Reading Incognito

Hannah Frydman, “Reading Incognito: Periodicals, Sapphic Fictions, and Lesbian Communication," Dix-Neuf: Journal of the Society of Dix-Neuviémistes 26, no. 1 (2022): 35-55,

The lesbian past is often described as difficult to recover because—unlike the gay male past, which had the dubious benefit of being a greater target of police surveillance—traces of it are rather sparse in the archives. This invisibility, however, is not a straightforward effect of silencing, although the destruction of lesbian archives and the necessary secrecy of lesbian lives in the face of social reprobation and concern about women’s mobility are certainly part of the story. This paper shows how lesbian invisibility was also a conscious production, a shield to protect queer women’s lives built out of coded writing based in fictional allusion. Using the often misogynist nineteenth-century French sapphic canon, written primarily by men, women seeking women in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries found ways of communicating privately in public in newspaper classifieds and correspondence sections using characters, details, and tropes from these works and turning them away from their original moralizing ends.

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