This LGBTQ history month dive into the Virago Modern Classics list and discover some of our glorious, queer novels.
You know and love Mary Renault’s The Charioteer and The Well of Loneliness has been on your shelf for years – this year discover something new. Here are five must-read LGBTQ novels from the Virago Modern Classics archive:
Jessica and Jane have been living together for six months and are devoted friends - or are they? Jessica loves her friend with the cruelty of total possessiveness; Jane is rich, silly, and drinks rather too many brandy-and-sodas.
Watching from the sidelines, their friend Sylvester regrets that Jane should be 'loved and bullied and perhaps even murdered by that frightful Jessica', but decides it's none of his business. When the Irish gentleman George Playfair meets Jane, however, he thinks otherwise and entices her to Ireland where the battle for her devotion begins.
By the bestselling author of The Talented Mr Ripley, Carol and Strangers on a Train
Completed just months before Patricia Highsmith's death in 1995, Small g explores the labyrinthine intricacies of passion, sexuality, and jealousy in a charming tale of love misdirected.
'What is most remarkable in this novel is the empathy . . . with which Highsmith writes about gay men . . . one can imagine the small g existing, a piquant mixture of bohemianism and respectability, exactly as Highsmith describes it' Francis King, Spectator
At the 'small g', a Zurich bar known for its not exclusively gay clientele, the lives of a small community are played out one summer.
Rickie Markwalder is a designer whose lover Petey was brutally murdered. Rickie and his performing dog Lulu are regulars at the bar, as are vindictive Renate, a seamstress, and her teenage apprentice Luisa. Into their lives comes Teddie, impressionable and beautiful, and a catalyst for the series of events that will change everything.
Patricia Highsmith's final novel is an intricate exploration of love and sexuality, the depths of spite and the triumph of human kindness. It is a work that, in the tradition of Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream, shows us how bizarre and unpredictable love can be. Small g, in the words of her biographer Andrew Wilson, is an 'extended fairy tale suggesting that...happiness is precarious and...romance should be embraced.'
'The Lister diaries are the Dead Sea Scrolls of lesbian history; they changed everything. By resurrecting them and editing them with such loving attention and intelligence, Helena Whitbread has earned the gratitude of a whole generation' EMMA DONOGHUE
'Engaging, revealing, at times simply astonishing: Anne Lister's diaries are an indispensable read' SARAH WATERS
Anne Lister (1791-1840) was one of the most remarkable women of her time. Fearless and uncompromising, she was
determined to live life on her own terms, both financially and sexually. She wrote extensive diaries in 'crypthand', which
allowed her to record her life in intimate, and sometimes explicit, detail. When they were decoded by Helena Whitbread, lesbian history was changed for ever. This is the second volume of her diaries.
No Priest But Love begins in 1824. After an ill-fated love affair with a married woman, Anne Lister embarks on a journey alone to post-revolutionary Paris, a city alive with political intrigue. Here, she becomes romantically involved with a young widow, a relationship at odds with her social ambitions. Anne's efforts, firstly to extricate herself from this new 'scrape' and then to make a choice between the two women in her life, provides an absorbing sexual and social drama.
'[Anne Lister's] sense of self, and self-awareness, is what makes her modern to us. She was a woman exercising conscious choice. She controlled her cash and her body. At a time when women had to marry, or be looked after by a male relative, and when all their property on marriage passed to their husband, Anne Lister not only dodged the traps of being female, she set up a liaison with another woman that enhanced her own wealth and left both of them free to live as they wished . . . The diaries gave me courage' JEANETTE WINTERSON
CHALLENGE was Vita Sackville-West's second novel. It was ready to go to print in 1920, but the author suddenly changed her mind. This was not because she lacked confidence in her work, but because of the scandal it would have caused. CHALLENGE remained unpublished for over fifty years.
Vita's love affair with Violet Trefusis had reached its peak, and, eloping to France, they decided to abandon everything and everyone - children and husbands included - to spend the rest of their lives together. Although they returned to their families eventually, CHALLENGE remains a testament of their love, and was written during that period.
The hero, Julian, might be a Byronic young Englishman, and Eve the woman he adores; it may be an adventure tale about a revolt on a Greek island. But really, this is a love story, written in the presence of the beloved, and inspired by her. And, as its title implies, the novel is a challenge to the society that condemned Vita and her lover.
'Granny worked so hard at my rearing. She was a frustrated ladysmith and I was her last chance . . . This is the story of my years on her anvil. Whether she succeeded in making a lady out of me is for you to decide, but I will say one thing in my own favour before we begin. No matter which sex I went to bed with, I never smoked on the street.'
When Florence King was born, her Granny, a would-be Virginia grande dame, moved in. 'Anybody could have a family,' writes Miss King. 'She wanted a race all to herself.' Granny's dream of raising the perfect Southern belle failed dismally with her own daughter, a chain-smoking, baseball-playing tomboy given to wild expletives. Florence is Granny's last hope . . .
'I've never read so many perfect one-liners . . . This book is dynamite. Don't miss it' - Jeanette Winterston