THE APPARITIONAL LESBIAN by Terry Castle

THE APPARITIONAL LESBIAN

Female Homosexuality and Modern Culture

KIRKUS REVIEW

 Lively essays (some previously published in the Kenyon Review, etc.) on the representation of lesbians in literature and history. Readers acquainted with gay history will be on familiar ground here, since Castle (English/Stanford; the scholarly Masquerade and Civilization, 1986, etc.) includes the likes of Greta Garbo, The Bostonians, and The Well of Loneliness among her subjects. Her thesis is that lesbians have been ``ghosted''--made into apparitions, visible but not quite present--throughout history, and she finds numerous examples of homosexual women being described as ``spectral'' or, like The Well of Loneliness's Stephen Gordon, as ``earthbound spirits.'' Castle's ``ghosting'' looks suspiciously like a fancier wording for the well-explored phenomenon of ``lesbian invisibility,'' but the author (who's openly gay) infuses new life into the concept by underlining various characters' feistiness and ``gaiety'' rather than their victimization. But Castle often reads too much between the lines: One would never guess that The New Yorker's Janet Flanner was a lesbian simply by studying her articles. Moreover, she sometimes misreads other historians or literary critics: Lillian Faderman's claim, for instance, that the 19th-century English Ladies of Llangollen lacked a ``lesbian consciousness'' somehow becomes a straw man that the author dubs the ``no-sex-before-1900 school.'' But Castle's forte- -the use of examples from her own life--underlines her points and makes her concluding chapter, ``In Praise of Brigitte Fassbaender (A Musical Emanation),'' her best, as she deftly mixes autobiographical revelation and literary theory while analyzing female fans of operatic divas, in a kind of lesbian equivalent of Wayne Koestenbaum's The Queen's Throat. Not groundbreaking, but Castle's blend of solid research and clear, accessible prose may win her an enthusiastic readership. (Thirty illustrations)

Pub Date: Dec. 16th, 1993
ISBN: 0-231-07652-5
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: Columbia Univ.
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1st, 1993




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