Goodreads Synopsis: Women in Victorian England wore jewelry made from each other’s hair and wrote poems celebrating decades of friendship. They pored over magazines that described the dangerous pleasures of corporal punishment. A few had sexual relationships with each other, exchanged rings and vows, willed each other property, and lived together in long-term partnerships described as marriages. But, as Sharon Marcus shows, these women were not seen as gender outlaws. Their desires were fanned by consumer culture, and their friendships and unions were accepted and even encouraged by family, society, and church. Far from being sexless angels defined only by male desires, Victorian women openly enjoyed looking at and even dominating other women. Their friendships helped realize the ideal of companionate love between men and women celebrated by novels, and their unions influenced politicians and social thinkers to reform marriage law.
Through a close examination of literature, memoirs, letters, domestic magazines, and political debates, Marcus reveals how relationships between women were a crucial component of femininity. Deeply researched, powerfully argued, and filled with original readings of familiar and surprising sources, Between Women overturns everything we thought we knew about Victorian women and the history of marriage and family life. It offers a new paradigm for theorizing gender and sexuality–not just in the Victorian period, but in our own.
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This is the type of historical read that I live for! At the moment I can’t remember how I found this book, it honestly might have been completely at random. But I’m so glad I stumbled upon it!
Academic literary criticism is not something I read very often, so I don’t have much to compare this book with. But I will say this was a really great reintroduction into the genre as it was much easier to read than I feared it would be. The book doesn’t get bogged down with too much technical jargon. Sharon Marcus looks at friendship and couplings between women throughout the Victorian era, examining letters and memoirs as well as pornography, children’s literature and more. All to talk about the way that lesbians lived during the Victorian era. This book is a fascinating look into the lives of people that today we think of as prudish. If ever you’ve read a book from this era and wondered if two female characters were in love, according to Marcus, it’s very possible that they actually were! Marcus suggests that the lines between friendships and romantic relationships was far more fluid to the Victorians than it is to us. Which honestly is an idea that greatly interested to me.
Between Women is a hard book to recommend because the genre is really very niche, but for anyone interested in Victorian history or LGBTQA+ history should definitly keep this book in mind. It’s one of those books were you don’t really need to read the entire book to get something out of it, individual chapters are great on their own. Someday I would really love to own this book for future reference. I gave this book four stars on Goodreads.