Inseparable by Emma Donoghue
Desire Between Women in Literature

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Synopsis

From a writer of astonishing versatility and erudition, the much-admired literary critic, novelist, short-story writer, and scholar (“Dazzling”—The Washington Post; “One of those rare writers who seems to be able to work on any register, any time, any atmosphere, and make it her own” —The Observer), a book that explores the little-known literary tradition of love between women in Western literature, from Chaucer and Shakespeare to Charlotte Brontë, Dickens, Agatha Christie, and many more.

Emma Donoghue brings to bear all her knowledge and grasp to examine how desire between women in English literature has been portrayed, from schoolgirls and vampires to runaway wives, from cross-dressing knights to contemporary murder stories. Donoghue looks at the work of those writers who have addressed the “unspeakable subject,” examining whether such desire between women is freakish or omnipresent, holy or evil, heartwarming or ridiculous as she excavates a long-obscured tradition of (inseparable) friendship between women, one that is surprisingly central to our cultural history.

Donoghue writes about the half-dozen contrasting girl-girl plots that have been told and retold over the centuries, metamorphosing from generation to generation. What interests the author are the twists and turns of the plots themselves and how these stories have changed—or haven’t—over the centuries, rather than how they reflect their time and society.

Donoghue explores the writing of Sade, Diderot, Balzac, Thomas Hardy, H. Rider Haggard, Elizabeth Bowen, and others and the ways in which the woman who desires women has been cast as not quite human, as ghost or vampire.

She writes about the ever-present triangle, found in novels and plays from the last three centuries, in which a woman and man compete for the heroine’s love . . . about how—and why—same-sex attraction is surprisingly ubiquitous in crime fiction, from the work of Wilkie Collins and Dorothy L. Sayers to P. D. James.

Finally, Donoghue looks at the plotline that has dominated writings about desire between women since the late nineteenth century: how a woman’s life is turned upside down by the realization that she desires another woman, whether she comes to terms with this discovery privately, “comes out of the closet,” or is publicly “outed.”

She shows how this narrative pattern has remained popular and how it has taken many forms, in the works of George Moore, Radclyffe Hall, Patricia Highsmith, and Rita Mae Brown, from case-history-style stories and dramas, in and out of the courtroom, to schoolgirl love stories and rebellious picaresques.

A revelation of a centuries-old literary tradition—brilliant, amusing, and until now, deliberately overlooked.


From the Hardcover edition.
 

About Emma Donoghue

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Born in Dublin in 1969, Emma Donoghue is an Irish emigrant twice over: she spent eight years in Cambridge doing a PhD in eighteenth-century literature before moving to London, Ontario, where she lives with her partner and their two children. She also migrates between genres, writing literary history, biography, stage and radio plays as well as fairy tales and short stories. She is best known for her novels, which range from the historical (Slammerkin, Life Mask, Landing, The Sealed Letter) to the contemporary (Stir-Fry, Hood, Landing). Her international bestseller Room was a New York Times Best Book of 2010 and was a finalist for the Man Booker, Commonwealth, and Orange Prizes. For more information, visit www.emmadonoghue.com.
 
Published May 15, 2010 by Knopf. 288 pages
Genres: History, Gay & Lesbian, Literature & Fiction. Non-fiction

Unrated Critic Reviews for Inseparable

The New York Times

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Emma Donoghue’s adroit study considers relationships between women, erotic and otherwise, across centuries of Western literature.

May 28 2010 | Read Full Review of Inseparable: Desire Between W...

The New York Times

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Emma Donoghue’s adroit study considers relationships between women, erotic and otherwise, across centuries of Western literature.

May 28 2010 | Read Full Review of Inseparable: Desire Between W...

The New York Times

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Donoghue avoids the word “lesbian” whenever possible because, she says, it doesn’t “do justice to the variety of women’s bonds in literature.” But the choice not to draw distinctions among friendship, non-incestuous familial attachment and sexual attraction places “Inseparable” in the company of ...

May 28 2010 | Read Full Review of Inseparable: Desire Between W...

Publishers Weekly

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With her excellent reading list, readers can test for themselves the “unexpected continuity” Donoghue finds in the presence of passion between women in Western literature.

Mar 01 2010 | Read Full Review of Inseparable: Desire Between W...

Bookmarks Magazine

I found it peculiarly liberating to approach each novel, play, or narrative poem without much caring who wrote it--to look at both trash and high literature in terms of story, and discover all sorts of connections between different texts that borrowed and reworked the same stories. <strong...

May 31 2010 | Read Full Review of Inseparable: Desire Between W...

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