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Citizen, Invert, QueerLesbianism and War in Early Twentieth-Century Britain$
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Deborah Cohler

Print publication date: 2010

Print ISBN-13: 9780816649754

Published to Minnesota Scholarship Online: August 2015

DOI: 10.5749/minnesota/9780816649754.001.0001

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Boy-Girls and Girl-Boys: Postwar Lesbian Literary Representations

Boy-Girls and Girl-Boys: Postwar Lesbian Literary Representations

(p.151) Chapter 5 Boy-Girls and Girl-Boys: Postwar Lesbian Literary Representations
Citizen, Invert, Queer

Deborah Cohler

University of Minnesota Press

This chapter explores the textual and extratextual lives of three British novels, all published within a few months at the end of 1928, each of which takes female same-sex eroticism as its subject. These are Radclyffe Hall’s The Well of Loneliness, Compton Mackenzie’s Extraordinary Women, and Virginia Woolf’s Orlando. These novels represent female same-sex eroticism, but also mobilize tropes of Englishness, nationalism, and cultural difference to produce female homosexuality as a culturally legible identity. Whereas Hall notoriously attempts to position her congenital invert as a rightful inheritor of pastoral nineteenth-century England in contrast to colonial others, Mackenzie constructs his playful Sapphic tourists in opposition to all things British. These nationalist moments are best highlighted not only through close readings of the three novels and their medical, geopolitical, legal, and literary contexts, but also through examinations of the marketing, pricing, production, distribution, and reception of the novels by their intended (and unintended) reading publics in the closing days of the 1920s. By reading the textual and cultural intersections of narratives of nationalism and colonialism with those of gender inversion and sexual deviance, the chapter illustrates the interdependence of national identity and sexual identity in the emerging representation of lesbianism in the interwar years.

Keywords:   female same-sex eroticism, Radclyffe Hall, The Well of Loneliness, Compton Mackenzie, Extraordinary Women, Virginia Woolf, Orlando, female homosexuality, national identity, sexual identity

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