Need a Book Recommendation

I am looking for a nonfiction book that will tell me all about Parisian lesbian subculture in the late 19th century–preferably related to women's higher education in some way.

I am embarrassed to tell you why, but here goes.  I have been working on the plot of a silly romance novel and a piece of it turns on the existence of such a subculture.  It doesn't take place there throughout most of the story, but there's a scene or two requiring it.  In fact, the whole drama really depends on the fact of such a subculture's existence.

It can be anywhere from, oh, 1875-1900.  That's in my period, but my expertise is in the U.S., not France!  Help?  Thank you in advance!

If I can get a bit of "research" done by November, I'm thinking of doing NaNoWriMo.

11 responses to “Need a Book Recommendation

  1. Leslie Choquette has an article about lesbian and gay public spaces in 19-century Paris in a book of essays, “Homosexuality in French History and Culture.” There’s another article in there about the Palais-Royale and Gay Culture in Paris. I have no idea what period the two essays cover, but maybe their footnotes will be useful, even if their texts aren’t?

  2. One more:
    There’s an essay about working-class lesbians in Paris between 1870 and 1930 in Homosexuality in Modern France — the title is Invisible Women so it’s almost unthinkable that the author won’t have cited all the research on literary/educated lesbians, don’t you think? ;-)
    I can’t figure out which studies of lesbian Paris after WWI are the most reliable, but I would assume that the best of them include some discussion of the pre-war environment, and that the footnotes would be your friends.

  3. You can also look at writings about Colette. Among educated/literary circles, one’s sexual preference was still mostly a matter of personal preference, although it shocked the bourgeois establishment. Not that far from what it’s now.

  4. Check into Renee Vivian — a little later, but again some footnotes might help out.

  5. A little later than you’d like, but a fantastic study:
    Benstock, Shari. Women of the Left Bank: Paris, 1900–1940. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1986.
    -longtime lurker

  6. Lot’s Wife: Lesbian Paris, 1890-1914 by Catherine Van Casselaer, published by Janus Press in 1986. May be out of print but probably can be found through the usual channels, interlibrary loan, Alibris et al. Bon chance!

  7. i have asked my beloved sister-in-law the french professor to comment if she knows of anything. she’s on vaca w/out internet, but hopefully she’ll have some leads as well.

  8. I was going to say the same thing as Janet up there: Benstock’s Women of the Left Bank — a little later, but still wonderfully detailed. I’ll also ask a friend who has a friend writing a dissertation on this topic.
    I wonder whether you might be able to write Sarah Waters, whose work I’m sure you know. As an historian (trained & pedigree’d), she might be able to direct you to Parisian details of the subculture & period she’s written about in London. (website at:
    Yay, a NaNoWriMo serialized Parisian lesbo historical novel!
    (longtime quasi-lurker)

  9. Considering the fact that all I can seem to find is either 100 years earlier than this period or 20 years later, I will suggest it as a topic for anybody planning to write a dissertation on French history! Seems to be a gap.

  10. Christi Brookes ( she’s at Central Michigan State) did her diss on 19ème women and correspondence (roughly). She might have some contacts for you.

  11. Alistair Horne’s The Seven Ages of Paris also has references to a lesbian sub-culture in the Art Deco period.

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