strange fire

books. poetry. paganism. feminism. queerness. blog.

Happy Poem on Your Blog Day! April 30, 2004

Filed under: Uncategorized — andygrrrl @ 6:37 am

Taking Off Emily Dickinson’s Clothes

First, her tippet made of tulle,

easily lifted off her shoulders and laid

on the back of a wooden chair.

And her bonnet,

the bow undone with a light forward pull.

Then the long white dress, a more

complicated matter with mother-of-pearl

buttons down the back,

so tiny and numerous that it takes forever

before my hands can part the fabric,

like a swimmer’s dividing water,

and slip inside.

You will want to know

that she was standing

by an open window in an upstairs bedroom,

motionless, a little wide-eyed,

looking out at the orchard below,

the white dress puddled at her feet

on the wide-board, hardwood floor.

The complexity of women’s undergarments

in nineteenth-century America

is not to be waved off,

and I proceeded like a polar explorer

through clips, clasps, and moorings,

catches, straps, and whalebone stays,

sailing toward the iceberg of her nakedness.

Later, I wrote in a notebook

it was like riding a swan into the night,

but, of course, I cannot tell you everything –

the way she closed her eyes to the orchard,

how her hair tumbled free of its pins,

how there were sudden dashes

whenever we spoke.

What I can tell you is

it was terribly quiet in Amherst

that Sabbath afternoon,

nothing but a carriage passing the house,

a fly buzzing in a windowpane.

So I could plainly hear her inhale

when I undid the very top

hook-and-eye fastener of her corset

and I could hear her sigh when finally it was unloosed,

the way some readers sigh when they realize

that Hope has feathers,

that reason is a plank,

that life is a loaded gun

that looks right at you with a yellow eye.

Billy Collins

A poem about one of the most enigmatic and mysterious American poets, by one of the most straightforward and accessible of them. And it’s a damn sexy poem too. Emily Dickinson is so cryptic and elusive, I can only handle her in small doses; if I try to read straight through a collection of her work my head starts to hurt. And the collection that I have doesn’t include my favorite, “My life has stood, a loaded gun”, which makes me cranky. I tend to enjoy her more when she surfaces in an anthology or if I stumble across her in another book. It’s that contrast between her dense terseness and everybody else’s long rambling epics and flowery language and drawn out metaphors and experimental syntax. I like Collin’s poem because it’s an attempt to really see the woman behind the poetry.

 

Notes of a young feminist poetry geek extraordinaire April 29, 2004

Filed under: Uncategorized — andygrrrl @ 7:50 am

I’m exhilarated and exhausted. Not only because of the March but I also came out to my parents on the phone. Totally unexpected and not how I would have planned it, but they took it well, all things considered. So I feel like I’ve been hit by a truck, basically. Check out Ms. Musings for great links on the March. And don’t listen to the fucking newspapers. There were a million people there; I was one of them. Anyway, Dorothy Allison has got some things I wanna say:

What I don’t hear at conferences is what did in fact bring me to feminism. So let’s go back, let’s begin: Rubyfruit Jungle, Riverfinger Women, Meridian, Wise Blood, The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter, True Story of a Drunken Mother, Snapshots of a Daughter-in-law, The Girl, The Salt Eaters, A Woman Is Talking to Death, Edward the Dyke, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Memoirs of an Ex-Prom Queen, The Bell Jar, Big Blonde and authors like Judy Grahn, Elana Dykewomon, Alice Walker, Adrienne Rich, Carson McCullers, Audre Lorde, Lillian Hellman and Joann Ross.

What was the first feminist book you read? Not Our Bodies, Ourselves or The Feminist Mystique. No, take me back. All the way back. Take me back to the trashy books you read. Take me back to the stuff that you read and that you wanted to be. I’m 54 years old. To quote “Sex and the City,” I’m abso-fuckin’-lutely tired. I read theory. I read to train my language and to sharpen my mind. But I write fiction. I write fiction for a specific, deliberate, reasonable, old lesbian purpose. The world I love is not on the page. The world I understand is not reflected on the page. What made me a feminist were occasional glimpses of my real life on the page.

Let me be clear about what I envision as the future of feminism. When they come around to make the movie of your life, when someone comes around to write the biography of you, as that feminist icon or that revolutionary, world-changing activist you are about to become, for God’s sake, make it more than anything small or pretty or over-romanticized. Make it as revolutionary as this tradition in which we speak has been. Make it so dangerous that people will be scared and unnerved when they read it. Take risks. Make illegitimate children. Get lots of lovers. Try some stuff! Make some difference. Without that courage, without that outside agitation, there will be no future of feminism. There will be no change in this country.

Oh, and along the way, read some novels.



She’s fucking awesome! She’s such a badass; I’d read her stuff but I’m not in the mood for tales of child molestation at the moment.

April is National Poetry Month. I used to know that, but life’s been like a train wreck lately. Tomorrow is Poem on Your Blog Day. I’ll try to come up with something good. I’m kicking myself for leaving my Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson and Immortal Poems of the English Language and especially Sounds Good at home. It’s such a Phillip Larkin day! I love that last collection, Sounds Good. I got it for crazy cheap at Barnes and Nobles a few years ago; it’s a little anthology of poetry that, well, sounds good, that reads well aloud. I miss it, it’s my literary comfort food, I miss it so much it hurts like a toothache.

aha, here we go. Thank god for Google.

The Trees, Philip Larkin

The trees are coming into leaf

Like something almost being said;

The recent buds relax and spread,

Their greenness is a kind of grief.

Is it that they are born again

And we grow old? No, they die too,

Their yearly trick of looking new

Is written down in rings of grain.

Yet still the unresting castles thresh

In fullgrown thickness every May.

Last year is dead, they seem to say,

Begin afresh, afresh, afresh.

 

I am not a pretty girl/that is not what I do* April 23, 2004

Filed under: Uncategorized — andygrrrl @ 9:27 am

I’m off to the big feminist shindig in D.C. this weekend. So if you see a short chick with spiky brown hair and a t-shirt that says “If I had a hammer I’d SMASH patriarchy!”, that’s me! In the mean time, go find out why libraries are terribly sexy, and what some San Francisco librarians did when a vandal destroyed 600 books on GLBT themes.

And I’ll leave you with some of my favorite feminism quotes, since I’ve got my own little soapbox here:

It was we, the people; not we, the white male citizens; nor yet we, the male citizens; but we, the whole people, who formed the Union.–Susan B. Anthony

Feminism has fought no wars. It has killed no opponents. It has set up no concentration camps, starved no enemies, practiced no cruelties. Its battles have been for education, for the vote, for better working conditions.. for safety on the streets… for child care, for social welfare…for rape crisis centers, women’s refuges, reforms in the law.” (If someone says) ‘Oh, I’m not a feminist,’ (I ask) ‘Why? What’s your problem?'”

– Dale Spender, author of “For the Record: The Making & Meaning of Feminist Knowledge”, 1985

I’m not a feminist, but…

I appreciate the right to help choose my government representatives. I enjoy the option of wearing pants or shorts if I want. I’m pleased that I was allowed to learn to read and write. It can be very convenient to control how many babies I want to have. It’s awfully useful to be able to open a bank account and own property in my name. I like knowing that my husband or boyfriend cannot legally beat me. It’s really swell to keep the money that I earn.

–poster from One Angry Girl

Because women’s work is never done and is underpaid or unpaid or boring or repetitious and we’re the first to get fired and what we look like is more important than what we do and if we get raped it’s our fault and if we get beaten we must have provoked it and if we raise our voices we’re nagging bitches and if we enjoy sex we’re nymphos and if we don’t we’re frigid and if we love women it’s because we can’t get a “real” man and if we ask our doctor too many questions we’re neurotic and/or pushy and if we expect childcare we’re selfish and if we stand up for our rights we’re aggressive and “unfeminine” and if we don’t we’re typical weak females and if we want to get married we’re out to trap a man and if we don’t we’re unnatural and because we still can’t get an adequate safe contraceptive but men can walk on the moon and if we can’t cope or don’t want a pregnancy we’re made to feel guilty about abortion and…for lots of other reasons we are part of the women’s liberation movement. ~Author unknown, quoted in The Torch, 14 September 1987

I will choose what enters me, what becomes flesh of my flesh. Without choice, no politics, no ethics lives. I am not your cornfield, not your uranium mine, not your calf for fattening, not your cow for milking. You may not use me as your factory. Priests and legislators do not hold shares in my womb or my mind. If I give it to you, I want it back. My life is a non-negotiable demand. — Marge Piercy

Maybe I’ll grow up and be a hairy-legged pinko cyberpunk queer librarian. Grr!

*I’m not actually a big Ani Difranco fan–I know, I’m such a pitiful dyke–but I love her lyrics, this one in particular.

 

Austen Heroine Deathmatch! April 21, 2004

Filed under: Uncategorized — andygrrrl @ 1:58 pm

Marianne -- The Romantic
You’re Mariane Dashwood from Sense &
Sensibility
! You are the romantic
youngster, also found in Jane Austen’s work as
Catherine of Northanger Abbey and
possibly Georgiana Darcy of Pride and
Prejudice
. You wander through life like Red
Riding Hood in the forest, picking wildflowers
and humming a happy song… and you can’t see
the wolf right in front of you! Ruled by heart
and not by head, you are best advised to to
learn a little caution, before you are forced
into a better acquaintance with the ways of the
world.

Which Jane Austen Character Are You?
brought to you by Quizilla

I am Elinor Dashwood!


Take the Quiz here!


I inevitably come up as either Marianne or Elinor. The truth is, I’m both, and they’re forever duking it out in my head; a quite interesting if a bit schizophrenic way to exist. You’ll see what I mean if I ever get the Daughter of the Forest review up.

(Why oh why can I never get the Elinor picture to show up? I’ve got it saved in my Yahoo Photo album. Can anyone help me out here?)

 

How to Kill a Mockingbird April 19, 2004

Filed under: Uncategorized — andygrrrl @ 12:18 pm

You know that bit where Atticus tells Scout that it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird because they’re harmless and innocent and simply sing all day long?

I bet if a mockingbird decided to run through it’s entire repetoire beneath his window at three in the morning, Atticus would grab his rifle, shove his glasses up on his forehead and start plugging away. Unfortunately I don’t own any firearms so I consoled myself for the lack of sleep by imagining all the different ways you can kill a mockingbird with a book. I got quite creative. For example: Beat it to death with the OED. Read from Joseph Conrad’s Chance until it dies of boredom. Start a forest fire with a book you love to hate. If you want to get really academic and elaborate, you could bury it under a pile of Sumerian cuneiform clay tablets, or whack it with a papyrus roll. I don’t usually indulge my bloodthirsty side but god was it cathartic.

This has been making the rounds of the bookish blogs, trying to see who’s More Literate Than Thou. I’ve read the ones in bold, the ones I want to read are in italics.

Beowulf (I love Seamus Heaney’s translation! “That was one good king”.)

Achebe, Chinua – Things Fall Apart

Agee, James – A Death in the Family

Austen, Jane – Pride and Prejudice (Surprise)

Baldwin, James – Go Tell It on the Mountain

Beckett, Samuel – Waiting for Godot

Bellow, Saul – The Adventures of Augie March

Brontë, Charlotte – Jane Eyre

Brontë, Emily – Wuthering Heights (I hated it the first time, but it’s starting to grow on me.)

Camus, Albert – The Stranger

Cather, Willa – Death Comes for the Archbishop (Who knew the life of a 19th century priest in the Southwest could be so interesting?)

Chaucer, Geoffrey – The Canterbury Tales (I’d like to learn Old or Middle or whatever version of English it is just to read it in the original.)

Chekhov, Anton – The Cherry Orchard

Chopin, Kate – The Awakening

Conrad, Joseph – Heart of Darkness (The horror! The horror! Sorry. Couldn’t resist. It really is horrible. God I hate Conrad.)

Cooper, James Fenimore – The Last of the Mohicans. (Piece. O. Shit. Movie was a million times better than the book, and how often do you get a chance to say that?)

Crane, Stephen – The Red Badge of Courage

Dante – Inferno

de Cervantes, Miguel – Don Quixote

Defoe, Daniel – Robinson Crusoe

Dickens, Charles – A Tale of Two Cities (Two words: Sydney Carton. Only decent thing about it.)

Dostoyevsky, Fyodor – Crime and Punishment

Douglass, Frederick – Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass

Dreiser, Theodore – An American Tragedy

Dumas, Alexandre – The Three Musketeers

Eliot, George – The Mill on the Floss (Hello? Middlemarch?)

Ellison, Ralph – Invisible Man

Emerson, Ralph Waldo – Selected Essays

Faulkner, William – As I Lay Dying

Faulkner, William – The Sound and the Fury

Fielding, Henry – Tom Jones

Fitzgerald, F. Scott – The Great Gatsby

Flaubert, Gustave – Madame Bovary

Ford, Ford Madox – The Good Soldier

Goethe, Johann Wolfgang von – Faust

Golding, William – Lord of the Flies

Hardy, Thomas – Tess of the d’Urbervilles (I love Thomas Hardy in spite of himself. I read this book, and what’s more, I liked it. I must be a literary masochist or something.)

Hawthorne, Nathaniel – The Scarlet Letter (There’s several hours of my life I’ll never get back)

Heller, Joseph – Catch-22 (“Tell them I’ll be back when winter comes.” For some reason that line always sticks in my head.)

Hemingway, Ernest – A Farewell to Arms

Homer – The Iliad

Homer – The Odyssey

Hugo, Victor – The Hunchback of Notre Dame

Hurston, Zora Neale – Their Eyes Were Watching God

Huxley, Aldous – Brave New World

Ibsen, Henrik – A Doll’s House

James, Henry – The Portrait of a Lady (I adore POL)

James, Henry – The Turn of the Screw

Joyce, James – A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (Er, Ulysses anyone?)

Kafka, Franz – The Metamorphosis

Kingston, Maxine Hong – The Woman Warrior

Lee, Harper – To Kill a Mockingbird (Oh god.)

Lewis, Sinclair – Babbitt

London, Jack – The Call of the Wild

Mann, Thomas – The Magic Mountain

Marquez, Gabriel García – One Hundred Years of Solitude

Melville, Herman – Bartleby the Scrivener (that was a wierd little story. But I love the word “scrivener”)

Melville, Herman – Moby Dick

Miller, Arthur – The Crucible

Morrison, Toni – Beloved

O’Connor, Flannery – A Good Man is Hard to Find

O’Neill, Eugene – Long Day’s Journey into Night

Orwell, George – Animal Farm

Pasternak, Boris – Doctor Zhivago

Plath, Sylvia – The Bell Jar

Poe, Edgar Allan – Selected Tales

Proust, Marcel – Swann’s Way

Pynchon, Thomas – The Crying of Lot 49

Remarque, Erich Maria – All Quiet on the Western Front

Rostand, Edmond – Cyrano de Bergerac

Roth, Henry – Call It Sleep

Salinger, J.D. – The Catcher in the Rye

Shakespeare, William – Hamlet

Shakespeare, William – Macbeth

Shakespeare, William – A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Shakespeare, William – Romeo and Juliet

Shaw, George Bernard – Pygmalion

Shelley, Mary – Frankenstein

Silko, Leslie Marmon – Ceremony (damn. I’m supposed to be reading this for the class I’m slacking off in)

Solzhenitsyn, Alexander – One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich

Sophocles – Antigone

Sophocles – Oedipus Rex

Steinbeck, John – The Grapes of Wrath

Stevenson, Robert Louis – Treasure Island

Stowe, Harriet Beecher – Uncle Tom’s Cabin

Swift, Jonathan – Gulliver’s Travels

Thackeray, William – Vanity Fair

Thoreau, Henry David – Walden (selections)

Tolstoy, Leo – War and Peace

Turgenev, Ivan – Fathers and Sons

Twain, Mark – The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

Voltaire – Candide

Vonnegut, Kurt Jr. – George Bergeron (Quoi? Not Slaughterhouse Five?)

Walker, Alice – The Color Purple

Wharton, Edith – The House of Mirth

Welty, Eudora – Collected Stories

Whitman, Walt – Leaves of Grass (well, I’m currently reading it)

Wilde, Oscar – The Picture of Dorian Gray

Williams, Tennessee – The Glass Menagerie

Woolf, Virginia – To the Lighthouse

Wright, Richard – Native Son

It’s just as well I don’t have any career plans, I’ll have plenty of time to finish up this list! Enter that Erasmus quote here, which is all too true in my case. You know the one about spending all your money on books instead of clothes and food.

 

wherein I justify this blog’s name April 16, 2004

Filed under: Uncategorized — andygrrrl @ 2:54 pm

Grabbed from Lady Crumpet



1. Grab the nearest book.

2. Open the book to page 23.

3. Find the fifth sentence.

4. Post the text of the sentence in your journal along with these instructions.

The Woolf’s visit was a great success.

Just my luck. I grab the third volume of The Letters of Virginia Woolf: 1923–1928, and manage to find the most mundane and boring sentence in it. Not any of her letters to Vita Sackville-West or any of the Bloomsbury folks. Just the editors filling in the background. And I even cheated. I’m in the library, so technically the closest book is the Cartoon History of Britain.

I’ve had T.S. Eliot in my head all day. Prufock, specifically. It’s a bit odd.

Shall I part my hair behind? Do I dare to eat a peach?

I shall wear white flannel trousers, and walk upon the beach.

I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each.

It keeps popping into my head, all out of order. Not the perkiest stuff to have on a constant loop.

There will be time, there will be time

To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet;

There will be time to murder and create

And I haven’t read Eliot in forever, so I don’t know why he’s stalking me today. I suppose I’m in an alienated-gloomy-Modernist frame of mind. I’m trying to work on my philosophy paper, trying to find something to say about multiplicitous identities and culture and building coalitions and resistance and I’ll be sitting there thinking–

I have measured out my life with coffee spoons

So much for being productive. I’d much rather have Ogden Nash in my head, he’s funny and it’s too beautiful outside to have a depressed ex-pat poet blathering at you all day.

Let us go then, you and I,

When the evening is spread out against the sky

Like a patient etherised upon a table

Gah. Go away you cranky pseudo-Brit! I’d rather hang out with Dorothy Parker.

 

The Vintage Book of International Lesbian Fiction, and The Woman Who Gave Birth to Rabbits: Stories April 13, 2004

Filed under: Uncategorized — andygrrrl @ 3:16 pm

Two collections of lesbian short fiction, as broadly defined by the editors of the first book. Thought I’d look at them together.

In their introduction to The Vintage Book…, Holoch and Nestle describe how futile it is to apply the word lesbian, a word so specifically located in time and space–it has meaning in this place only, here, right now–to texts written in something like 27 different countries. It reminded me of Terry Castle’s essay I read for class, “Sylvia Townsend Warner and the Counterplot of Lesbian Fiction.” What is lesbian fiction? Fiction about lesbians? Fiction written by lesbians? Fiction about lesbians written by lesbians? (Would Lynne Cheney’s romance novel Sisters qualify? I guess I’ll never know. [/snark])

The Vintage Book… could I think be seen as a response to those questions. Here’s lesbian fiction, it says. Try and define it if you can. Some of it isn’t about lesbianism per se, some of it is written by heterosexual women (could a man write lesbian fiction? I wonder. How about Micheal Cunningham?), some is written by women who qualify as lesbians in Western eyes but don’t use that word or even recognize that category. Some is simple and straightforward; some is experimental and complex. Nearly all of it is in translation. Some of it I loved, and some of it left me cold. Translation’s a tricky thing; can you ever really translate anything? Sometimes I didn’t even notice, it was so smooth and seamless, other times I couldn’t understand it, or couldn’t be bothered to, maybe, and finished the story with the sense of not having read anything at all. Just evaporated in front of me. We always go on about how universal literature is, but really, it’s so culturally specific it’s a wonder we manage to communicate anything at all.

Issues of translation are often central to the stories themselves as author and character search for a way to express or “translate” experiences and emotions into words where words are lacking. (XII) How do you learn to speak in a world that has no language for you? Where you have to talk in a language that is inherently male and straight, to give my obligatory reference to Lacan (I think it’s Lacan, anyway). I’m reading these stories looking for reflections of myself, words that I can use, a place where I can live. I did find something, in stories like Mary Dorcey’s “A Noise from the Woodshed”, a story of an Irish lesbian couple.

Falling into the grass then, the wild red poppies, the cowslips, the speedwell speeding blue all around, waiting all around, the long supple green tassled grass: falling into it two women tired from the business of making a living, a loving, making each day a new living, tired from the business of standing up to be counted–and oh they are counting–never stop–and who started all that business anyway?–tired of counting, two women fall into the cowslips and the lark rises and the gutters wait for another day and philosophy waits and the potatoes lie lazy for another day.

Or in Cynthia Price’s story, which answers the burning question, What do lesbians do in their bedrooms?

They wake in the morning and stretch. They say nasty words to their alarm clocks and curse about having to work
again. On weekend mornings they lie in with their cats and dogs and children, trying not to spill their tea when the family get restless.

A simple page of utterly mundane lesbian bedroom activities, excluding “those private intimate moments shared only between the two of them, not for public viewing, discussion, or curiosity.” A nice story I’d like to print in every newspaper and hand out in a leaflet to every churchgoer.

I’d like to show people these stories. This is what I want, I’d say. What’s so awful about that?

I loved the romance in “Stephanie’s Book”, which I’d like to read in the original French except for the idiosyncratic lack of punctuation, I think it might be too difficult. “Lemon Scent” and “Red Azalea” are quietly erotic stories of hidden love affairs, in India and China, respectively. Baby dykes ogle their French teacher in “Madame Alaird’s Breasts”. Madame Alaird’s breasts gave us imagination beyond our years or possibilities, of burgundy velvet rooms with big-legged women and rum and calypso music. Me, I had no such luck. I was forever being taught by frumpy nuns and matronly old ladies. L and I were both struck by Gerd Brantenberg’s “Four Winds”, where a Scottish girl and a Norwegian girl exchange cuss words:

This–the most wonderful place on the whole body, where all life began, had–on both sides of the North Sea–the worst and most unmentionable name of all. Here there was no difference. The other things you could and couldn’t say were ridiculously different in the two languages. But here they merged into a single gigantic linguisic disgrace. Cunt and fitte…For that was the worst thing that could be said, so it was amazing that it had any sound at all.

A Vagina Unhappy Fact, as Eve Ensler might put it, though she does her best to change that. You haven’t really lived until you’ve gotten a theater full of people to shout “cunt” in cheerleader fashion.

A few lines from Rosamaria Raffiel’s “Forever Lasts Only a Full Moon”, an otherwise unremarkable story IMNSHO, seem to have been photocopied out of my autobiography:

After I met Juliana, I didn’t care anymore if men looked at me in the street, if they invited me out, if I was going to get married or not. I began treating them without considering each one as a possible relationship. I didn’t need their approval to exist.

The collection ends on a light-hearted note with “Minnie Gets Married” by Aussie Gina Schein. A welcome relief after pages of angst and ex-lovers and political strife and just plain post-modern wierdness.

To dearest Minnie, I love and lust after you but I don’t forgive you. I miss sex with you. What a team we were! Your loss, honey. Hot kisses from your bridesmaid, Annie.

The fact that I have a bit of a crush on a certain cute Aussie girl has nothing to do with my personal response to this story. Nope.

“Why did everything happen in the garden?”

“The smell of hot lawn and your gardenias. There was something…labial about them. To put it quite frankly, they smelt of fanny.”

“They didn’t!”

“Yes, Min, I’m afraid they brought out the butch in me.”

“Not in that dress, mate.”

“See what I do for you? I cross-dress for you. Would Steve do that? I’ll even kiss you if you like.”

“If we kiss, then this wedding is finished. My marriage is a sham.”

“Then I will, definitely.”

See, now every time I see gardenias I’m going to blush positively scarlet, I just know it.

Emma Donoghue’s “Looking for Petronilla” is included in The Vintage Book…, and is the last story in her book The Woman Who Gave Birth to Rabbits. In the note that follows, she says “Petronilla de Meath was burnt alive in Kilkenny in 1324. Dame Alice is said to have escaped to England.” Fiction by an Irish lesbian, all of it based on fact, or historical anecdote anyway, footnotes in old books, details from medieval manuscripts, letters and diaries, a Scottish ballad, village gossip, 18th century engravings.

Over the past ten years, I have often stumbled over a scrap of history so fascinating that I had to stop whatever I was doing and write a story about it…So this book is what I have to show for ten years of sporadic grave-robbing, ferreting out forgotten puzzles and peculiar incidents, asking “What really happened?” but also “What if?” (IX) What if Dame Alice really was a witch, a witch who discovered immortality and returns to Ireland after seven centuries, looking for traces of the loyal maidservant who was burnt in her place, the only person she still has any feeling for? How do you decieve half the country into believing you can give birth to rabbits? What if you were tricked into marrying a spinster? What if you survived civil war, only to come home to plague? You finish these stories and you want to start over and read them again. It’s lesbian fiction in the sense that they were written by a lesbian. Some, like “Night Vision”, or “A Short Story”, don’t have any overtly lesbian theme, but they all focus on women’s experiences in some form. In “Cured” Donoghue describes a “fashionable operation” of the 19th century, “where a part is cut away that is not diseased at all. The surgeons do it simply to kill passsion. Simply to make women quieter. Simply because they can.” Apparently famous Victorian doctor Baker Brown felt that any and all health problems (or percieved “problems”) in women could be treated with clitoridectomies. It’s quite frankly a horror story, as is “Revelations”, where religious fanatics starve themselves to death in preparation for the Second Coming (gotta love that old-time religion). Most of them fall somewhere on Rich’s lesbian continuum–women’s relationships with women, from familial to romantic friendships to unrequited or hidden love. A young aristocratic woman falls in love with her governess, Mary Wollstonecraft, in “Words for Things” (can’t say as I blame her, I’ve always been a bit in love with her myself).

On top of that, there’s even an Austen connection. A Janeite surprise, if you will. “Dido” is about Dido Bell, the great-niece of Lord Mansfield.

“Let James Somerset go free.”

“But don’t you see, my dear,” he said, straightening his spectacles with one shaky hand. “I musn’t be swayed by personal loyalties.
Faithful to Virtue Alone, don’t you know.”

“What virtue has a man with no loyalties?”

He winced. “But I have many. The very fact that I am known to have in my family–to be bound by every tender tie, to, to–”

“A mulatto.”

“–to
you, Dido, makes it all the more imperative that I should be seen to maintain objectivity in this most controversial case.”

“I’m not asking a favour for myself,” I told him coldly. “I ask justice for Somerset.”

What really happened when Lord Mansfield delivered the Somerset Ruling? (And what is Sir Thomas’ business in Antigua? Is Mansfield Park about slavery? There’s a few term paper questions for you.) Donoghue’s talent compells you to keep reading, even when you don’t want to know, like in “Revelations” or her novel Slammerkin. I try to skim or glance through and I find myself rereading her stories again for the umpteenth time. She gets inside the heads of these obscure, forgotten people, and you can’t imagine it happening any other way. Of course, you think, that’s what it must have been like. That’s how it must have happened. Stories that are more than true.