Dissection and Desire: Cross-Dressing and the Fashioning of Lesbian Identity

  • Anna Kłosowska
Part of the The New Middle Ages book series (TNMA)


If later authors’ autographs also carry shreds of life attached to writing, reading medieval manuscripts is the most sensual of literary experiences.1 It begins with the noise of the cover opening, depending on how tight and in what (boards, leather, velvet) the volume is bound, and with the dry sound of leather leaves touching each other. Light diffuses in opaque, milky, soft vellum but glances off stiffer, buttery parchment. The pigments capture and imprison the light, but even a hairline of gold sharply ricochets it back. Larger pools of gold, especially on raised ground, have a hypnotic quality, like shimmering heat waves. The slope of the ground is almost imperceptible to the fingertips, but the eye recognizes it as a miniature landscape. There is a vanity in it, like in a tournure that puffs out the croup, or a padded brassière, or a codpiece. There is also a soft irregularity, as in a dollop of cream—although the ground is usually tinted red with minium, giving the somewhat translucent gold its characteristic warmth. In comparison, gold applied directly to the page as dust or leaf looks somehow modern, like a house with a flat roof. Plants, seeds, slugs, trellises are painted directly over the gold ground, wasting swaths of it, except for a brief period after the gilder applied it and before the painter got his hands on it, a period confined to the workshop. Painful, obvious waste of gold, paid but inaccessible, ostentatiously invisible like a cult object. Next to the excesses of gilt, the nervures in pastel grays, pinks, and malachite greens seem almost disap-pointing.


Fifteenth Century Heterosexual Marriage Female Protagonist Medieval Text Classical Myth 
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© Anna Kłosowska 2005

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  • Anna Kłosowska

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