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Heterosexual Plots and Lesbian Narratives

Marilyn R. Farwell
Copyright Date: 1996
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 248
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  • Book Info
    Heterosexual Plots and Lesbian Narratives
    Book Description:

    What is lesbian literature? Must it contain overtly lesbian characters, and portray them in a positive light? Must the author be overtly (or covertly) lesbian? Does there have to be a lesbian theme and must it be politically acceptable? Marilyn Farwell here examines the work of such writers as Adrienne Rich, Marion Zimmer Bradley, Jeanette Winterson, Gloria Naylor, and Marilyn Hacker to address these questions. Dividing their writings into two genres--the romantic story and the heroic, or quest, story, Farwell addresses some of the most problematic issues at the intersection of literature, sex, gender, and postmodernism. Illustrating how the generational conflict between the lesbian- feminists of twenty years ago and the queer theorists of today stokes the critical fires of contemporary lesbian and literary theory, Heterosexual Plots and Lesbian Narratives concludes by arguing for a broad and generous definition of lesbian writing.

    eISBN: 978-0-8147-2884-0
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-x)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. xi-xii)
  3. Foreword
    (pp. xiii-xvi)

    Despite the efforts of lesbian and feminist publishing houses and a few university presses, the bulk of the most important lesbian works has traditionally been available only from rare-book dealers, in a few university libraries, or in gay and lesbian archives. This series intends, in the first place, to make representative examples of this neglected and insufficiently known literature available to a broader audience by reissuing selected classics and by putting into print for the first time lesbian novels, diaries, letters, and memoirs that are of special interest and significance, but which have moldered in libraries and private collections for...

  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xvii-xx)
  5. ONE When Is a Lesbian Narrative a Lesbian Narrative?
    (pp. 1-25)

    As a not-so-closeted lover of opera, I sometimes imagine what a lesbian opera might look like. The prospects are dim. Nineteenth-century romantic opera celebrates excessively and ecstatically heterosexual romance in a way that tests one’s feminist let alone one’s lesbian politics. Woman is both the object of adulation and of erasure in this strange art form that idealizes Maria Callas’s ability to sing triumphantly about the victimization of Lucia di Lammermoor. As a feminist critic, I know that opera is about a plot and that the Western plot is male and heterosexual. In a book about opera libretti,Opera, or...

  6. TWO Narrative: The Elastic Project
    (pp. 26-62)

    When seen as a set of ideological codes, narrative is an institution but not an innocent one, an artificial system but not an arbitrary one. It is a complex system that encodes both sexuality and gender, both of which rest upon male centrality, but it is an historically determined structure rather than a Platonic absolute. Those writers who have, in recent years, explored its gender and sexual biases have identified two primary patterns: the heterosexual, asymmetrical gender pattern and a pattern of male bonding which, according to Eve Sedgwick, is also heterosexual and dependent on a female Other. Western culture’s...

  7. THREE The Lesbian Subject: A War of Images
    (pp. 63-107)

    In the last one hundred years, three critical moments of theorizing the lesbian subject have put this category into discursive circulation. For some critics, these three moments constitute a progressive narrative. The story goes something like this. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, male sexologists such as Richard von Krafft-Ebing and Havelock Ellis gained control of the definition of lesbian. From their male and heterosexual perspective, the lesbian was a woman trying to be a man. According to Esther Newton, Ellis understood female desire outside of male control or presence only in terms of “fusing inversion and masculinity”...

  8. FOUR The Romantic Lesbian Narrative: Adrienne Richʹs “Twenty-One Love Poems” and Marilyn Hackerʹs Love, Death, and the Changing of the Seasons
    (pp. 108-136)

    Sappho’s lyrical poems and Shakespeare’s sonnets are considered problematic homosexual texts. Vast intellectual effort has been expended to prove that these two paradigmatic poets of Western love lyricism did not write on homosexual topics despite the seemingly obvious indications to the contrary. Joan Dejean in her book,Fictions of Sappho, catalogues, among other topics, historical commentators who deny Sappho’s homoerotic poetic subjects and some who even “find themselves in the delicate position of attempting to disprove Sappho’s homosexuality without actually naming that which they claim she was not” (2). Dolores Klaich uncovers a more recent scholarly attempt to argue for...

  9. FIVE The Heroic Lesbian Narrative: Marion Zimmer Bradleyʹs The Mists of Avalon and Gloria Naylorʹs The Women of Brewster Place
    (pp. 137-167)

    The heroic lesbian narrative is one of the most popular of contemporary lesbian literary forms, whether in the story of the dashing single heroine of Rita Mae Brown’sRubyfruit Jungleor the Utopian lesbian community in Katherine V. Forrest’sDaughters of a Coral Dawn. As a single, “severely literal” heroic figure, the lesbian character in popular lesbian fiction offers a sense of power and possibility to hungry lesbian readers who have encountered little either inside or outside of school which portrays them with anything but disdain. As could be expected, these stories are satisfying because writers assign the active narrative...

  10. SIX The Postmodern Lesbian Text: Jeanette Wintersonʹs Sexing the Cherry and Written on the Body
    (pp. 168-194)

    Following on the late nineteenth-century’s depiction of the lesbian as a monstrous creature whose body exceeds all cultural—or what the sexologists would call “natural”—boundaries, the postmodern lesbian subject is a figure of bodily and sexual monstrosity intent on shocking a complacent society. It is also natural that the generation of lesbian theorists following the lesbian-feminists should reinstate the body, desire, and sexuality as central to lesbian identity. But by constructing images of a grotesque and excessive body and clothing, these contemporary lesbian theorists defy both the nineteenth-century medical and literary communities of heterosexual males and the lesbian writers...

  11. SEVEN Conclusion
    (pp. 195-200)

    Narrative is, as Roland Barthes has said, everywhere (Image79), and as such, it is or should be a recognizable part of our theoretical projects as well as our fiction. Nowhere is this structure more apparent than in the generational antagonism that pits one theory or “ism” against another. Relying on problematic assumptions of better insight or a different context, a younger generation claims to surpass its elders in vision and in truth. In the clash with the evil predecessor, the monster Error, the more theoretically sophisticated, usually younger writers supplant and conquer their adversary, setting up a simple linear...

  12. Works Cited
    (pp. 201-216)
  13. Index
    (pp. 217-228)
  14. Back Matter
    (pp. 229-229)