejected the manuscript for The Price of Salt, while her literary agent warned her that she was committing career suicide by publishing a blatantly lesbian novel. The manuscript was accepted by Coward-McCann and published in hardcover in 1952 under the pseudonym "Claire Morgan".
Adaptations - Movie: Carol (2015), Dir: Todd Haynes | Stars: Cate Blanchett & Rooney Mara
Author: Jane Rule | Published: 1964
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...
At the time, Desert of the Heart was one of the very few American lesbian novels that was published in hardback form. From the 1950s until 1969, American fiction featuring lesbian content was considered as lesbian pulp fiction.
Adaptations - Movie: Desert Hearts (1985), Dir: Donna Deitch | Patricia Charbonn & Helen Shaver
Author: Violette Leduc | Published: 1966
Disenchanted French teen is abandoned by her loving mother who remarries and left at a boarding school. There she meets older rebellious girl...
The tale of Thérèse et Isabelle originally appeared in Violette Leduc's manuscript for a novel called Ravages. The first hundred and fifty pages comprised a semi-autobiographical depiction of two schoolgirls in a torrid lesbian relationship. Violette's publishers refused to print it. Ravages was published in 1955, BUT, without its opening lesbian section. Ten years later, a different publisher agreed to print the excised material as a stand-alone novella, although they still insisted on certain cuts for legality. This was the original 1966 form of Thérèse et Isabelle. Nearly thirty years after Violette's death, the fully uncensored version was finally published in French in 2000.
Adaptations - Movie: Thérèse et Isabelle (1968), Dir: Radley Metzger | Essy Persson & Anna Gaël
Author: Rita Mae Brown | Published: 1973
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...
Rubyfruit Jungle was applauded for being both explicit and witty – which was trailblazing considering past lesbian literature doom and gloom. In 2015, Rita Mae Brown was awarded the Lee Lynch Classic Book Award from the Golden Crown Literary Society for Rubyfruit Jungle.
Author: Alice Walker | Published: 1982
A black Southern American woman struggles to find her identity after suffering abuse from her father and others over four decades...
In 1983, The Color Purple won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1983, making Alice Walker the first black woman to win the prize and she also won the National Book Award for Fiction.
Yet, between 1984 to 2013, for various reasons The Color Purple was banned from school libraries in the United States. The challenges were all eventually overruled. In 2017, The Color Purple was banned from all Texas State Prisons for explicit language and graphic depictions of violence. Watch the documentary Alice Walker: Beauty in Truth (2013) - I was truly mortified, to hear, in this documentary, what an AWFUL backlash Alice Walker received after the publication of The Color Purple, for over FIVE years, from the... African-American community, particularly, from African-American men!
Author: Audre Lorde | Published: 1982
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!
Through Zami: A New Spelling of My Name, Audre Lourde created a new literary genre / literary term: biomythography. Biomythography is a style of composition that weaves myth, history, and biography.
Author: Katherine V. Forrest | Published: 1983
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...
"Today stereotypes like the ones I addressed between the lines in Curious Wine are virtually nonexistent for one basic reason: We came out." Katherine V. Forrest.
Author: Jeanette Winterson | Published: 1985
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...
Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit, is divided into eight sections, named after one of the first eight books of the Bible. It also contains references to numerous literary works, historical figures and aspects of popular culture, including: Jane Eyre, George Eliot's Middlemarch, Old-English poem Beowulf...
Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit won the Whitbread Prize for best first fiction and it has been included on both GCSE and A-Level reading lists for education in England and Wales.
Adaptations - BAFTA-winning TV Series: Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit (1989), Dir: Beeban Kidron | Charlotte Coleman & Emily Aston
Author: Fannie Flagg | Published: 1987
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...
Adaptations - Movie: Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe (1991), Dir: Jon Avnet | Stars: Mary Stuart Masterson & Mary‑Louise Parker.
Though the movie, Fried Green Tomatoes, rocks it was criticised by audiences (like myself), reviewers and activists for what was seen as "glossing over" the lesbian relationship which was clear in the book. Yet, it is still a stellar movie with glorious quotes: "You're just a bee charmer, Idgie Threadgoode. That's what you are, a bee charmer". "Towanda!".
Editor: Helena Whitbread | Published: 1988
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...
When first volume of Anne Lister's diaries was published in 1988, it was hailed as a vital piece of lost British lesbian history. One sixth of Anne Lister's diaries are encrypted in code which was derived from a combination of algebra and Ancient Greek. It was deciphered by John Lister (a descendant) and his friend Arthur Burrell, in the early 1930s.
Adaptations - TV Series: Gentleman Jack (2019), Creator: Sally Wainwright | Suranne Jones & Sophie Rundle. Movie: The Secret Diaries Of Miss Anne Lister (2010) Dir: James Kent | Maxine Peake & Anna Madeley
Author: Emma Donoghue | Published: 1993
Thirteen fairy tales are magical retold... Cinderella forsakes the handsome prince and runs off with the... fairy godmother!
Kissing the Witch: Old Tales in New Skins was shortlisted for a James Tiptree Award and named an American Library Association Popular Paperback for Young Adults. I sooooooooooo, hugely, recommend Angela Carter's The Bloody Chamber (1979) which won the 1979 Cheltenham Festival Literary Prize which is a collection of ten prick up your ears fairy tales.
Author: Erica Fischer | Published: 1994
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...
The novel is based on the real lives of Lilly Wust, a married mother of four whose husband was a Nazi officer, and Felice Schragenheim a Jewish woman who assumed a false identity during the WW2. Aimée & Jaguar won a Lambda Literary Award in 1996.
Adaptations - Movie: Aimée & Jaguar (1999), Dir: Max Färberböck | Maria Schrader & Juliane Köhler. Play: Aimée & Jaguar (2014), Script: Aimée & Jaguar
Author: Axel Madsen | Published: 1995
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...
Hugely enlightening! Axel Madsen (1930 – 2007) was a Danish-American biographer and journalist. Also, check out The Girls: Sappho Goes to Hollywood (2013) by Diana McLellan and the fabulous, Celluloid Closet (1995) documentary. And check out my dream Sewing Circle.
Editor: Susan Koppelman | Published: 1995
In 11 short stories by 19th-century female writers, Susan Koppelman demonstrates the different ways that lesbianism could be made ambiguous, so as to ensure the social acceptability of an author...
The anthology includes short stories by Sarah Orne Jewett, Kate Chopin, and Mary E. Wilkins. Susan Koppelman was the first woman to receive ACA's (American Correctional Association?) Governing Board Award for Outstanding Contributions to American Culture Studies
Author: Sarah Waters | Published: 1998
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...
Tipping the Velvet was Sarah Waters debut novel which won her the Lambda Literary Award for lesbian fiction and the Betty Trask Award. The BBC adaptation caused much flutters as it featured a Victorian... dildo!
Author: Joan Schenkar | Published: 2000
Truly Wilde: The Story of Dolly Wilde, Oscar's Unusual Niece. Dolly Wilde frequented the salons and the bedrooms of some of London's and Paris's most interesting women, including Natalie Barney...
"I am a darting trout; shifting, glancing & flashing my iridescent tail in a hundred pleasant pools!" Dolly Wilde
Flamboyant Dolly Wilde was charged with charm, wit and was loaded with sexual allure. She was a "born writer" (niece of Oscar Wilde) who never completed the creative mark she could have had.
Author: Sarah Waters | Published: 2002
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...
Fingersmith won the CWA Historical Dagger for Historical Crime Fiction and was shortlisted for the Orange Prize and Man Booker Prize.
Adaptations - TV Series: Fingersmith (2005), Dir: Aisling Walsh | Elaine Cassidy & Sally Hawkins. Movie: The Handmaiden (2016) Dir: Chan-wook Park | Stars: Min-hee Kim & Jung-woo Ha (Fab!). Play: Fingersmith (2015), Script: Alexa Junge
Author: Chinelo Okparanta | Published: 2015
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...
Under the Udala Trees was a finalist for the 2017 International Dublin Literary Award, it won the 2016 LAMBDA Literary Award for Lesbian Fiction and earned Chinelo a place on Granta's prestigious 2017 list of the Best of Young American Novelists.
FYI 2022 LGBT rights in Nigeria: