Thursday, July 21, 2011

Historical Fiction With Lesbian Characters

Historical fiction, from ancient times to World War II, definitely deserves a category of its own. And luckily, there are plenty of lesbian authors who specialise in the past and proving that lesbians have always been around (for a bit more about lesbians in different cultures, see this post)

Gay and Lesbian Historical Fiction:
Sexual Mystery and Post-Secular Narrative

Whether you want to escape to the old west or lose yourself in the trappings of Victorian London, tread the boards in Shakespeare's era, take tea in Japan, or visit Sappho herself in Ancient Greece, there's a wide and intriguing selection of lesbian historical fiction to choose from.

Do you want a romantic and unrealistic tale of pirates, cowboys and chivalry; a slightly fantastical story of myths, priestesses and heroes, or a realistic and well researched historical novel full of accurate details? Either way there are plenty of books on the list, set in various places and times, and full of lots of lesbians to read about.

While there is some very good historical fiction written by lesbian authors (e.g. Rita Mae Brown, Fannie Flagg and Jeannette Winterson), only books that actually include lesbian characters (overtly or subtextually) are included here. And as a rule of thumb, the more recently the book was written, the more openly the characters are likely to be gay.

The list is divided into Europe (which is mostly England), North America and the Rest of the World, reflecting to the numbers of books about each region. Most of the books are set in the 18th-20th centuries.

Reviewed titles are bolded.

Great Britain

 Victorian London dominates here, although there are a few books set in the countryside, Wales and Ireland. The British historical lesbian fiction is organised by century and generally follows either a poor member of society or the gentry.

BC & Early AD

11th-17th Century (Medieval, Tudor & Elizabethan)
Moll Cutpurse, Her True History: A Novel

 18th - 19th Century (Georgian, Regency & Victorian)
Life MaskBlack by Gaslight, 3rd edTipping the Velvet: A Novel
The Friendly Young Ladies

Early 20th Century
Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit

North America

The American titles are mostly about the 18th and 19th century colonial era and the old west, with a few books set in the Civil War and Revolution. Plenty of rural and small town women and immigrant themes.

Native American
Montana Feathers
18th & 19th Century (Colonial & Western)
Patience & Sarah (Little Sister's Classics)Josie and Rebecca: The Western Chronicles

19th Century (Revolution & Civil War)

Early 20th Century (Americana & World Wars)
The Great Depression, world wars, immigrants, racial and political issues and ordinary lives.
Rubyfruit JungleLover (Cutting Edge: Lesbian Life & Literature)Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe: A NovelDesert Of The Heart
Wives of Bath
The Price of Salt

Rest of the World

The original Sappho is pretty popular here, but apart from Greece, the rest of the world is featured in a diverse, interesting and exotic range of stories.

The Other Sappho: A Novel BC and early AD
Empress: A Novel (P.S.)

11th-17th Century (Medieval and Pirate)
Lady Knight

18th - 20th Century


China, Japan, Asia
 Other countries

Travelling Around the World
Stories set in more than one country
The Madonna of the Sorrows, 2nd editionLieutenant Nun: Memoir of a Basque Transvestite in the New World

Time Travelling Narratives
The Art of DetectionTime travelling, flashbacks and short stories set in multiple time periods

Flashbacks/diaries/multiple narratives & ghost stories

Immortality & reincarnation
The Spanish Pearl

Time travel (see all Time travel lesbian fiction for a full list of time travel titles, including stories involving the future)

Short story collections

Lesbian authors who write historical fiction
If you're looking for more to read, these authors have all written historical novels that don't feature lesbian characters, but are very good in their own right - and are at least guaranteed to be gay friendly.


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  1. Thanks for including my book The New Women on this list. That book starts in Germany and winds up in the US. I have another, The Overlanders, which tells the tale of Frances (Frank) and Laurel who meet as children on the wagon train going overland to the west coast in the 1850s. It traces their lives separately and together as they meet peculiar challenges in the growing city of San Francisco.

    A third book, Visions and Warnings, features a contemporary teenage character who is questioning her sexuality. It takes place in Virginia of 2009 ----- and takes her on a journey to the future.

    Thanks again --- here's to good reading!
    Kathryn Ewers Bundy

  2. Another book you don't have on your list is Gladiatrix

  3. By whom? There's at least four different titles coming up on Amazon, and three of them look like 'maybes'.

  4. Another book you're missing is "Silhouette of a Sparrow" by Molly Beth Griffin. Set in Minnesota in the 1920s, it centers on Garnet, a young working girl with a passion for birds, and Isabella, a daring flapper with a checkered past.