The Spinster, Sapphist, or “Sentimental Friend”: Lesbianism & Lesbians of Nineteenth-Century Realist Literature

Candyce Utter, Boise State University


This qualitative literary research project was conducted as a response to the dominating heteronormative structure of system(s) in education and the higher academy. The concern: a lack of queer, gay, or LGB+Q classic literature as required reading(s) in respective survey and literature courses. The research: reading, cataloguing, and analyzing known Realist literature featuring lesbianism, scholarly articles on the subject, and multi-genre creative writing. The period is generally in the early Americas during the 19th century, before terms of sexology, like homosexuality and heterosexuality, were coined, mainstreamed, and understood as in reference to same sex attraction like our modern understanding. Regarding the use of modern terminology, the research conducted includes recognizing and finding the contemporary terminology for same sex attraction between women in the 19th century, e.g. spinster, female companion, lesbian, sapphist, etc. The texts should either have an identifiable gay character, explicit gay character, same sex attraction/desire/fondness, gay themes (internalized homophobia), etc. The response/review/critical responses should be in response to clearly identifiable homosexual content and not the academic, generalized Queer character who acts to destabilize and deconstruct common, core fiction elements of literature.