What are the names that shine in lesbian literature?

In an article published in The Conversation last year, I referred to lesbian literature as a little-known object of literary study: little studied, difficult to pinpoint, despite its interest in both the history of female literature and by the way, in the twentiethi and XXIi centuries, we think literary theory.

Lesbian history breaks established canons, narrative norms, linguistic codes: beyond its point of social, romantic, political, or philosophical anchorage — depending on the angle from which one prefers to approach the subject of lesbianism — it deeply questions the literary object and its definitions.

Absent names and encrypted and hidden names

However, Traude Bührmann, a German writer for the review Lesbian Magazine during the 1980s and 1990s, he was asked in November 1994: “What are the names that shine in lesbian literature? […] What is the importance of names in lesbian literature? Because the answer is not obvious.

On the one hand, these names are too little known. They are cultures that spread by word of mouth, books that find it difficult to publish, distribute and then read. No history is made of it, except in militant circles or in countercultural circles; it remains inaccessible to a large majority of the public and its distribution has long been based on the voluntary commitments of a few.

On the other hand, the names of lesbian literature have been encrypted by some of the authors. Some of them write their work or part of their work under a pseudonym. The example that made lesbian audiences speak the most (even in France) during the second half of the 20th centuryi century, is certainly that of Patricia Highsmith: author of successful thrillers, published under the pseudonym Claire Morgan The price of salt in 1952 (first translated by Stolen water by Emmanuelle de Lesseps, then known as nadala). Rumors circulated, but the true identity of the author was not revealed until 1990.

In addition, the encryption of the names is linked to a novelistic work characteristic of the lesbian literature of the seventies: at the time of the New Novel and the novelistic deconstructions in particular, “most of the protagonists do not they had their own names, “recalls Traude Bührmann.

“They were called me, sometimes you or her. To know who I am, you or her and in what story, I need to know the name of the writer, the title of the book and maybe the date or place of its publication. “This protagonist, therefore, has no independent life, no independent future. He has no name that can shine freely and eternally in the skies of the lesbian cosmos.”

And then, of course, if the names of lesbian culture are sometimes difficult to remember, it is also because they are kept silent, victims of a double silence: what usually marks the cultural history of women, what weighs social recognition. of lesbianism. In recent weeks we have often seen the denial of Rosa Bonheur’s lesbian life, the work of which stands out in this anniversary year. The death of Hélène de Monferrand on February 14, 2022, had almost no media coverage, not even a literary one: she was, however, one of the leading authors of lesbian literature in the 1990s.

It wasn’t until the opening of Monique Wittig’s garden in September 2021 that the word “lesbian” first appeared on a public plaque in France; in March 2022, the tribute to Suzanne Leclézio and Yvonne Ziegler does not mention her homosexuality and presents the second as the “volunteer friend” [sic !] of the first.

If you need names …

It is difficult, therefore, to see the names of lesbian literature shining. The article “What Lesbians Do in Literature” already mentioned a large number; those of the best known authors, but to tell the truth, the article forgot many others.



Read more: What Lesbians Do in Literature


Even focusing strictly on the French history of lesbian literature (the definition of which is problematic, I refer to this point in the previous article and especially in the book to be published), we could have quoted, for example, the authors listed by Paula. Dumont in the four volumes of his lesbian dictionary among womenwhose names are scattered throughout the twentieth centuryi and XXIi centuries. Or those – and here there will be negligence again – Gabrielle Reval, Jeanne Galzy, Hélène de Zuylen, Renée Dunan, Élisabeth de Clermont-Tonnerre, Célia Bertin, Juliette Cazal, Hélène Bessette, Irène Monesi, Françoise Mallet-Joris, Suzanne Allen, Nella Nobili, Rolande Aurivel, Jocelyne François, Mireille Best, Maryvonne Lapouge-Pettorelli, Danielle Charest, Geneviève Pastre, Cy Jung, Danièle Saint-Bois, Sabrina Calvo, Évelyne Rochedereux, Wendy Delorme, Ann Scott, Élodie Petit, Joëlle Sambi , most recently Pauline Gonthier, Tal Piterbraut-Merx, Jo Güstin, Alice Baylac (etc.).

This is still nothing if we do not also mention the names of all those who, for decades, have tried to recover this story, bring it to life, publish it and disseminate it despite the resistance encountered in the literary field. Mention should be made of the appearance of lesbian publishing houses in the late 1990s, the evolution of specialized publishing and criticism to the present day: Edicions Geneviève Pastre, Edicions Gaies i Lesbianes, Edicions KTM, Homoromance, etc. In addition to the names already given, it is necessary to cite the beginnings of theorizing contributed by Marie-Jo Bonnet in her important work Love affairs between women in the 16th centuryi century in the twentiethi century ; the work provided by the Lesbian Archives, as well as by the magazines that began to emerge in the 1970s. when women fall in love, From now on, Lesbian i vlasta especially in France, whose pages have noted the literary and artistic criticism of Catherine Gonnard, Suzette Robichon, Michèle Causse, Elisabeth Lebovici, Hélène de Monferrand, Danielle Charest, Évelyne Auvraud, Odile Baskevitch, Chantal Bigot and others. For more than forty years, they have carried out a very valuable work of research, analysis and historicization of lesbian culture, a work that is sometimes little recognized.

Today this basic work is broadcast and deepened by all paper platforms (Jane’s Magazine, first panther, The breaking wave), digital (Roman Lesbien, Lesbien raison, Mx Cordelia, Planète Diversité and many others) or radio (the work of Clémence Allerard on France Culture in particular, Gouinement Monday, Radio TALK) that make known the history of lesbian literature. . It is impossible to mention all the names, all the places: they abound, perhaps especially in recent years.

With regard to literary research, this recent profusion is, in any case, especially flagrant, although it does not yet correspond to the obvious recognition of this subject of study. Although it has been carried out since the late 1980s by pioneering researchers such as Gaële Deschamps and Catherine Écarnot, it has long struggled to institutionalize itself. Beyond the monographic theses that often address the subject of lesbianism in literature, relatively few scientific articles are published in France on this issue. We can cite in this sense the work of Marta Segarra, or the especially important work done recently by Marie Rosier and Gabriela Cordone, mainly on the Spanish-speaking lesbian scene: in one of the latest issues of the university magazine Besançon Sken & graphy as well as in the magazine Movements, have recently struggled to analyze what lesbianism can mean in literature, the history of its theorizations, and the commitment to further research on these issues. Finally, we can cite the very clear enthusiasm of young researchers for the subject: it seems that the number of theses explicitly devoted to lesbian literature has increased enormously since 2020, and more and more projects are being launched to promote it. Big Tata electronic presentation).

We also realize a gap between the research aspirations and the content already available, when we try to gather study days or seminars on this topic. A number of researchers are involved in the topic: the success of the conference Sapphic vibrations in March 2019, organized at the University of Mulhouse, is a testament to this. However, the subject of lesbianism is still much less treated and less mastered within the university than its male counterpart: the difficulties faced by the organizers of courses or seminars who want to address the issue of the relationship between literature. and homosexuality being conscious. of the gender parameters to be taken into account, the sessions of which, in short, include a good majority of male referents.

A story to reread, new research to carry out

These lists are long and tedious: it’s true. But they also make it clear that lesbian literature (French in this case) is far from having only two or three names isolated from each other; it has a long and rich history, nurtured by decades of dialogue between writers, activists, students and researchers, readers, archivists, publishers and booksellers.

We tried, in a book to be published in late May by Editions du Cavalier bleu, Write in violet ink. Lesbian literature in France from 1900 to the present, to trace this story. That is to say: 80% of the copyright of the work will be paid to the LIG, in order to recognize the totally collective dimension of this research.

Aurore Turbiau, Margot Lachkar, Camille Islert, Manon Berthier, Alexandre Antolin, Writing in Violet Ink. Lesbian literature in France from 1900 to the present, Paris, Le Cavalier bleu, 2022.

Our study began in 1900: after centuries of almost complete silence, several openly lesbian works were published in France. Then, from the roaring twenties to the postwar period, from the militant history of the 1970s to the birth of the post-1990 trade edition, to the boiling of the early 21st.i century, there are hundreds of texts that explain and theorize their own existence. It covers all genres: self-narratives, science fiction and fantasy novels, poetry, comics, formal experimentation, theater, romantic and detective novels, children’s literature, song.

Traude Bührmann also said, on the names of lesbian literature, that “once the characters have specific names and auras, they represent themselves and are inscribed in the memory of readers with their unique figure and face. his fingers and his breath. […] Names can write a story. Names can express ideas, evoke a worldview. We hope this book, Write in violet inkit will help to give material to this fragile and abused memory, which in turn will be able to participate in making these names shine “in the sky of the lesbian cosmos” (and literature in general!).


This article has been reviewed by the co-authors of the book “Writing in purple ink”: Margot Lachkar, Camille Islert, Manon Berthier and Alexandre Antolin.

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