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Are Girls Necessary?

Are Girls Necessary?: Lesbian Writing and Modern Histories

Julie Abraham
Copyright Date: 1996
Edition: NED - New edition
Pages: 240
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  • Book Info
    Are Girls Necessary?
    Book Description:

    In this analysis of twentieth-century lesbian writing, Julie Abraham offers new readings of pulp novelists alongside high modernists—authors as various as Gertrude Stein, Willa Cather, Mary Renault, and Virginia Woolf—to examine how these writers created new lesbian narratives. _x000B_

    eISBN: 978-0-8166-6658-4
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
  3. Preface: “Are Girls Necessary?”
    (pp. xi-xxiv)
  4. Introduction: “I Have a Narrative”
    (pp. 1-38)

    Insofar as there yet exists a critical commonplace about the relationship between lesbianism and literature, it is that literary lesbianism is to be found in “lesbian novels”—tortuous romances of fragile female couples. Embedded in this commonplace is the assumption that lesbian novels offer the sum of lesbian existence, even though, with their conflicted heroines poised at the border of a twilight world, they tend to represent lesbianism as an excess of sex, sin, and torment. However contested the accuracy of any particular novel, the formula on which lesbian novels depend has been treated by readers and critics alike not...

  5. Part I:: “Tell the Lacadaemonians”

    • 1 Willa Cather’s New World Histories
      (pp. 41-60)

      Willa Cather dramatized her problematic relation to the heterosexual plot inO Pioneers! (1913), her second novel but the one in which she first essayed her characteristic methods and subjects.¹ Sharon O’Brien has traced Cather’s rejection of “the ‘one string’ of female narrative—the often-repeated tale of ‘women and love’ she disliked in nineteenth-century women’s writing.” InO Pioneers!, O’Brien observes, Cather “Refus[es] to give” her protagonist Alexandra Bergson “the conventional romantic story that ends in marriage,” and “also declines to punish her with death.”² Alexandra, whose world is the land she farms rather than the home that is supposed...

    • 2 Mary Renault’s Greek Drama
      (pp. 61-78)

      Mary Renault did not begin to publish until the late 1930s, afterThe Well of Lonelinessand its trial had established the parameters of the “lesbian novel” and the understanding of the relation between lesbianism and literature that the lesbian novel represents.¹ She was dismissive of Hall’s work.² Nevertheless, she was as committed as the lesbian novel was to the conventions of realist fiction and to love and sexuality as subjects. However, Renault not only occupied the lesbian writer’s problematic narrative position, but she was interested in representations of relationship as well as romance. Consequently, she needed to write beyond...

  6. Part II: “Love Is Writing”

    • 3 Washington, James, (Toklas), and Stein
      (pp. 81-120)

      Gertrude Stein liked to talk about modern art—her own writings and the paintings of others—by talking about camouflaged annon and trucks. She returned again and again, for example, to a memory of World War I. InThe Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas(1932), it was

      The first year of the war, [when] Picasso and Eve, with whom he was living then, Gertrude Stein and myself, were walking down the boulevard Raspail a cold winter evening. There is nothing in the world colder than the Raspail on a cold winter evening, we used to call it the retreat from...

    • 4 Djuna Barnes, Memory, and Forgetting
      (pp. 121-138)

      “Looking at her,” Djuna Barnes began her description ofNightwood’sNora Flood, “foreigners remembered stories they had heard of covered wagons.”¹ Of the salon Nora presided over before the action of the novel has begun, Barnes wrote,

      At these incredible meetings one felt that early American history was being re-enacted. The Drummer Boy, Fort Sumter, Lincoln, Booth, all somehow came to mind; Whigs and Tories were in the air; bunting and its stripes and stars, the swarm increasing slowly and accurately on the hive of blue; Boston tea tragedies, carbines, and the sound of a boy’s wild calling; Puritan feet,...

    • 5 Virginia Woolf and the Sexual Histories of Literature
      (pp. 139-168)

      Gertrude Stein invokes Napoleon’s retreat from Moscow in her anecdotes about cannon, history, and representation. Virginia Woolf invokes “the retreat from Moscow” at a paradigmatic moment inMrs. Dalloway(1925), when this history is offered as an alternative to heterosexuality.¹ After Clarissa Dalloway returns from her June morning walk through London’s West End, observing the city, ordering the flowers for her party that evening, “Like a nun withdrawing, or a child exploring a tower, she went upstairs” to “the heart of life; an attic room” where “The sheets were clean, tight stretched in a broad white band from side to...

  7. Afterword: “Reading and the Experiences of Everyday Life”
    (pp. 169-172)

    I have written here about the relations among a series of subjects: lesbian novels and lesbian writing, lesbianism and the literary, lesbian and gay studies and literary criticism. The fulcrum of my discussion of these relations—and often I would argue the fulcrum of these relations—is narrative: the uses, the limits, and the possibilities of narrative. For the purpose of my discussion, I have concentrated on two narrative patterns. On the one hand, the heterosexual plot: “Reader, I married him,” of which “it would be Carol, in a thousand cities,” is a significant variant, but nevertheless still a variant....

  8. Notes
    (pp. 173-206)
  9. Index
    (pp. 207-214)
  10. Back Matter
    (pp. 215-215)