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Eccentricity and Sameness

Discourses on Lesbianism and Desire between Women in Italy, 1860s–1930s

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Charlotte Ross

Dispelling widespread views that female same-sex desire is virtually absent from Italian literature and cultural production in the modern era, this groundbreaking study demonstrates that narratives of lesbianism are significantly more numerous than has been previously asserted. Focusing on texts published between 1860 and 1939, the author traces and analyses the evolution of discourses on female same-sex desire in and across a wide variety of genres, whether popular bestsellers, texts with limited distribution and subject to censorship, or translations from other languages. All the works are considered in relation to broader socio-cultural contexts. The analysis uncovers a plurality of different sources for these narratives of lesbianism and desire between women, showing how different layers of discourse emerge from or are reworked in and across several genres. From scientists who condemned the immoral and degenerate nature of «Sapphic» desire, to erotic publications that revelled in the pleasures of female same-sex intimacy, to portrayals of homoerotic desire by female writers that call (more or less obliquely) for its legitimization, these texts open up important new perspectives on discourses of sexuality in modern Italy.
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‘Eccentricity and Sameness adds a new chapter to the history of same-sex relations between women in modern Europe. Shedding light on Italy’s dark sexual past, Ross explores multiple discursive realms, including sexology and literature, to show convincingly why the study of lesbianism matters.’

— LAURA DOAN, Professor of Cultural History and Sexuality Studies, University of Manchester

‘This is a much needed investigation into one of the least explored areas of modern Italian culture. It makes a significant and valuable addition to the broader field of queer, lesbian and gay studies, which is still too focused on the Anglophone experience. With impressive critical acumen, based on meticulous close reading and historical contextualization, Ross brilliantly details the complex discursive mechanisms through which female same-sex desire was made intelligible. This is an important book – original in its subject matter and sophisticated in its theoretical insights, offering a unique perspective on modern Italian culture.’

— DEREK DUNCAN, Professor of Italian Studies, University of St Andrews

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