"Intimate Friends" offers a fascinating look at the erotic friendships of educated English and American women over a 150-year period, culminating in the 1928 publication of "The Well of Loneliness," Radclyffe Hall's scandalous novel of lesbian love. Martha Vicinus explores all-female communities, husband-wife couples, liaisons between younger and older women, female rakes, and mother-daughter affection. Women, she reveals, drew upon a rich religious vocabulary to describe elusive and complex erotic feelings.
Vicinus also considers the nineteenth-century roots of such contemporary issues as homosexual self-hatred, female masculinity, and sadomasochistic desire. Drawing upon diaries, letters, and other archival sources, she brings to life a variety of well known and historically less recognized women, ranging from the predatory Ann Lister, who documented her sexual activities in code; to Mary Benson, the wife of the Archbishop of Canterbury; to the coterie of wealthy Anglo-American lesbians living in Paris.
In vivid and colorful prose, "Intimate Friends" offers a remarkable picture of women navigating the uncharted territory of same-sex desire.