The Well of Loneliness by Radclyffe Hall. 1928. The mother of all lesbian classics. The story of Stephen Gordon and her “sexual inversion.” So ground-breaking that, due to its lesbian subject matter, it was banned upon its initial publication. I haven’t read it; it’s supposed to be a downer, but some people like it; a period piece for sure.
We Too Are Drifting by Gale Wilhelm. 1935. Subtitled “The Story of a Lesbian,” shocking in its time. FWIW, the blurb on the period cover says “Better than The Well of Loneliness." I read this a long time ago and vaguely remember being disappointed, but again, it’s a classic and YMMV.
The Friendly Young Ladies by Mary Renault. 1944. A witty romantic comedy of the bohemian set in 1930s England, reportedly written as a response to The Well of Loneliness and therefore may be best appreciated in that context. I haven’t read it; it’s supposed to be good.
The Price of Salt by Patricia Highsmith (aka Claire Morgan). 1952. Ahead of its time, this novel tells the story of a love affair between two women in the 1950s. This book was a powerfully formative one for me, and I have revisited it multiple times over the years. Recommended.
Desert of the Heart by Jane Rule. 1964. Later made into the movie Desert Hearts, about a love affair between two women in the late ’50s. Not action-packed, but thoughtful, well written, and a landmark in its time. Other lesbian-themed books by this author include This Is Not For You and After The Fire.
Patience and Sarah by Isabel Miller. 1972. A major classic. In this historical novel set in 1830s New England, two women defy their families and their community to make a life for themselves. I remember liking this one a lot.
May Sarton (1912-1995). A lesbian writer, perhaps better known for her poetry and journals, she published several fiction titles as well (not all lesbian-themed). I tried reading her once or twice and Did Not Like; however, lots of people swear by her, so there she is.
i feel like reading fanfic has kind of broken my desire to read published stories bc like theyre so bland tbh like. where the hell am i gonna get queer android romance in a bookstore. who writes about past assassins working together in a coffeeshop. all i see are straight white people making out like really like REALLY
Well, now I’m determined to find some queer android romance. I know The Stone Gods by Jeanette Winterson has a lesbian robot/human couple. The Risen Empire by Scott Westerfeld is supposed to have a queer cyborg/human romance. Cathy IV by Frances Lucas is also supposed to have a robot/human lesbian romance.
There has to be more! Does anyone else know of any?
Mädchen in Uniform (1931)
Blue Is the Warmest Color (2013) directed by Abdellatif Kekiche
One, two, three, four, I won’t take “no” anymore. Five, six, seven, eight, I want you to be my mate. One, two, three, four, you’re the one that I adore. (But I’m a Cheerleader - 1999)
You keep me completely interested. - The Four-Faced Liar (2010)
I haven’t read a lot of queer theory myself, but Queer Theory: An Introduction by Annamarie Jagose and Queer Theory, Gender Theory: An Instant Primer by Riki Anne Wilchins might be good places to start. The works of Judith Butler, Sara Ahmed and José Esteban Muñoz have also been recommended to me.
For queer books older than the 1950s that don’t just feature white dudes, here’s a few:
- Carmilla by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu (1871)
- Herculine Barbin: Being the Recently Discovered Memoirs of a Nineteenth-century French Hermaphrodite by Herculine Barbin, translated by Richard McDougall (mid 1800s)
- Orlando by Virginia Woolf (1928)
- The Well of Loneliness by Radclyffe Hall (1928)
- The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas by Gertrude Stein (1933)
- Nightwood by Djuna Barnes (1936)
However, all of these (as far as I know) were written by and feature white people. I had a hard time finding any queer works pre-1950 by people of color, but here are a few “queer classics” by people of color from 1950-1990:
- Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin (1956)
- City of Night by John Rechy (1963)
- Dhalgren by Samuel R. Delany (1974)
- Zami: A New Spelling of My Name by Audre Lorde (1982)
- The Color Purple by Alice Walker (1982)
As always, readers who know any more books that fit this ask are encouraged to reblog and recommend!