Between Women: Friendship, Desire, and Marriage in Victorian England

Hermione Lee writes:

Marcus, to her credit writing boldly against the feminist critics and queer theorists – such as Judith Butler, Martha Vicinus, Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick and Carroll Smith-Rosenberg – through whom she has evidently formulated her thinking, proposes a new account of women’s lives in the mid to late 19th century. The advantage of her method is that it complicates our historical view, doesn’t over-schematise the past and doesn’t apply anachronistic ideology to another era. Instead of focusing on Victorian women as ‘relative creatures, defined by their difference from and subordination to men’, instead of thinking of their relationships with each other ‘only as reactions against, retreats from, or appropriations of masculinity’, and instead of seeing family, marriage and heterosexual relations as being always in opposition to friendships between women, Marcus argues that the categories of heterosexual and homosexual, through which Victorian culture has often been read, are not flexible enough. In a lucid, well-researched and vigorous study, she suggests a much more plastic, mutable, overlapping model.

(LRB 24 May 2007)