Lesbians – or women who desire other women – are almost invisible in medieval English history. We comb through legal and religious prohibitions, reconstruct patchy evidence from nuns’ letters, or read between the lines of historical monuments, often in vain. Yet, I argue that in some of the most popular literature of the period, we can see the details we glean from the historical evidence magnified and intensified to form a rich seam of innuendo concerning female same-sex desire and its often strange and unfamiliar manifestations. This, in turn, sheds light on our own preconceptions as scholars of historical sexual desire, and especially on our own sense of what is and is not ‘queer history’.
Lucy Allen is an affiliated lecturer at Newnham College, Cambridge, where she is currently completing a book on female same-sex desire in the works of Chaucer and fifteenth-century popular romances. She has taught at Cambridge since 2014, following a PhD in Medieval Studies at the University of York. She runs a blog on medieval literature and history, Reading Medieval Books (https://readingmedievalbooks.wordpress.com/), where she often discusses popular culture, gender and sexuality.
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