The four genres of lesbian fiction – No.3: Lesbiana

This category of fiction starts something like this:

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The marketplace in the Faubourg Saint-Antoine was crowded when Helene got there. Women were spilling into the side streets leading to the place and Helene was unable to get closer than the edge of the main square, her back to the wall of one of the houses that looked out over the scene. Some way away in the centre of the women, Maillard was raised above the throng on the back of a cart, the tricolour cockade on his hat identifying him as a vainqueur. The rumours that “aujourd’hui c’est le jour” appeared to be true. For weeks, the talk in the markets and brasseries had been of the high price of bread. Since the assault on the Bastille, the shortages had got worse. The King had to be forced to help the people.

Helene strained to see over the heads of the women. There had to be over a thousand gathered in the place. She had arranged to meet Marie there, in anticipation of a call to march, but neither of them had envisaged such a mass of people. There were women present that Helene had never seen in the market before. It was hopeless to try and identify anyone in the sea of bobbing caps.

As the press of people increased, the women began to jostle, fighting for space to stand, and Helene was thrown against the wall of the house by a girl carrying a drum about her neck that looked too large and heavy for her thin frame.

“Ouf, pardon,” the girl said as she regained her footing.

Helene took her arm and helped her stand. They were shoved again by the women around them and the girl was thrown against Helene. Helene could feel the girl’s breath on her neck and the warmth of her body through her chemise. They remained pressed against one another until the crowd swelled and shifted, releasing the strain on their part of the square.

“Can you play that?” Helene asked.

“Of course.”

“Then, I think you should start. There are too many people here and someone will be hurt if we do not begin to march soon.”

The girl nodded and, taking up her stick, flicked her wrist in time. Rat-tat-tat, rat-tat-tat.

One of the women nearby shouted: “à Versailles!”, and to the beat of the girl’s drum others began to take up the chant.

“à Versailles!  à Versailles!”

Maillard heard the voices raised and, taking up his own drum, echoed the call to march on the palace.

The crowd began to shift slightly through the side street leading to the Hôtel de Ville, allowing Helene and the drummer, on the opposite side of the place, room to move. As the women shuffled forward, the bells of the church facing the place began to peel and a small group of hellcats, waving butcher’s knives, appeared on the steps of St. Matthieu’s and joined the edge of the hoard.

“I’m Helene,” Helene shouted above the noise.

The drummer girl smiled. “Georgette.”

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This category of fiction is as much about the hardships of women through history as it about the central romance. In revolutionary Paris (or Victorian London, or the wild west of America), Helene and Georgette will have to overcome the economic and social chains that bind them; their lives inferior to the men around them. They will also have to negotiate their way around a lesbian relationship when the concept of lesbianism doesn’t even exist.

Helene and Marie have been friends since childhood, but Marie, enchanted by the men of the revolution, has become distant. While Marie spends her time talking about revolution in the brasseries of Paris, Helene struggles to keep her mother and three younger brothers fed. When Helene meets Georgette, a fearless young woman prepared to die for the cause, she begins to understand that liberté, égalité, and fraternité don’t just apply to men.

Helene and Georgette join the Society of Revolutionary Republican Women whose militant activities bring them to the attention of the leaders of the Republic. With arrest, flogging, committal to an insane asylum, or an appointment with the guillotine the likely outcome of their recent activities, Helene and Georgette flee the city disguised as man and wife. When they receive word that Marie and a number of other women have been arrested, they must decide whether their fight for the rights of women, or their personal happiness are more important.

Exponents of this genre of novel include Sarah Waters, Emma Donoghue, Helen Humphreys, Catherine Friend.

Copyright © 2012 Liberation Publishing (www.liberationpublishing.co.uk)

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