The Apparitional Lesbian: Female Homosexuality and Modern Culture

Columbia University Press

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.

About the Author

Terry Castle has taught English literature at Stanford since 1983. She specializes in the history of the novel, especially the works of Defoe, Richardson, Fielding, and Austen.  But she has taught a wide variety of other subjects too:  the literature of the First World War, British modernism, Virginia Woolf, Radclyffe Hall, and other twentieth-century women writers, psychoanalytic theory, literature and opera, and gay and lesbian writing. She has written seven books: Clarissa's Ciphers: Meaning and Disruption in Richardson's 'Clarissa' (1982); Masquerade and Civilization: The Carnivalesque in Eighteenth-Century English Culture and Fiction (1986); The Apparitional Lesbian: Female Homosexuality and Modern Culture (1993); The Female Thermometer: Eighteenth-Century Culture and the Invention of the Uncanny (1995), Noel Coward and Radclyffe Hall: Kindred Spirits (1996); Boss Ladies, Watch Out! Essays on Women, Sex, and Writing (2002);  Courage, Mon Amie (2002), and The Professor: A Sentimental Education (2010). She is the editor of a prize-winning anthology, The Literature of Lesbianism: A Historical Anthology from Ariosto to Stonewall (2003).  Several of her essays have likewise won individual prizes--including the William Riley Parker Prize awarded annually by the Modern Language Association for the best critical essay of the year.  In 1995 her book The Female Thermometer was a finalist for the PEN Spielvogel-Diamondstein Award for the Art of the Essay.  Her latest book, The Professor, has likewise been named as a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award.  She writes regularly for the London Review of Books, New Republic, Atlantic, Slate, and other magazines and journals.

Castle is also a visual artist and collector of tintypes, anonymous photos, Outsider Art, vintage postcards, art zines, artists' books, and other paper ephemera. Some of her own artwork can be seen on her blog Fevered Brain Productions, INSTAGRAM,and SaatchiArt.

Other info links:

  • A Postcard Almanac (devoted to my collections of vintage postcards, anonymous photos, trade cards, and other sorts of historical paper ephemera)