From the ancient poet Sappho to tombois in contemporary Indonesia, women throughout history and around the globe have desired, loved, and had sex with other women. In beautiful prose, Sapphistries tells their stories, capturing the multitude of ways that diverse societies have shaped female same-sex sexuality across time and place.
Leila J. Rupp reveals how, from the time of the very earliest societies, the possibility of love between women has been known, even when it is feared, ignored, or denied. We hear women in the sex-segregated spaces of convents and harems whispering words of love. We see women beginning to find each other on the streets of London and Amsterdam, in the aristocratic circles of Paris, in the factories of Shanghai. We find women’s desire and love for women meeting the light of day as Japanese schoolgirls fall in love, and lesbian bars and clubs spread from 1920s Berlin to 1950s Buffalo. And we encounter a world of difference in the twenty-first century, as transnational concepts and lesbian identities meet local understandings of how two women might love each other.
Giving voice to words from the mouths and pens of women, and from men’s prohibitions, reports, literature, art, imaginings, pornography, and court cases, Rupp also creatively employs fiction to imagine possibilities when there is no historical evidence. Sapphistries combines lyrical narrative with meticulous historical research, providing an eminently readable and uniquely sweeping story of desire, love, and sex between women around the globe from the beginning of time to the present.
“Rupp has given us an invaluable history that promises to inform and inspire.”
—San Francisco Chronicle
“Rupp’s intellectually ambitious monograph attempts to present and trace the diverse threads of lesbian history in a worldwide and comparative framework... The resulting text is thought-provoking, readable, and challenging and belongs in every college and university library.”
“Judicious, copious, scholarly and heartfelt, it will appeal equally to general readers and serious historians for its carefully chosen content and its novel methodology... As to methodology, Rupp is an old school historian who scrupulously recognizes the limitations of her craft, but who doesn’t let those limitations keep her from rich imaginings and a refreshingly humane interest in the historical record... Sixty six pages of endnotes attest to the seriousness of the work; over two hundred pages of lucid and accessible prose make history fun again.”
—Salem Press, Magill Book Reviews
“Sapphistries is amazing.”.
—John D'Emilio, author of Intimate Matters: A History of Sexuality in America
“Rupp’s sweeping and highly readable synthesis of women’s same-sex love and sexuality is also a finely crafted work of historical analysis. Her deep knowledge of the sources, from ancient to modern times, is truly impressive, while her use of literary imaginings make this a unique contribution to sexuality studies.”
—Estelle Freedman, author of No Turning Back
“The narrative shines when Rupp describes love between women in its many forms, whether innocent (the schoolgirl ‘raves’ of early twentieth-century England) or romantic (intense ‘romantic friendships’ throughout the Western world) or outright erotic. With acute cultural sensitivity and a panoramic scope stretching from early Native American societies to contemporary India, Rupp delivers an academically rigorous and brilliantly told history.”
—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“Rupp succeeds in writing a fascinating and at times startling transnational history. . . . The range of this book is extraordinary. . . . Rupp has given us an invaluable history that promises to inform and inspire.”
—The San Francisco Chronicle
"Sapphistries: A Global History of Love Between Women achieves what it set out to do by providing an overview of lesbian love from a historical and cultural perspective."
"This is a useful source text that expands, rather than contracts, the interpretations of erotic subjectivities among women who desire women."
“Every decade or so, a brave thinker makes an attempt to chart the historical maps of women loving women. Rupp’s contribution is perhaps one of the most elegant and interesting—making up for the lapses of the past, Sapphistries sails an international course, giving us a rich mix of historical sources and an even richer gift of asking questions at just the right places.”
—Joan Nestle, co-editor of GenderQueer
“A fascinating book about the history of same-sex female attraction. . .reminds the reader all too poignantly never to take hard-won sexual freedoms for granted.”