Sapphistries: A Global History of Love between Women (Intersections)

Sapphistries: A Global History of Love between Women (Intersections)

Leila J. Rupp

Language: English

Pages: 314

ISBN: 0814777260

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub

From the ancient poet Sappho to tombois in contemporary Indonesia, women throughout history and around the globe have desired, loved, and had sex with other women. In beautiful prose, Sapphistries tells their stories, capturing the multitude of ways that diverse societies have shaped female same-sex sexuality across time and place.

Leila J. Rupp reveals how, from the time of the very earliest societies, the possibility of love between women has been known, even when it is feared, ignored, or denied. We hear women in the sex-segregated spaces of convents and harems whispering words of love. We see women beginning to find each other on the streets of London and Amsterdam, in the aristocratic circles of Paris, in the factories of Shanghai. We find women’s desire and love for women meeting the light of day as Japanese schoolgirls fall in love, and lesbian bars and clubs spread from 1920s Berlin to 1950s Buffalo. And we encounter a world of difference in the twenty-first century, as transnational concepts and lesbian identities meet local understandings of how two women might love each other.

Giving voice to words from the mouths and pens of women, and from men’s prohibitions, reports, literature, art, imaginings, pornography, and court cases, Rupp also creatively employs fiction to imagine possibilities when there is no historical evidence. Sapphistries combines lyrical narrative with meticulous historical research, providing an eminently readable and uniquely sweeping story of desire, love, and sex between women around the globe from the beginning of time to the present.

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sexually repressive Christian-dominated Europe pinpoints Christian doctrine and practice as the killer of eros. But this interpretation has come under attack, especially by two scholars whom we have already briefly met, coming from diametrically opposed positions. One, Bernadette Brooten, has already provided her fascinating evidence of recognition of love between women in the Mediterranean world. But we should start with the late John Boswell, author of two controversial books on Christianity

is the first denunciation of female same-sex sexuality and is the focus of the second half of Brooten’s book. As we have seen, Brooten pulls together a wide variety of sources from the world in which Christianity emerged to argue that Paul’s denunciation of female same-sex sexuality in Romans 1:26 is consistent with Greek, Roman, and Jewish perspectives on love between women. The only real In Unlikely Places 45 difference, she suggests, is that early Christian theology put male and female

who exercise their lust on other women and pursue them like men” and defilement of one woman by another.105 Throughout western Europe by the beginning of the fourteenth century, the death penalty became the norm for women convicted of what was generally considered sodomy, calling usually for burning at the stake, the same penalty as for heresy. In 1565, French jurist Jean Papon ruled that “two women corrupting one another together without a male are punishable unto death.”106 In the Orthodox

domestic servant named Greta “loved young daughters, went after them, . . . and she also used all the bearings and manners, as if she had a masculine affect.”110 Greta was neither a hermaphrodite (what we would now call intersexed— the authorities checked) nor a wielder of a penis substitute, and perhaps as a result she did not arouse serious concern. The chronicler who reported on Greta noted that “among the learned and well-read one finds this thing is often encountered among the Greeks and

Addie’s dream of living with Rebecca was not to be. Addie married her suitor, stopped writing to Rebecca, and died of tuberculosis at age twenty-nine. Rebecca also married but lived into old age, saving Addie’s letters. It would seem that this romantic friendship was neither compatible with heterosexual marriage nor innocent of sexual pleasure— at least the caressing of breasts. In the case of Anne Lister, who suspected that the Ladies of Llangollen shared more than simple companionship, romantic

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