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.
"Sharon Marcus adduces a variety of evidence to make a compelling case that such relationships were omnipresent and, far from being framed in terms of envy and rivalry between women, or as dangerously and transgressively competing with women's relationships with men, they were conceived of as benign and desirable and contributing helpfully to the network of connections supporting heterosexual unions. . . . [T]his is an outstanding study of a neglected phenomenon."--Lesley Hall, Times Higher Education Supplement
"The study's packed scholarly discourse will doubtless create new dialogue about these gender descriptions and their implications for the modern day. Abundant chapter notes and primary and secondary bibliographic entries make this a good research source."--S.A. Parker, Choice
"Between Women is one of those books that instantly, radically, and convincingly alters your understanding of terrain you thought you couldn't know any better...Marcus powerfully revises more than a century's worth of theory, arguing persuasively that women are capable of objectifying women, that women possess the gaze, as well as the capacity for domination, and that women's homoerotic desire was fully compatible with heterosexuality and femininity.... Between Women has important things to say, not just to Victorianists, literary critics, feminists, and queer theorists, but to all of us."--Rebecca Steinitz, Women's Review of Books
"Every once in a while a book comes along that, in offering readers an in-depth and provocative assessment of an archive, promises to change--irreversibly--a field or two. Between Women is such a study."--Carla Freccero, Gay and Lesbian Quarterly
Table of Contents
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