Lesbianism–what Terry Castle calls the ‘ghost’ of sexual love between women–has haunted Western literature and culture since the eighteenth century. Despite the frequency with which female-female sexuality has been denied or obscured, Castle sees lesbianism as a central motif in the Western imagination. In a series of wide-ranging essays–on literary images of lesbianism from Defoe and Diderot to Virginia Woolf and Djuna Barnes, on the homosexual reputation of Marie Antoinette, on the lesbian writings of Anne Lister, Sylvia Townsend Warner, and Janet Flanner, and on Henry James’s The Bostonians–Castle shows how a lesbian presence can be identified in the literature, history, and culture of the past three centuries. Castle also includes two personal essays: ‘First Ed,’ a lyrical tribute to a long-forgotten lesbian ‘ghost,’ and ‘In Praise of Brigitte Fassbaender,’ on coming out as a lesbian opera fan.
In The Apparitional Lesbian, a book for anyone interested in lesbianism and its role in the imaginative life and literature of the West, the lesbian is brought back into focus—in all her worldliness, comedy, and complexity.