Originally written for the former Woman-Stirred blog on 8 September 2005
I understand Mary’s delight in discovering Lillian Faderman’s commentaries and encyclopaedic knowledge of lesbian literature; plus Faderman’s understanding of writing which, if not always historically appropriate to claim as ‘lesbian’, certainly has resonances for a lesbian audience and inspires today’s reader with its Woman-Stirred background.
Faderman’s social history of women-loving-women through literature – Surpassing the Love of Men – must be one of the earliest books of lesbian literary criticism I bought as an English Literature undergraduate in the late 1980s, if not the very first. Without this book and Scotch Verdict (another of Faderman’s early texts), my attempts to focus on lesbian themes whenever the opportunity for a self-chosen dissertation topic arose would have been much harder. Faderman provided a sourcebook for relevant texts as well as proof of the value and legitimacy of my chosen topic. She was a pioneer and I wanted to do justice to all of that unspoken, ignored history.
There are other powerful memories linked with Faderman. She includes Marie Corelli in Surpassing the Love of Men, a writer I had already heard about thanks to my mother. When I walked through the cemetery in Stratford-upon-Avon as a child (many of my relatives are buried there as Stratford was my parents’ home town until their early twenties), Mum would also take me past Marie Corelli’s grave and take pride in the fact that Stratford was linked with another famous writer. For Corelli was a phenomenal literary success in her day. She also shared her life and love with another woman – Bertha Vyver – of whom Faderman writes, “She created ‘Marie Corelli’ just as Alice B. Toklas can be said to have created Gertrude Stein”.
I’m sure Mum knew about Corelli’s life with Vyver. Possibly she already had an inkling, then, of how significant lesbian love and literature would become in my life. I was given the impression in those childhood walks that Corelli was a woman who did things differently and cared a huge amount about Stratford-upon-Avon and Shakespeare. That has always impressed Mum, and made a big impression on me, too. Finding Marie Corelli in Lillian Faderman’s book was like being shown confirmation of something very special in my own life.
I realise I’m at risk of presenting myself as a literary lesbian graveside groupie, especially if one of Mary’s earlier posts (scroll down to 19 August 2005) is also to be taken into consideration. But I guess that’s what’s involved sometimes in paying homage to a literary legacy.
After Corelli moved to Stratford-upon-Avon in 1899, she tirelessly crusaded to preserve Shakespeare’s memory. In public she may not have been a supporter of women’s or gay rights; but Corelli believed fervently in the spiritual and romantic superiority of women.
What does this mean to Woman-Stirred?
Through my story, Lillian Faderman assists in uncovering more connections to a ‘lesbian world of Shakespeare’. I know Mary will be happy about that.