Do you yearn for a lesbian ghost story that evokes the atmosphere of the Victorian era in England? If so, I hope you’ll be tempted by my novella, Tragedy at Bawley Bay.
The story begins during a snow storm on Christmas Eve 1928, as a psychiatrist reads a recently-discovered and disturbing manuscript, written in 1866 by Jane Waterford. Jane’s account gradually unveils the disquieting events that culminate in her wrongful incarceration in the City of London Lunatic Asylum. She tells of forbidden desire for another woman and the terrible consequences that unfurl when the past refuses to relinquish the living.
I have loved reading novels since childhood and in my late 30s I was fortunate enough to return to University to study them. In time, my interests began to focus on nineteenth-century British women writers, both well-known ones such as Charlotte Brontë and Elizabeth Gaskell, and less famous ones, such as Mary Taylor and Eliza Lynn Linton.
My research led me to conclude that these writers used Gothic images (ghosts, vampires, monsters etc.) to represent sexual desire, sexual acts and marriage between women. This is remarkable because, although Victorian society encouraged women to have Romantic Friendships with each other, these were intended to prepare them for marriage to a man. But I believe the Victorians also idealised such asexual friendships so that women would repress or remain silent about their sexual desire for each other. However, the authors I studied gave a veiled voice to a different message: that sexual desire between women did indeed exist and that some women were acting upon it. Thus, their fiction reflected the lives that some women were living, rather than the ideology of Romantic Friendship. The writers’ images were not always complimentary, but at least they served to make visible that which Victorian society knew existed but refused to acknowledge.
More surprisingly, I also found during my reading that some twentieth and twenty-first century historians and literary critics offered interpretations that erased sexual desire and the possibility of sex between women in the nineteenth-century. They sometimes tied themselves in knots in order to not notice and not write about the lesbian content (such as, women in bed together, sharing long kisses or living together). If they did remark about such things, they sometimes claimed that it didn’t mean anything or shouldn’t be judged in today’s terms.
It is the fact that these writers, such as Brontë and Gaskell, were forced to rely on secret codes that has inspired me to write fiction set in a similar period. I want to recover the lesbian and the erotic aspect of lesbian relationships in no uncertain terms.
Focusing on the image of the ghost, my novella Tragedy at Bawley Bay is set mainly in the Victorian era, on the River Thames near London, and I hope you find it as compelling and psychologically thrilling a read as Susan Hill’s wonderful ghost stories (The Woman in Black, for example). The main difference being that the protagonist in Tragedy at Bawley Bay is a feisty lesbian character and strong lesbian themes take centre stage. I’m also consciously reinstating lesbian desire because I believe, despite the apparent lack of historical evidence, that women in the nineteenth century did experience sexual desire for each other and enjoy sex together. They cannot simply be dismissed as Romantic Friends!
I hope you enjoy reading the novella and I would love to read your reviews on Amazon and receive your feedback on my website.
Although our lives have improved in many ways over the last few decades here in the United Kingdom, so much of mainstream culture still unthinkingly portrays a heterosexual perspective. I feel concern for everyone in the USA who doesn’t conform to President Trump’s view of what’s normal and I dread the possibility that where the US goes today, the UK may soon follow. I lived through the 1970s and 1980s in the UK and so I know how frightening such intimidation can be.
Having said that, oppressive states and societies have always found it difficult to silence writers (think of Alexander Solzhenitsyn, for example) and so my primary aim in my fictional writing is to present the lesbian view and to make her visible. I plan to continue doing so no matter how difficult the political climate becomes. We, our loving relationships, our achievements and our life-struggles, have been and still are discounted far too often.
Elizabeth M Cox has a PhD in English and Comparative Literary Studies (Warwick, United Kingdom) and has worked as a University Academic Writing Tutor. Tragedy at Bawley Bay is her debut novella. Her short story ‘The Lake at Foxcote,’ is published in the 2015 Halloween anthology, Chilled to the Bone, published by the Bardstown Writers’ Group in Stratford upon Avon. Elizabeth grew up near the North Kent town of Gravesend situated on the River Thames and lives in Warwickshire with her partner.
- Website: http://elizabethmcox.com
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