Celebrating LGBT+ History Month at Senate House Library
February is LGBT+ History month and to celebrate the Librarians at Senate House Library have selected some items from our collections which explore the history and the experiences of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and trans people.
A Taste of Honey by Shelagh Delaney
Written by 19-year-old Shelagh Delaney, A Taste of Honey was developed in 1958 at Joan Littlewood’s Theatre Workshop in Stratford, before transferring to the West End and, in 1961, to film. The play is set in Salford and centres on teenage Jo, who is pregnant and isolated. I’ve selected this play for LGBT+ History Month as it contains - years before the decriminalisation of homosexuality - a sympathetic portrayal of a young, gay man in the character of Geoffrey, who befriends and supports Jo during her pregnancy. Geoffrey was movingly played on stage and screen by Murray Melvin, who discusses here the importance of this character for gay rights.
Library members can also read the play online.
Recommended by Leila Kassir, Academic Librarian (British, US, Latin American & Caribbean Literature)
Bent by Martin Sherman
Martin Sherman’s 1979 play Bent looks at homosexuality within the Third Reich, and follows the story of Max, a gay man in 1930’s Berlin, who is imprisoned after the SS beat his partner on the train whilst trying to escape Nazi Germany. I’ve selected this play, which has been described as exhibiting the "enduring power of love, courage and identity" as it looks at the experience of gay men's treatment under Paragraph 175/175a within Nazi Germany. Since then, many books have been released on the subject such as those looking at the pink triangle (the badges gay men were forced to wear) including Richard Plant’s excellent The pink triangle : the Nazi war against homosexuals.
Recommended by Leslie Crang, Collection Management Assistant
Gender Euphoria : Stories of joy from trans, non-binary and intersex writers, edited by Laura Kate Dale
Gender Euphoria shares stories which celebrate moments of joy and gender affirmation experienced by trans, non-binary and intersex writers. From a young trans man being voted Prom King to a non-binary writer finding a pronoun which truly expresses their sense of gender. I chose this book for LGBT+ History Month because it offers a new, hopeful perspective on the experiences of trans, non-binary and intersex people without denying or diminishing the difficulties faced by trans and non-binary people. This book is part of the Support for LGBTQ+ Users section of the Senate House Library Wellbeing Collection. If you would like to explore this collection further you can find a list of all the items from the Senate House Library Wellbeing Collection on the SHL Wellbeing Collection website.
No modernism without lesbians by Diana Souhami
No modernism without lesbians explores the incredible contribution made by gay women to the modernist movement. Focusing on the lives and works of four women: Sylvia Beach, Bryher (who was born Annie Winifred Glover but adopted the name Bryher, after one of the Isles of Scilly near the Cornish Coast), Natalie Barney and Gertrude Stein. Souhami’s work shows how these women advanced the ideals of modernism by creating their own art, funding and supporting other artists and creating spaces for writers and artists to meet and exchange ideas. I selected this book to write about for LGTB+ History month because I feel that it offers fresh look at the birth of modernism and the cultural shifts of the early twentieth century. Highlighting the sometimes overlooked contribution of women, particularly gay women, to the modernist movement.
Recommended by Emma Fitzpatrick, Serial and Digital Resources Coordinator
Female Husbands: A Trans History by Jen Manion
Jen Manion’s book Female Husbands: A Trans History portrays the lives of ‘female husbands’, who defied their contemporary categorization of gender and sexuality by living as men and claiming the socio-economic status of the ‘husband’ for themselves. Based on newspaper reports and other printed sources from the UK and the US during the 18th to early 20th centuries, it paints a vivid and well-researched landscape of people who ‘transed gender’, as Manion describes it. One of the many fascinating biographies is that of the sailor Charles Williams, one of only ‘a handful of known African Americans assigned female at birth who pursued life at sea as a man’. Female Husbands is part of Senate House Library’s large selection of e-books to study the history of LGBTQ+ people and communities. You can browse our digital shelves with the Senate House Library catalogue.
Recommended by Argula Rublack, Academic Librarian (History)
Chase of the Wild Goose by Mary Gordon
Originally published by Virginia and Leonard Woolf’s Hogarth Press in 1936, Chase of the Wild Goose was written by Mary Gordon, a physician and Britain’s first woman prison inspector. She tracked down the few facts she could find about the Ladies of Llangollen amongst a haystack of hearsay and spun them into a novel, casting the Ladies as feminist heroes. Eleanor Butler and Sarah Ponsonby first met in 1768, about 20 years before Anne Lister, another famous lesbian, was born. Their story starts off scandalous but soon turns cosy and boring. Both born of Irish nobility, they met as teacher and student and subsequently fled from their disapproving families to live happily ever after for 50 years in Wales. I’ve selected this work for LGBTQ+ month because Iast autumn I visited the Ladies of Llangollen’s home, Plas Newydd, and was enchanted. The walls are covered with dark wooden carvings, salvaged by them from disused churches and gifted by friends. There’s also a stuffed cat in the attic, and all their dogs were called Sappho. If your interest has been piqued, you can find Senate House Library’s copy in the Periodicals Room, along with our other recent acquisitions.
Recommended by Katrina, Cataloguer
Quicksand by Jun'ichirō Tanizaki
The original title of this novel by Japanese author Jun'ichirō Tanizaki is Manji, the Japanese word for the Buddhist Swastika. Set in Osaka of the 1920s, the narrative evokes the image of the eponymous four-pronged symbol in its tale of four lovers that are helplessly entwined in a bisexual affair marred with rising jealousy and obsession. Unable to disentangle the characters spin in place as if trapped in a whirlwind until the novel’s dramatic conclusion, a feeling that is captured aptly by the English title forgoing direct translation. While criticised at times for its content, the story was made into film four times in Japan (1964, 1983, 1998 and 2006) and once as an Italian-German co-production, changing the setting to Nazi Germany in “The Berlin Affair” (1985).
Call me by your name by André Aciman
The debut novel by Italian-American author André Aciman is a story of budding desire. In it, narrator Elio Perlman recalls the summer of 1983, when he met Oliver, a doctoral student staying in the Perlman’s family home in Italy. Elio is drawn to Oliver initially because of a shared Jewish heritage but soon also recognises his own bisexuality and attraction to the man. The courtship oscillates between subtle and explosively sensual until it concludes with Oliver’s departure, a separation only briefly mended again fifteen and twenty years after that Italian summer. It is a touching story lovingly told even when it talks about the fetishistic outgrowths of wild and young longing. Its essence was also captured in its 2007 film version – though the latter takes liberties when it comes to the specifics of plot and location.
Recommended by Axel Sabitzer, Cataloguer
Continue to explore
If you would like to explore our collections further and see more items in our collection which relate to LGTB+ history, you can visit the Senate House Library catalogue. We also currently have a display of books for LGBT+ History Month in the Service Hall at Senate House Library, which you can browse and borrow. This display will be in the Service Hall at Senate House Library until the end of the month.