Beauty and the Beast: Lesbians in Literature and Sexual Science from the Nineteenth to the Twentieth Centuries

  • Daniela Danna
Part of the Italian and Italian American Studies book series (IIAS)


At the turn of the century and into the 1920s, we find the rather questionable beginnings of a scientific discourse on lesbianism in Italy in the work of sexologists and in studies on masculinity and femininity (considered natural categories). What influence did this discourse have on the portrayal of lesbians in novels of the period? To be sure, the presence of lesbian characters is rather scant, but what is there holds some surprises and offers a fascinating contrast to the deprecating attitudes of positivism, and not just in literature written by women.1 The fact is that positivist theories of sexual inversion represented a reactionary strain of thought: Internationally, the second half of the nineteenth century witnessed the first gay rights movements inspired by the writings of Ulrichs and Kertbeny in German-speaking countries as well as the organizational activities of Magnus Hirschfeld. In 1897, Hirschfeld founded the Scientific Humanitarian Committee, which worked for the abolition of antisodomy laws and included lesbian women.2 Hirschfeld, a doctor, theorized the distribution of human sexuality across a natural scale that went from masculinity on one end to femininity on the other and embraced any number of possibilities in between. These intermediate forms took on the popular collective designation of “the third sex.” The research journal he founded, Yearbook for the Sexual Intermediates, published, among other things, autobiographical accounts by women who loved women.3


Lesbian Woman Fairy Tale Allo Studio Italian Translation Lesbian Motherhood 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. 2.
    For a synthesis of the studies of the period, see Magnus Hirschfeld, Die Homosexualität des Mannes und des Weibes (Berlin: Louis Marcus, 1914). The Homosexuality of Men and Women, trans. Michael A. Lombardi-Nash; intro. Vern L. Bullough (Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, 2000).Google Scholar
  2. 3.
    See Frau M. F., “Wie ich es sehe” in: Ilse Kokula, Weibliche Homosexualität um 1900 in zeigenössische Dokumenten (Munich: Frauenoffensive, 1981), pp. 177–78; rpr. in Jahrbuch für sexuelle Zwischenstufen 3 (1901), pp. 308–12. In the same collection,Google Scholar
  3. see E. Krause, “Die Wahrheit über mich,” p. 181; rpr. in Jahrbuch für sexuelle Zwischenstufen 3 (1901), pp. 292–307.Google Scholar
  4. 5.
    Arrigo Tamassia, “Sull’inversione sessuale,” Rivista sperimentale di freniatria e medicina legale 4 (1878), pp. 97–117.Google Scholar
  5. 6.
    Guglielmo Cantarano, “Contribuzione alla casuistica della inversione dell’istinto sessuale,” La psichiatria, la neuropatologia e le scienze affini 1,3 (1883), pp. 201–16. Again in 1892 Sighele emphasized the rarity of such cases. He wrote that relationships between women, a monstrous parody of real love, “represent the strangest, most depraved, and fortunately rarest type of relationship that two people can have”; he also spoke about Ulrichs, but only as filtered through Krafft-Ebing;Google Scholar
  6. see Scipio Sighele, “La coppia delinquente,” Archivio di psichiatria, scienze penali ed antropologia criminale per servire allo studio dell’uomo alienato e delinquente 13 (1892), p. 530. For a review of other such studies,Google Scholar
  7. see Nerina Milletti, “Analoghe sconcezze,” DWF, Donnawomanfemme 4 (1994), pp. 50–122.Google Scholar
  8. 11.
    Cesare Lombroso, “Del tribadismo nei manicomi,” Archivio di psichiatria, scienze penali ed antropologia criminale per servire allo studio dell’uomo alienato e delinquente 6 (1885), pp. 218–21.Google Scholar
  9. 14.
    Enrico Butti, L’automa. L’incantesimo, ed. Giuliano Manacorda (Cappelli: Bologna, 1968).Google Scholar
  10. 31.
    Liane de Pougy, Idylle saphique (Paris: Librarie de La Plume, 1901).Google Scholar
  11. 32.
    Aimée Duc, Sind es Frauen? Roman über das dritte Geschlecht (Berlin: Eckstein Nache, 1901).Google Scholar
  12. 44.
    See also Carola Susani, “Una critica della norma nell’Italia del fascismo,” in: Le parole e la storia: richerche su omosessualità e cultura, ed. Enrico Venturelli (Bologna: Il cassero, 1991) [Quaderni di critica omosessuale 9].Google Scholar
  13. 45.
    Guido Stacchini, Lesbiche (libera versione da Pierre Louys) (Milan: Morreale, 1927).Google Scholar
  14. 49.
    Alberto Piromalli, “Guido da Verona” in: Novecento. I contemporanei. Gli scrittori e la cultura letteraria nella società italiana, ed. Gianni Grane (Milan: Marzorati, 1979), vol. 1, pp. 681–86.Google Scholar
  15. 51.
    Radclyffe Hall, Il pozzo della solitudine, trans. Annie Lami (Milan: Dall’Oglio, 1930).Google Scholar
  16. 53.
    For more on this novel, see Claudia Schoppmann, “Der Skorpion”: Frauenliebe in der Weimarer Republik (Hamburg: Frühling Erwachen, 1985).Google Scholar
  17. 55.
    Ehrhardt F. W. Eberhard, Femminismo: decadenza. Gli aspetti sessuali della lotta per l’emancipazione femminile, ed. Drs. A. V and P. T (Milan: Universum, 1933); originally Die Frauenemanzipation und ihre erotischen Grundlagen (Vienna: W. Braumüller, 1924); second edition as Feminismus und Kulturuntergang: die erotischen Grundlagen der Frauenemanzipation (Vienna: W. Braumüller, 1929).Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Gary P. Cestaro 2004

Authors and Affiliations

  • Daniela Danna

There are no affiliations available

Personalised recommendations