While lesbian fiction may have started off accompanied by a bit of a stigma, today it’s a wildly popular genre that has audiences captivated across the globe. So how did it get where it is today? Let’s take a look…
Born sometime between 630 and 612 BCE, Greek lyric poet Sappho of Lesbos is considered the ‘godmother’ of lesbian fiction. The legend goes that during her time, young ladies were left in her company to receive a ‘cultural edification.’ Her poetry describes their lives, their relationships, their ceremonies and most importantly, her love for women.
The roaring 20s
The first ever lesbian novel was written by Radclyffe Hall and titled The Well of Loneliness. The book was published in 1928 and quickly gained criticism from a British court for the depiction of “unnatural practices between women.” It was banned in the UK for decades however it managed to stay on shelves in New York City.
With the emergence of ‘dime-store’ and ‘pulp fiction’ novels came an explosion in the popularity of lesbian fiction. This made them cheap and readily available which was hugely appealing to consumers.
In the late 60s and early 70s social opinions were starting to change. Rather than view lesbians as dirty and unnatural, the concept of ‘free love’ embraced affections of every kind. These new attitudes towards lesbianism were powered along by a strong feminist movement which saw women win themselves far more respect. In 1976 a novel by Rosa Guy made headlines for its depiction of a young lesbian romance. The novel was titled Ruby and paved the way for other milestone lesbian novels of the decade, such as Sandra Scoppettone’s 1978 publication, Happy Endings Are All Alike. While Judy Blume didn’t specifically write about lesbianism she was highly acclaimed in the 70s for her bravery in addressing homosexuality in literature for young adults.
Forward thinking in the 80s
In the 80s, Nancy Garden’s Annie on My Mind, represented a huge leap forward for lesbian fiction and is still in print today. In fact, in 2000 the School Library Journal listed it as one of the top 100 most influential books of the century.
Lesbian fiction today
Today, the genre of lesbian fiction is considered historical, artistic and inherently fascinating. Lesbian specific press companies support independent authors and actively work to spread the lesbian love. Novels such as Carolyn Parkhurst’s Lost and Found became a New York Times bestseller while general erotica shows such as Diary of a Call Girl have also glamourised public attitudes towards lesbianism.