Exploding Appendix Questionnaire: James Riley
September 13, 2020
Podcast 16: Night Sweats & Fever Dreams: A Live Discussion with Oli Spleen and Nick Hudson
September 26, 2020

Panel for Jean Fouquet’s Melun diptych, 1450; and, illustration for Pierre Louÿs’ The Songs of Bilitis (1894), by Georges Barbier, 1922.


“… I suggest that the fascinating “impossibility” of Mary’s virgin motherhood constitutes precisely its attraction for those constructing antimarriage and antireproduction narratives in the nineteenth century and that they drew on old traditions of reading this figure. Mary, flying in the face of biology and heterosexual normativity, is the exemplary figure for the odd lives of male and female saints who chose same-sex community over marriage, the “miracle” of creativity over reproduction”
Ruth Vanita, Sappho and the Virgin Mary: Same-Sex Love and the English Literary Imagination (Columbia University Press, 1996) p.8
“If Sappho stands for a woman’s community of learning, so does Mary. Both figures are empowered by tradition, simultaneously available for gendering as ideal women and for ungendering as too unconventional to be “feminine.” If Sappho suggests the danger and pain of erotic love in a woman’s community, Mary suggests its joy, self-sufficiency, and autonomous creativity. The interplay between them aspires towards a new Eden or new Jerusalem―a revolutionary idea of community―in Romantic texts.”
Ruth Vanita, Sappho and the Virgin Mary, p.52


In her 1996 book Sappho and the Virgin Mary: Same-Sex Love and the English Literary Imagination, Ruth Vanita explores how the Virgin Mary, with her reproduction without sexual relations with a man, and Sappho, with her lyrical poetry expressing love of women, provided an influence to lesbian and gay writers in England. Drawing upon the work of William Shakespeare, Jane Austen, Percy Shelley, the Ladies of Llangollen, Walter Pater, Oscar Wilde, Simion Soloman, George Meredith, Michael Field, Edward Carpenter,  Sigmund Freud, E.M Forster, Hope Mirrlees and Virginia Woolf, Ruth Vanita argues that the Marian and Sappho myths provided an important basis for the gender and sexual explorations of Romantic, Aestheticist and Bloomsbury writers. Whilst it may seem apparent how these mythologies might inspire women writers, Vanita shows how these myths inspired male homosexual writers too, suggesting that these myths could inspire an array of different voices as they search for a new radical community. By approaching English literature in this way,  Vanita argues that “In nineteenth-century England Sapphic and Marian myths posit continuing clitoral joy and same-sex love and friendship as possibilities for both men and women.” (Vanita, p.8)
In this session we will draw upon Ruth Vanita’s book, as well as art and literature more generally, in order to explore issues around the Marian and Sappho myths, gender, sexuality, community, utopianism and the detournement of tradition. This session will be guided via a presentation interspersed with general discussion. The event is free. All welcome.
This session will be run as part of the Exploding Appendix Avant-garde Art Practice and Research Group’s fortnightly meetup, which will be taking place online via Zoom.  (https://us02web.zoom.us/j/7317698673) The meeting ID is 731 769 8673. This session will be run by Bradley Tuck and take place on the 6th October 2020 from 19:30 – 22:30 (British Summer Time). If you would like to join us for the session, or have any questions please message me at explodingappendix@gmail.com