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Citizen, Invert, Queer

Lesbianism and War in Early Twentieth-Century Britain

Deborah Cohler

Publication Year: 2010

In late nineteenth-century England, “mannish” women were considered socially deviant but not homosexual. A half-century later, such masculinity equaled lesbianism in the public imagination. How did this shift occur? Citizen, Invert, Queer illustrates that the equation of female masculinity with female homosexuality is a relatively recent phenomenon, a result of changes in national and racial as well as sexual discourses in early twentieth-century public culture.
Incorporating cultural histories of prewar women’s suffrage debates, British sexology, women’s work on the home front during World War I, and discussions of interwar literary representations of female homosexuality, Deborah Cohler maps the emergence of lesbian representations in relation to the decline of empire and the rise of eugenics in England. Cohler integrates discussions of the histories of male and female same-sex erotics in her readings of New Woman, representations of male and female suffragists, wartime trials of pacifist novelists and seditious artists, and the interwar infamy of novels such as Radclyffe Hall’s The Well of Loneliness and Virginia Woolf’s Orlando.
By examining the shifting intersections of nationalism and sexuality before, during, and after the Great War, this book illuminates profound transformations in our ideas about female homosexuality.

Published by: University of Minnesota Press

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. 2-7


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pp. 8-9

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Introduction: Queer Nationalisms

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pp. ix-xxii

In June 2002, transgender author and activist Leslie Feinberg circulated a broadsheet at U.S. gay pride parades seeking to incite antiwar activism among participants. “When World War I broke out,” it reads in part, “gay and trans movement leaders backed their own [nation’s] rulers in that bloody inter-imperialist war and it derailed their struggle.”1 ...

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1. Imperialist Classifications: Sexology, Decadence, and New Women in the 1890s

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pp. 1-30

In 1897, when Havelock Ellis published Sexual Inversion, the first of his seven-volume Studies in the Psychology of Sex, England was in the throes of cultural, imperial, and gendered transformations. Almost forty years after the publication of On the Origin of Species, amid widespread Malthusian and eugenic appropriations of Darwin’s work; twelve years following the criminalization of “gross indecencies” between ...

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2. Public Women, Social Inversion: The Women’s Suffrage Debates

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pp. 31-71

In 1891, Eliza Lynn Linton penned a vehemently antisuffrage article for the journal the Nineteenth Century. In this piece, she characterizes bourgeois women who leave the home and domestic sphere for the public sphere of politics as poor eugenic subjects. ...

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3. “A More Splendid Citizenship”: Prewar Feminism, Eugenics, and Sex Radicals

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pp. 73-109

At the same time that moderate and militant suffrage leaders were promoting a conservative suffrage sexuality, renegade groups of British male and female advocates of women’s liberation were meeting, writing, and producing very different versions of feminist sexual representations.1 In the 1910s, birth control, free love, and male homosexuality appeared frequently as topics alongside women’s suffrage in the pages of the Freewoman. ...

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4. Around 1918: Gender Deviance, Wartime Nationalism, and Sexual Inversion on the Home Front

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pp. 111-149

In the spring of 1918, as Britain’s military forces were in retreat and the country expected humiliating defeat at the hands of Germany, two judicial events raised rhetorical concern over female sexual representation. In one instance, a novel by pacifist Rose Allatini was quickly and relatively quietly banned under the Defense of the Realm Act (DORA). ...

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5. Boy-Girls and Girl-Boys: Postwar Lesbian Literary Representations

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pp. 151-196

This book begins with a 1928 review of Compton Mackenzie’s novel Extraordinary Women, entitled “The Vulgarity of Lesbianism.” In the introduction, I pair the review with Leslie Feinberg’s 2001 antiwar polemic to illustrate two twentieth-century instances in which gender and sexual varia - tion are linked to the Great War. Yet the 1928 review does other work as well: it draws discourses of nationalism, gender, and sexuality together with those of sexology, literary value, and women’s suffrage in the production ...

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Afterword: Drag King Dreams Deferred

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pp. 197-209

Citizen, Invert, Queer traces the emergence of coherent public representations of female homosexuality in early twentieth-century British public culture. I argue that discourses of imperialism, eugenics, and gendered citizenship profoundly shaped the emergent representations of female sexuality in general, and homosexuality in specific. Contrary to prior histories of British lesbian subjectivity that privilege medical models of homosexuality, ...

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pp. 211-214

I could not have completed this book without the support of numerous colleagues, comrades, and institutions. First, warm thanks to Richard Morrison at the University of Minnesota Press, an ardent advocate for this project from very early stages. ...


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pp. 215-249

Works Cited

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pp. 251-267


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pp. 269-296

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About the Author

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p. 320-320

DEBORAH COHLER is associate professor of women and gender studies at San Francisco ...

E-ISBN-13: 9780816673377
E-ISBN-10: 0816673373
Print-ISBN-13: 9780816649761

Page Count: 296
Publication Year: 2010