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a secret map of english literature

inseparable: desire between women in literature

a secret map of english literature

A review of Inseparable: Desire Between Women in Literature, by Emma Donoghue; Published by Knopf / Cleis; Available in hardcover (2010) and paperback (2011)

Literary critic and novelist Donoghue refers to Inseparable as “a sort of map” to different images of desire between women in English literature and the path those archetypes have followed from Chaucer all the way down to us.

She divides her book into six chapters, each addressing a different archetypical plot that hinges on desire between women. The first chapter starts the book with stories about transvestitism that accidentally lead to same sex desire, or at least it’s appearance (Mr. Shakespeare, I’m looking at you…). They range to the final chapter concerning modern “coming out” stories of women who come into knowledge of their difference and achieve some measure of redemption by this – a story that Donoghue shows to have some surprisingly old antecedents.

Her language and style are personable and fun, so what might have been a dry taxonomy becomes a fast paced “Cook’s Tour” of English literature. She is also remarkably sympathetic as a researcher, willing to give historical authors the benefit of the doubt in portrayals of women’s bonds. They say the past is another country and if so, then Donoghue is a charming tour guide – and one who seems to know where all the best parties are …

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