Synopses & Reviews
Making Girls into Women
offers an account of the historical emergence of andquot;the lesbianandquot; by looking at late-nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century women's writing. Kathryn R. Kent proposes that modern lesbian identity in the United States has its roots not just, or even primarily, in sexology and medical literature, but in white, middle-class womenandrsquo;s culture. Kent demonstrates how, as white women's culture shifted more and more from the home to the school, workplace, and boarding house, the boundaries between the public and private spheres began to dissolve. She shows how, within such spaces, women's culture, in attempting to mold girls into proper female citizens, ended up inciting in them other, less normative, desires and identifications, including ones Kent calls andquot;protolesbianandquot; or queer.
Kent not only analyzes how texts represent queer erotics, but also theorizes how texts might produce them in readers. She describes the ways postbellum sentimental literature such as that written by Harriet Beecher Stowe, Louisa May Alcott, and Emma D. Kelley eroticizes, reacts against, and even, in its own efforts to shape girlsandrsquo; selves, contributes to the production of queer female identifications and identities. Tracing how these identifications are engaged and critiqued in the early twentieth century, she considers works by Djuna Barnes, Gertrude Stein, Marianne Moore, and Elizabeth Bishop, as well as in the queer subject-forming effects of another modern invention, the Girl Scouts. Making Girls into Women ultimately reveals that modern lesbian identity marks an extension of, rather than a break from, nineteenth-century womenandrsquo;s culture.
andrdquo;In the pages of American women's literature, lesbians are made, not born. Kathryn R. Kent expertly surveys the many creative acts of instruction, imitation, and invention among women that ultimately make modern lesbian identity more than just a product of medical discourse. At the heart of all these narratives of self-fashioning lies a central paradox: girls can only freely invent themselves by imitating someone else. Kent brilliantly profiles both sides of these mimetic couples (mothers and daughters, teachers and students, lovers and friends), demonstrating in the end that imitation is inevitably a two-way street.andrdquo;andmdash;Diana Fuss, author of Identification Papers
Explores the links between the emergence of lesbian and proto-lesbian identities at the turn of the century and the discourses of sentimentality, mass culture, and modernism.
About the Author
Kathryn R. Kent is Assistant Professor of English at Williams College.