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

Sharon Marcus, Author . Princeton Univ. $65 (356p) ISBN 978-0-691-12820-7 ISBN 978-0-691-12835-1

Queen Victoria would not be amused. In this persuasively argued, provocative book, Marcus makes the case that women in late 19th-century England engaged in intimate friendships—which "the Victorians... believed cultivated the feminine virtues of sympathy and altruism"—that often had a sexual component of visual objectification and even sexual intimacy. Marcus, associate professor of English and comparative literature at Columbia, probes a wide range of the period's culture—novels of Dickens, Trollope and George Eliot; women's fashion magazines; female children's literature; doll stories—to understand a Victorian culture that is not interpreted by "our present-day belief that heterosexual norms dominate all lives." Going against the current academic grain, Marcus maintains that images of women in fashion magazines did not turn women into passive objects but represented women's own "erotic appetite for femininity." Much of Marcus's material will be new to the common reader, and she presents it in plain, engaging prose. Many of her examples are marvelously intriguing: her critique of the conservative opposition to same-sex marriage is bolstered by her documentation of prevalent female-female marriage in the 19th century involving such noted women as Charlotte Cushman, Anne Lister and Rosa Bonheur. This is an important addition to the current literature on sexuality and gender. (Feb.)

Reviewed on: 11/06/2006
Release date: 02/01/2007
Genre: Nonfiction
Hardcover - 356 pages - 978-0-691-12820-7
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