Have you got any classic queer lit recommendations? (would prefer focusing on women, but watevs) I've read mlle de maupin and the girl with the golden eyes, loved them both, but I'm struggling to come up with more than that :(
Hmmm, let’s see! Focusing in on Romantic-era French lit here because that’s the closest thing I have to an area of expertise:
- That Eugénie Danglars subplot in The Count of Monte Cristo is p. much Textual Lesbians All Over (and there are also some shenanigans with crossdressing bandits near the beginning), just make sure to pick up an unabridged edition because for mysterious unaccountable reasons it’s always one of the first things to be cut
- I… haven’t actually read Balzac's Cousin Bette (or its male counterpart, Cousin Pons), but I’ve been assured on good authority that both of them are pretty fuckin’ gay
- George Sand wrote a play, Gabriel, about a girl raised as a boy. The first act is played straight (no pun intended) according to the grand theatrical traditions of “male protag meets female protag while she’s in drag, falls for her anyway, freaks out, and then all is revealed and they’re happily married off.” The second act is an Into the Woods-style deconstruction where Gabriel(le)… um… doesn’t adjust very well to the role of ‘wife,’ and things go downhill from there. IDK if it’s available in English translation anywhere. :(
- Sand's Lélia is kind of queer-adjacent–it is very much about the shit roles available for women, traditional marriage as a respectable form of prostitution, and the stunting of female desire in a culture where love is dominated by male violence and possession. The discussions of 'frigidity’ are mostly relevant to asexuality, but it was also scandalous at the time for some minor but very suggestive scenes between two sisters.
- I feel kind of crass putting Gamiani on this list, because it’s terribad Evil Lesbians porn that Alfred de Musset 'anonymously’ wrote while he was on the outs with George Sand… but on the other hand the French Romantics writing RPF about each other will never not be entertaining.
- Sylvia Townsend Warner's Summer Will Show was written in the 1930s but set during the revolution of 1848, and stars an independent but rather staid Englishwoman who moves to Paris and proceeds to fall in love with her husband’s mistress, a Jewish revolutionary half-actress half-strumpet wild child.
- Okay fine I know it has absolutely fuckall to do with the French Romantics, but if you haven’t read The Well of Loneliness yet you should totally do it
That’s all I’ve got off the top of my head for female-centric lit (besides a couple of poems in Les Fleurs du Mal, “Lesbos” and “The Damned Women”). For textual male gay, the gold star recommendation will always be Balzac’s Vautrin trilogy, Old Goriot, Lost Illusions, and A Harlot High and Low–featuring the most magnificent bastard of them all, who has a taste for Faustian bargains with pretty young men. For not-all-that-subtextual male gay in prison, check out Hugo's Claude Gueux.
If you want androgyny and genderfuck the offerings are a little more obscure–there’s the aforementioned Gabriel, Balzac’s short stories Sarrasine (about a painter who falls for a castrato who’s living as a woman) and Séraphîta (which I have not read, but is apparently weird and philosophical in its approach to androgyny), and a poorly written but historically interesting novel by Henri de Latouche called Fragoletta, whose title character is intersex. The Balzac ones miiiight be available in English somewhere; Fragoletta isn’t easy to find even in French.
Also, if you’re interested in alienation-from-society angst and repression so thick it has to erase the actual subject of its anxiety and make it into a cipher, hoo boy have I got some stories to tell you about the 1820s Romantics. Nobody in these books is actually gay, but… well. The whole thing got set off when the Marquis de Custine broke off a promising engagement for reasons that looked completely inexplicable at the time. (Spoilers: he was flamingly gay. He wasn’t publicly outed until some years later, but man, he was gay as a sunny June morning.)