Honno Press have over the years published a number of novels, short stories and poems with LGBT+ themes, many of them in the Welsh Women’s Classics series.
Amy Dillwyn’s novel Jill, for instance is the story of an unconventional heroine, much like the author herself, and is based on the author’s own passionate attachment to a woman she called her wife, but who she couldn’t have. Jill is a poignant story of same-sex desire and unrequited love and is an under recognised lesbian novel, written 45 years earlier than The Well of Loneliness which is often hailed as the first British lesbian novel.
The editor, Kirsti Bohata, writes in Diva magazine that:
“Writing against the patriarchal assumption that two women could only set up home together as a last resort, her novels validate lesbian love as a desirable alternative to marriage and family duties. In her novels, she turned to literary codes which emphasised a challenge [to the social order – her characters cross boundaries of gender, class and the law – in order to depict a same-sex desire that she wanted to be paramount, not a last resort.”
In Welsh Women’s Poetry, 1460 – 2001, the first bilingual anthology of Welsh women’s poetry, in both the Welsh and English languages – Honno have published several lesbian poets. Gwerful Mechain [1462-1500], the most well-known Welsh female poet from this period, often challenged ideas of gender in her writing. Her poem ‘I’r Cedor’ for instance subverts the expected medieval odes to women on their beauty and is instead written to female genitalia.
Sarah Jane Rees (1839 –1916), another lesbian figure in Welsh writing, edited Y Frythones, (a monthly Welsh language periodical for women), from 1878-1889 as well as writing her own poetry under the name Cranogwen. Examples of her passionate poetry to women can be found in Welsh Women’s Poetry, 1460 – 2001 as well as a poem written in loving admiration of her – ‘Cranogwen’ – by Buddug, another key female Welsh poet of the time.
Author Margiad Evans had an affair with Ruth Farr whilst married and lesbian themes are explored in her short story ‘A Modern Adornment’, published in A View Across the Valley: Short Stories by Women from Wales c.1850-1950, through the relationship between Miss Allensmoore and Miss Plant, elderly women who ‘lived together for many years in a cottage outside a small village’.
Another writer, Bertha Thomas, was a nineteenth and twentieth-century ‘New Woman’ known for writing in support of women’s suffrage as well as on themes of gender and sexuality, alongside Anglo-Welsh identity, published in the anthology Stranger Within the Gates.
The identities and themes of gender, sexuality and national identity that run through the writing of many of the great Welsh women writers of the past highlights the importance of keeping in print women’s historical writing to illuminate sexuality and gender in Welsh history.
You can find the texts listed above and below on our Classics page: Also check out our collection of lesbian novels, classic and contemporary, on offer for LGBT History month at: https://www.honno.co.uk/catalogue/fiction/novels/lesbian-fiction-collection/
With thanks to Mair Jones for her research on exploring LGBT themes in Honno’s books. Mair was writing an MA Dissertation on the Queer History of Wales while studying MA History of Wales at Aberystwyth University, and provided the material for this blog while volunteering for Honno.
Aaron, Jane ed. A View Across the Valley: Short Stories by Women from Wales c.1850-1950 An Anthology. Wales. 2002.
Aaron, Jane ed. Nineteenth Century Women’s Writing in Wales: Nation, Gender and Identity. Cardiff. 2010.
Bohata, Kirsti. Postcolonialism Revisited: Writing Wales in English. Cardiff. 2004.
Bohata, Kirsti & Gramich, Katie ed. Rediscovering Margiad Evans: Marginality, Gender and Illness. Cardiff. 2013.
Dillwyn, Amy. Bohata, Kirsti ed. Jill. Wales. 2013.
Dillwyn, Amy, Gramich, Katie. The Rebecca Rioter. Wales. 2001.
Dillwyn, Amy, Favre, Alison. A Burglary: Or ‘Unconscious Influence.’ Wales. 2009.
Gramich, Katie & Brennan, Catherine ed. Welsh Women’s Poetry 1460-2001 An Anthology. Wales. 2003.
Painting, David. Amy Dillwyn. Cardiff. 1987.
Roberts, Harri Garrod. Embodying Identity: Representations of the Body in Welsh Literature: Writing Wales in English. Cardiff. 2009.
Thomas, Bertha. Bohata, Kirsti ed. Stranger Within the Gates: A collection of short stories. Wales. 2008.