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‘Forty Years of Steadfast Friendship’ or, What Does a Lesbian Look Like?’ (CQH)

February 6 @ 5:30 pm - 7:00 pm

The recent controversy over the wording of Ann Lister’s ‘rainbow plaque’ in York highlighted some of the challenges faced by contemporary LGBTQ historians who attempt to retro-fit queer identities onto historical figures. The life and loves of the distinguished academic Caroline Spurgeon and her friends, who are the subject of this paper, pose similar difficulties. Like many others of the first generation of graduate career women, Spurgeon chose female companionship over marriage; she lived with Lilian Clapham for nearly four decades and commemorated their ‘happy life together’ on Lilian’s tombstone. Further investigation, however, troubles this romantic suggestion of lifelong lesbian monogamy, and puts Sturgeon at the centre of a transatlantic tangle of same-sex relationships among some of the most distinguished women of the early twentieth century. Can we claim Sturgeon and her circle as our lesbian kin? And what lessons can we learn from them about interpreting queer lives in the past?

Talk by Dr Jane Traies, author of Now You See Me: Lesbian Life Stories (2018) and The Lives of Older Lesbians: Sexuality, Identity and the Life Course (2016).

Ask for directions at Selwyn College Porter’s Lodge on Grange Road.

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February 6
5:30 pm - 7:00 pm
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The Diamond
Selwyn College, Grange Road
Cambridge, Cambridgeshire CB3 9DQ United Kingdom
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