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Between Women: Friendship, Desire, and Marriage in Victorian England

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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 marriag 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.


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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 marriag 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.

30 review for Between Women: Friendship, Desire, and Marriage in Victorian England

  1. 5 out of 5

    Andrea Blythe

    In Between Women, Sharon Marcus aims to disprove the misconception that female friendship, desire, and marriage were not contrary to heterosexual relations in Victorian England, as well as to show that "the asexual Victorian woman able only to respond to male advances is a myth -- not a Victorian myth, but our own." She presents three forms of female relationships. The first is female friendship, which was considered to be an important aspect of a woman's education in feminity. It was important i In Between Women, Sharon Marcus aims to disprove the misconception that female friendship, desire, and marriage were not contrary to heterosexual relations in Victorian England, as well as to show that "the asexual Victorian woman able only to respond to male advances is a myth -- not a Victorian myth, but our own." She presents three forms of female relationships. The first is female friendship, which was considered to be an important aspect of a woman's education in feminity. It was important in the Victorian era that a woman maintain friendships with other women, friendships that were intimate and passionate (but nonsexual), otherwise she may be deemed unwomanly by her lack of such friendship. In fact, Marcus shows how female friendship was vital to a successful marriage instead of opposed to it, and presents several novel plots in which the happy marriage at the end would not have been possible without female friendship. The second form of relations involves female desire, namely in the eroticised figures of fashion plates and dolls. Marcus presents evidence that rather than being simply an objectification of women for male desires, fashion plates and dolls were meant primarily to represent and avenue for female enjoyment and pleasure. The third relationship form she looks at are female marriages, in which two women merge their housholds, will their property to their partner, and behave in the same way as any married couple. Marcus shows these marriages were not the antithesis of heterosexual marriage, but an acceptable alternative to it. Women in female marriages were not outcastes, but for the most part accepted as couples in certain circles of society. And in fact it was partially the example of female marriage as contractual that aided in the reform of heterosexual marriages. This book was a fascinating reading, opening my mind to new perspectives about Victorian England. Looking back on the past, it is easy to generalize, often to the result that some aspect of history and culture gets ignored in trying to define it. This book is a reminder that one should not assume that everyone bevaed a certain way in the past, and that culture is as infinitly complicated as in our every day lives. I would certainly recomend this book to anyone interested in Victorian history.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Molly

    Is there anything more written about yet less understood than the desire(s) of the Victorian woman? After Foucault, we no longer see the Victorians as entirely sexually repressed, yet the ways in which those desires are articulated and performed remains problematic. Marcus enters the discourse with a discussion of relationships among females (friendly, maternal, and sexual), which are ubiquitous in Victorian culture and 19th-century marriage plot novels, yet overshadowed by an emphasis on hetero Is there anything more written about yet less understood than the desire(s) of the Victorian woman? After Foucault, we no longer see the Victorians as entirely sexually repressed, yet the ways in which those desires are articulated and performed remains problematic. Marcus enters the discourse with a discussion of relationships among females (friendly, maternal, and sexual), which are ubiquitous in Victorian culture and 19th-century marriage plot novels, yet overshadowed by an emphasis on heterosexual coupling. Marcus shows how this emphasis, predicated on the belief that Victorian women found value and identity solely in heterosexual and heterosocial relationships, may be misread. Using Victorian lifewriting, novels, and fashion plates as her evidence, she argues that women of the 19th-century were primarily focused on their relationships with other women and that for a woman to have her emotional needs and erotic desires met by another woman was not an aberration but rather a cultural norm. There are some fantastic leaps in logic here, and too great a reliance on Freudian interpretation of texts. The idea that a foot protruding from underneath a skirt in a fashion plate is intended or perceived by anyone to represent an erect clitoris is laughable, for example. Yet Marcus does, at the very least, open a discussion of friendship among Victorian women (and men), and invites more analysis of the many varied meanings indicated in the word "friend," especially in the context of the traditional marriage plot.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Elvis

    Oh man, this is the 19th century scholarship I love - lesbo interest, academic, good times. I haven't finished this book, but if it were for a class in school I'd be all up in its grill. see quotes below... "I went with Emily to the skating on asphalt at Princes in Hans place. I never saw a prettier sight - some 200 young women all in more or less graceful motion and dressed in all manner of print dresses with most astonishing and picturesque hats. The beauty of the girls was something to make on Oh man, this is the 19th century scholarship I love - lesbo interest, academic, good times. I haven't finished this book, but if it were for a class in school I'd be all up in its grill. see quotes below... "I went with Emily to the skating on asphalt at Princes in Hans place. I never saw a prettier sight - some 200 young women all in more or less graceful motion and dressed in all manner of print dresses with most astonishing and picturesque hats. The beauty of the girls was something to make one scream with delight. The older I grow the more slave I am to beauty." - from the 1874 diary of Lady Monkswell, married Englishwoman "Today, a woman so susceptible to another woman's attractions would be obligated to qualify her screams of delight by explaining whether she was or was not a lesbian...Nothing could be further from the world of Lady Monkswell, which never delineated a clear lesbian social type and thus accepted female friendship, female marriage, and female homoeroticism as components of conventional femininity. Precisely because Victorians saw lesbian sex almost nowhere, they could embrace erotic desire between women almost everywhere. Female homoeroticism did not subvert dominant codes of femininity, because female homoeroticism was one of those codes." (my underlining) p. 113, "Between Women - friendship, desire, & marraige in Victorian England" by Sharon Marcus

  4. 5 out of 5

    Alex Marcus

    Jane Austen opens her book Pride and Prejudice set in the 18th century with coming into the picture of a young rich man and his pursuit by various female characters. This idea of a conjugal relationship between man and woman is central to novels belonging to that era - marriage to a man being the chief end of a women's existence. On the other hand, for a long time, gender historians looked at the Victorian era with a biased view - women and women could only mean a sexual relationship. Marcus bre Jane Austen opens her book Pride and Prejudice set in the 18th century with coming into the picture of a young rich man and his pursuit by various female characters. This idea of a conjugal relationship between man and woman is central to novels belonging to that era - marriage to a man being the chief end of a women's existence. On the other hand, for a long time, gender historians looked at the Victorian era with a biased view - women and women could only mean a sexual relationship. Marcus breaks these discourses and scholarly inputs and tries to look between the lines of various novels and reads texts and sources by setting aside the 20th-century opinions on deviance to normativity. What comes out of her conclusions is rather surprising. Between women were friendships, eroticism and marriage. Female friendships existed along with heterosexual marriages; they, in fact, promoted the latter. Friendship between women was often central to the lives of Victorian women and was deemed necessary. These were moreover, loathed with words of love and commitment like marriage. Women as spectators of femininity (gazes at fashion plates and dolls) and agents of maternal discipline enjoyed erotic bonds that ran parallel to pornographic trends of the time. These erotic desires most vehemently make their appearance in domestic magazines that were widely circulated. The idea of female marriages was not preposterous but was quite ordinary. Women living together and sharing lives and wills was not uncommon. This elastic ideal of friendship, the mobile object of desire and the plastic institution of marriage are investigated by Marcus via Victorian novels, children's books, life-writings, anthropological narratives and fashion iconography. The analysis of Victorian women in the text stands apart, their relations were not deviance but were accepted and embedded in society. Marcus tries to move away from the idea that every woman-woman relationship was defined by sexuality. She instead defines that being friends was different from being spectators of fashion plates which in turn was different from being the wife of a woman. The Victorian society was rather a complex one and the relations that existed between men, between women and between men and women were rather ambiguous and need an in-depth analysis! Sometimes, Marcus seems to exaggerate her analysis, in order to conform to her hypothesis. For example, trying to analyse the excitement for a new toy as erotic or to analyse female friendships as only preparing women to be good wives. Women were not always merely friends, rivalries existed; not every mother-daughter dynamic was erotic and homosexuals were looked down upon. She tries to justify all that she could in the last few lines of her text: "...marriage and family, gender and sexuality, are far more intricate, mobile and malleable than we imagine them to be. We cannot and should not tidy up that complexity,..."

  5. 5 out of 5

    Cory Blystone

    Odd enough, this gay guy rather enjoyed this lesbian slash dominatrix slash feminist slash can't-tell-the-difference-between-children's-literature-or-a-lady's-home-journal-article-or-pornography-because-they-pretty-much-all-read-the-same book that explores the underbelly of women in Victorian society.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Pam Rosenthal

    I'm no professional, but this may be the best book of academic literary criticism I've ever read. It's definitely one of the most delightful. She writes like a dream -- with a wonderful knack for piling on the info and reasoning and then giving you the summary point as a well-formed witty, simple sentence. Drawing upon a formidable depth of what she calls life-writings of Victorian women, interspersing it with fine, deft readings of Victorian novels -- and (this is really the fun part) digging in I'm no professional, but this may be the best book of academic literary criticism I've ever read. It's definitely one of the most delightful. She writes like a dream -- with a wonderful knack for piling on the info and reasoning and then giving you the summary point as a well-formed witty, simple sentence. Drawing upon a formidable depth of what she calls life-writings of Victorian women, interspersing it with fine, deft readings of Victorian novels -- and (this is really the fun part) digging into magazine writing, advice columns, fashion plates, porn, "doll fiction" (who knew?) -- Marcus takes a generation of late 20th century feminist scholarship, writing and feminist agendas about women's relationships during the Victorian era, gives it a good shake, and comes out with a reasoned, reasonable, convincing view of a set of complex dynamics. Going beyond agendas while respecting the importance of agendas, she helps us see ourselves as well. I'm not doing it justice. But I'll probably be back to try again.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Just A. Bean

    Bit of a mixed bag, but the good far outweighed the tedious. I loved the insights into Victorian society's view and use of female bonds and relationships. Some of the early novel analysis was great, as was the fashion section and the first part of the female marriages. The author is right, I really hadn't heard a lot of these relationships discussed before, especially not in a platonic context, and her points are well made and clear, to the point of seeming obvious once you've read them. A few cha Bit of a mixed bag, but the good far outweighed the tedious. I loved the insights into Victorian society's view and use of female bonds and relationships. Some of the early novel analysis was great, as was the fashion section and the first part of the female marriages. The author is right, I really hadn't heard a lot of these relationships discussed before, especially not in a platonic context, and her points are well made and clear, to the point of seeming obvious once you've read them. A few chapters, namely the ones on Great Expectations and Can You Forgive Her? tended to drag for me.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Mariana

    3,5. A nice, informative book about how victorian women saw other women and how they interacted with each other, as friends, family and lovers (or maybe all three -- it happened). Though, the book is much more dense than it sounds like, and I didn't like that the author took so much space to explain something i.e. how anthropology sees marriage, to then later explain the actual point of the chapter. Like, I'm studying anthropology and I can take it but I see some people might tire. Anyway, as muc 3,5. A nice, informative book about how victorian women saw other women and how they interacted with each other, as friends, family and lovers (or maybe all three -- it happened). Though, the book is much more dense than it sounds like, and I didn't like that the author took so much space to explain something i.e. how anthropology sees marriage, to then later explain the actual point of the chapter. Like, I'm studying anthropology and I can take it but I see some people might tire. Anyway, as much as it was informative and interesting all I got was that every woman is a lesbian at heart, including Reggie's mum.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Nicole

    Parts of this book were interesting, but a lot of it was too academic for my tastes. There were large sections on analyzing novels and I came into this wanting to read about real people not fictional people. The first few chapters were very interesting though!

  10. 5 out of 5

    Gayla Bassham

    I didn't quite finish this because I haven't read the Trollope novel she writes about at the very end and I didn't want to spoil myself. I found the first third of the book insightful and useful, the rest less so. My perspective may be colored somewhat by the fact that I am reading for research purposes and the first third was much more relevant to what I'm working on. The final section, about female (same-sex) marriage in the Victorian era, was interesting and definitely piqued my curiosity beca I didn't quite finish this because I haven't read the Trollope novel she writes about at the very end and I didn't want to spoil myself. I found the first third of the book insightful and useful, the rest less so. My perspective may be colored somewhat by the fact that I am reading for research purposes and the first third was much more relevant to what I'm working on. The final section, about female (same-sex) marriage in the Victorian era, was interesting and definitely piqued my curiosity because I didn't really know anything about it, but I felt that her treatment of it was a bit scattershot.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Paulette Hughes

    An engaging subject, but a very academic book in tone. If you usually read narrative non-fiction, this one will be a bit of a drag for you. It reads like a thesis. But—lots of great historical information here. I admit I skimmed this for research purposes and didn’t read from cover to cover, because much of it was literary criticism for books from the Victorian era I haven’t yet read. The chapter examining the erotic overtones present in feminine fashion plates and the chapter on same sex marria An engaging subject, but a very academic book in tone. If you usually read narrative non-fiction, this one will be a bit of a drag for you. It reads like a thesis. But—lots of great historical information here. I admit I skimmed this for research purposes and didn’t read from cover to cover, because much of it was literary criticism for books from the Victorian era I haven’t yet read. The chapter examining the erotic overtones present in feminine fashion plates and the chapter on same sex marriage in the 19th century were the most interesting to me.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Miriam

    This is a really wonderful book. I was especially impressed with the way that Sharon Marcus combined historical and literary analysis, and "just reading" is a real breath of fresh air in the field. I must say that I was quite surprised at many of her findings, but very positively so. I recommend this book most strongly to anyone looking to learn more about women's relationships in Victorian England.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Abigail

    I really liked this. Smart and full of interesting information.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Libby

    Reading the whole book vastly enriched the assigned chapter but ... I'm not completely sold. Really nicely written though.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Anubha (BooksFullOfLife, LifeFullOfBooks)

    A great book to aware yourself of the various feminist perspective in the victorian era

  16. 5 out of 5

    Avery

    Didn't actually finish this one but I got a good chunk of the way through it, so I'm counting it. Found the writing too dense for my liking although the topic was fairly interesting.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Eileen

    Super interesting and very well done. It took some effort for me to readjust to reading serious academic writing, but once I was in, I was in. I may have to actually buy a copy. - "Counseled to be passive in relation to men, women were allowed to act with initiative and spontaneity toward female friends, and friendship enabled women to exercise powers of choice and expression that they could not display in relation to parents or prospective husbands." p. 56. - "In Victorian lifewriting, passionat Super interesting and very well done. It took some effort for me to readjust to reading serious academic writing, but once I was in, I was in. I may have to actually buy a copy. - "Counseled to be passive in relation to men, women were allowed to act with initiative and spontaneity toward female friends, and friendship enabled women to exercise powers of choice and expression that they could not display in relation to parents or prospective husbands." p. 56. - "In Victorian lifewriting, passionate references to hearts on fire and burning with love are a sure sign that a woman is about to discuss Jesus." p. 63. - "In Victorian fiction, it is only the woman who has no bosom friend who risks becoming, like Lucy Snowe, one whom no man will ever clasp to his heart in marriage, a friendless woman who remains perpetually outside the bosom of the family." - p.108, ref. Villette. - "Victorian commodity culture incited an erotic appetite for femininity in women, framed spectacular images of women for a female gaze, and prompted women's fantasies about dominating a woman or submitting to one. Victorian society accepted female homoeroticism as a component of respectable womanhood and encouraged women and girls to desire, scrutinize, and handle simulacra of alluring femininity." p. 112. - "Fashion, often associated with a sexually charged inconstancy, becomes a respectable form of promiscuity for women, a form of female cruising, in which strangers who inspect each other in passing can establish an immediate intimacy because they participate in a common public culture whose medium is clothing." p. 121. - Corporal punishment is where pornography, usually considered a masculine affair, intersects with fashion magazines targeted at women. [...] Other pornographic publications actually reprinted verbatim material first published in fashion magazines." p. 140. - "Like a mythical figure, the doll simultaneously embodied opposed states: adult and child, husband and wife, slave and mistress, adoring and adored, punisher and punished, subject and object." p. 165. - "Having acquired a girl of her own without submitting to a father or husband, Miss Havisham turns that girl into a phallus. [...] Another way to put this is that Miss Havisham turns Estella into a dildo, a surrogate appendage 'mould[ed[ into the form that her wild resentment, spurned affection, and wounded pride, found vengeance in' (394). [...] Like a dildo, Estella is endowed with the power of the woman who wields her but has no sensation of her own. [...] Put differently, Estella is Miss Havisham's fashion plate and doll, trained to toy with men." p. 174-5, ref. Great Expectations. - "Forced by necessity to construct ad hoc legal frameworks for their relationships, nineteenth-century women in female marriages not only were precursors of late twentieth-century 'same-sex domestic partners,' but also anticipated forms of marriage between men and women that were only institutionalized decades after their deaths." p. 206. - "For marriage between men and women to be equal, feminists argued, single women had to be able to lead practicable and pleasurable lives. The demand to reform marriage began as a quest to make it more equal and more flexible, then evolved into a demand to make it less obligatory. To change the quality of life for the unmarried would alter marriage itself." p. 208. - "If nineteenth-century Europeans did not uniformly assume that the union of man and woman was the only civilized form of marriage it was due in part to the antic heterogeneity of public opinion about what form the institution should take. The 1850s and 1860s were defined by arguments, not agreement, over what constituted marriage and family, and same-sex marriage informed those debates." p. 225. - "Like most middle-class Victorians, Trollope valued intimacy between women as a component of normative femininity and hence as a basis for marriage. Female marriage perturbed Trollope because of its links to a troubling innovation in marriage between men and women -- the feminist reform of marriage into a dissoluble and egalitarian contract. [...] To narrate the triumph of hierarchical marriage and female amity, however, Trollope must acknowledge the existence and attractions of contractual and female marriage as viable social forms legible within the realist novel's social order." p. 228 , ref Can You Forgive Her?

  18. 4 out of 5

    Christi

    Here are notes I made on a scrap of paper as I read. I'm putting them here so I can remember my impressions of the book after I toss the scrap of paper: * I love the close-readings, especially Marcus's attention to language, syntax, rhythm, order, etc. * Marcus is able to make any novel fit into her theory, even when a given plot line appears to contradict it: i.e., "This novel is an exception that proves my argument is the rule." Her ability to craft an answer for everything that challenges her Here are notes I made on a scrap of paper as I read. I'm putting them here so I can remember my impressions of the book after I toss the scrap of paper: * I love the close-readings, especially Marcus's attention to language, syntax, rhythm, order, etc. * Marcus is able to make any novel fit into her theory, even when a given plot line appears to contradict it: i.e., "This novel is an exception that proves my argument is the rule." Her ability to craft an answer for everything that challenges her model is both amusing and impressive. * I was prepared to roll my eyes through the "Just Reading" chapter, in which she proposes and theorizes the radical critical approach of taking novels at face value rather than searching for subversive meanings or implied content. However, the chapter is actually very good. * Marcus's reading of _Shirley_ is a bit uncomfortable because it argues that Caroline's mother essentially proposes marriage to her own daughter. * I'm not sure I understand how Marcus is defining the erotic (p. 114). Is she conflating the erotic with desire? [end of paper scrap]

  19. 5 out of 5

    Caidyn (BW Reviews; he/him/his)

    Don't get me wrong, this is a great book. As the title suggests, it goes into relationships women had with other women, from pure friendships as we define it today to the erotic or lesbian type that people don't really think happened in the Victorian period. There were many interesting points brought up throughout this book, and all of them made me think a bit. Loved the inclusion of so many different topics, although that did make the chapters lengthy and dragged a bit from time to time. However Don't get me wrong, this is a great book. As the title suggests, it goes into relationships women had with other women, from pure friendships as we define it today to the erotic or lesbian type that people don't really think happened in the Victorian period. There were many interesting points brought up throughout this book, and all of them made me think a bit. Loved the inclusion of so many different topics, although that did make the chapters lengthy and dragged a bit from time to time. However, the reason why I bumped it down a star -- overall, I consider this a four star book, maybe more once I do more research into this period (I'm a Tudor era guy myself, not Victorian) -- is the "just readings" she included. They were close readings on different books from the Victorian period, including Far from the Madding Crowd, Great Expectations, and Can You Forgive Her? as ones that I remember being talked about at length. The reason why I bumped the star down is not because they were irrelevant, it's just because I have never read any of the three books and, I can tell you, reading them would have made it less dull and put it into context for me. I fully intend to reread this book once I actually read the three books she really hammered home in terms of female friendships/marriages.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Erica

    Sharon Marcus convincingly argues that female friendship, eroticism, sexuality, desire is NOT contrary to the codes of heterosexual normative marriage in the Victorian period, but rather one of those codes. She shows how female marriage was assimilated into the institution of marriage itself without really raising any flags. Since Victorians saw lesbian sex nowhere, she explains, they were able to tolerate a wide range of female friendship and eroticism everywhere. Contrary to queer readings tha Sharon Marcus convincingly argues that female friendship, eroticism, sexuality, desire is NOT contrary to the codes of heterosexual normative marriage in the Victorian period, but rather one of those codes. She shows how female marriage was assimilated into the institution of marriage itself without really raising any flags. Since Victorians saw lesbian sex nowhere, she explains, they were able to tolerate a wide range of female friendship and eroticism everywhere. Contrary to queer readings that situate homosocial, homoerotic, or homosexual desire as contrary, subversive, inverted, or minority, Marcus shows how female homosocial bonds and eroticism are all over the Victorian period by "just reading" the novel rather than reading them symptomatically. She says that we don't need to read symptomatically when female friendship is right there in the middle of the marriage plot, driving the engine of the narrative forward through its very stability and stasis. Female friendship doesn't threaten marriage, she explains, but rather is a catalyst for marriage--and female friendships often survive wife-hood and maternity in the Victorian period. This book is a refreshing antidote to condemnations of Victorian "repressive" sexuality. She shows how desires for the same sex (at least with women) were incorporated into Victorian ideals of domesticity and hetero-normativity, rather than existing contrary to those institutions.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Laura

    I have no idea what I just read. I mean, okay, I get that her basic premise was "we assume that lesbianism was taboo/not thought of in Victorian society, but actually things were more complicated!" But even after reading the book, I don't know how she came to that conclusion. She offers up examples (little girls and their dolls, lesbian couples advocating for marriage reform, the Estella/Miss Havisham subtext in Great Expectations) but the writing was so dense and academic, I couldn't make heads I have no idea what I just read. I mean, okay, I get that her basic premise was "we assume that lesbianism was taboo/not thought of in Victorian society, but actually things were more complicated!" But even after reading the book, I don't know how she came to that conclusion. She offers up examples (little girls and their dolls, lesbian couples advocating for marriage reform, the Estella/Miss Havisham subtext in Great Expectations) but the writing was so dense and academic, I couldn't make heads or tails of what these examples were supposed to mean or how they supported her thesis. Like, in the conclusion, she says (paraphrased) "people hold up Oscar Wilde as an example of how homosexuality and heterosexuality were at odds in Victorian society, but he wrote a lot about women's relationships with each other!" It's like a Mad Libs game: none of the conclusions match up with the evidence given in the previous paragraph.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Avory

    This is a very academic book, and a good chunk of it focuses on literary analysis of books I haven't read. It's slow-going, but that said, I enjoyed the book. Marcus focuses on female friendship, female desire, and female marriage separately, and she meshes literature with culture and law. I found the female culture especially interesting, and she reads the literature in a way I definitely wouldn't have picked up on reading it myself.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Jessica

    This book changed everything I thought about women's relationships and female-female homoeroticism in Victorian England, and really opened up a lot of the texts I read - including some of my favorite novels. This book examines friendship, sex, business and social relationships, and even female marriages. If you're interested in Victorian novels, the history of women, or LGBTQ issues, read this book.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Robert

    I found the first two chapters rather heavy going as the evidence Sharon provides seemed conflicting and I wasn't sure where she was going. From Chapter 3 on, though, it becomes really interesting. I was, however, reminded at times of how the conclusions of literary analysis can be, at times, more than a little far-fetched.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Jennifer

    This is a truly innovative study of same-sex relationships in the Victorian period. I was most fascinated by Marcus's argument that women's intimacy actually supported and reinforced heterosexual marriage rather than opposing it.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Heather

    This is a really, really excellent book, both in terms of its specific claims about women in Victorian England and in the broader theoretical revisions it makes to queer theory. If I could write a book like this, I would consider my academic career a success.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Anneke Alnatour

    Truly makes one look differently at history, gender roles and the institute of marriage... Eye opening AND entertaining! Recommended for anyone interested in women's studies, history and/or the Victorian era.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Sue

    "Tipping the Velvet" made me hungry for more Victorian romping. I love this time period. And I love the femininity of it all.

  29. 5 out of 5

    pearl

    Went to add this to my to-read, only to realize that it was already there haha...

  30. 5 out of 5

    Meg Cain

    Very repetitive and dry. Has many interesting points but is overly long and tedious.

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