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on 26 November 1999
Emma Donoghue's first book is, as the title suggests, an account of relationships between women in the 18-19th centuries that went beyond what's known as "romantic friendship". As such, it's a racier counterpart to Lillian Faderman's "Surpassing the Love of Men". Donoghue is keen to prove that, just because lesbian sex was seldom mentioned, doesn't mean that it didn't go on; she's restoring sexuality and desire to the already large history of women's friendships. It's sadly ironic, but not very surprising, that in her discussion of the representation of lesbians in literature, a great number of the extracts are by men (a typical one being some episodes of digital gratification in Cleland's "Fanny Hill"); needless to say, in texts by men, the lesbians generally come off (as it were) badly. A vital text for anyone interested in lesbian history, it's also of interest to anyone who enjoys Donoghue's fiction, though casual readers may be surprised by the tone; dense, detailed, terse and often drily funny (few other scholarly works have paid such close attention to the dildo), it's a more immediately demanding book than her colloquial and accessible novels.
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