Read Surpassing the Love of Men: Romantic Friendship and Love Between Women from the Renaissance to the Present by Lillian Faderman Online


A classic of its kind, this fascinating cultural history draws on everything from private correspondence to pornography to explore five hundred years of friendship and love between women. Surpassing the Love of Men throws a new light on shifting theories of female sexuality and the changing status of women over the centuries....

Title : Surpassing the Love of Men: Romantic Friendship and Love Between Women from the Renaissance to the Present
Author :
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ISBN : 9780688133306
Format Type : Paperback
Number of Pages : 496 Pages
Status : Available For Download
Last checked : 21 Minutes ago!

Surpassing the Love of Men: Romantic Friendship and Love Between Women from the Renaissance to the Present Reviews

  • Anna
    2019-03-22 17:44

    I found this book wholly fascinating and compelling, yet sad. It tells the story of love between women and how perceptions and prejudices have shaped it across the centuries. As it was first published in 1981, the subtitle is no longer accurate. The lesbian-feminist movement of the 1970s is the last trend described and it is salutary to compare this to the situation today. The book begins with the notion of ‘romantic friendship’, which reached its height of popularity in the 18th century. Faderman’s examination of romantic friendship demonstrates powerfully how changeable cultural norms are, in an area (love and sex) often blithely treated as immutable. Certainly, you have the trend today of framing so-called masculine and feminine behaviours as biologically fixed, as challenged in the excellent Delusions of Gender: How Our Minds, Society, and Neurosexism Create Difference. A major theme that I felt ran through the book was how sexuality is currently seen as a matter of desire and attraction, rather than behaviour, whereas this has not always been the case. Romantic friendships were a loving behaviour between women which did not tie them to a particular identity, sexual or otherwise. In the 18th century, though, it was widely assumed that none of these romantic friendships could have a sexual aspect, as a) women were assumed to have little or no libido, and b) the men whose writings on the topic have survived did not know how two women could have sex! There is thus a bittersweet tone to the initial chapters on romantic friendship. Undoubtedly their bonds brought a lot of women much joy, companionship, and deep love, however this was within a deeply oppressive patriarchal society. When it became possible for women to be financially independent from men, romantic friendships became suspect.Thus, the chapters on the 19th century are saddening, as they recount how romantic friendship became pathologised, exoticised, and condemned. Women who had been happily emotionally involved with one another were now treated as sick, in need of psychotherapy, and a threat to family life/the children/society in general. The sexologists, especially Freud, were at the vanguard of this. In short, the patriarchy attempted to ruin the emotional bonds that women had developed in part as a way to survive misogyny. Faderman examines the fictional depictions of women loving women (by then labelled ‘lesbianism’) that promulgated these negative ideas. I was amused by her palpable scorn at the decadent movement’s voyeuristic lesbian stereotyping. For example, ‘The emphasis in most of Verlaine’s other lesbian poems, as in Baudelaire’s, is on sex and sin - but of course the women are always young and lovely and arousing as they shuffle off to hell’. In Faderman’s opinion, only the feminist movement of the 1970s has been able to rehabilitate love between women. I didn’t previously understand what feminists of that decade meant by lesbian, as it seems to differ significantly from the assumed definition today. Lesbian-feminists of the 1970s apparently made a decision to focus their important emotional relationships (which could be sexual but might not be) on other women. Their lesbianism is thus defined by choice and behaviour, whereas today it is assumed that a lesbian is a woman who is sexually attracted to other women whether she likes it or not. In a way, this shifting definition powerfully demonstrates that in the 21st century, there is an assumption of compulsory sexuality. Thus, behaviour is presumed to follow attraction. Lesbians are women who are attracted to women and therefore have sex with them. Whereas Faderman is at pains to point out that romantic friendships seems often to have been sensual, maybe even sexual, but that was by no means the most important thing about them. Love today is so defined by sex. All serious non-familial relationships and emotional attachments are assumed to have a sexual component. I seem to recall that Freud even claimed that all platonic friendships have sexual attraction buried at their core. Freud has a lot to answer for, really. Even as his theories have been academically discredited, their influence on Western popular culture continues.‘Surpassing the Love of Men’ reminded me that as women in Europe and the US have gained more sexual freedom, this has brought new constraints and novel forms of sexism. The idea of sexuality as being innate, something you’re born with, counters homophobia by denying the possibility of medical rehabilitation. On the other hand, it also tends to exclude the freedom to choose your sexual and emotional behaviours and aims to neatly categorise everyone. I can imagine the hostile confusion that would result today if you came out as a lesbian, on the basis of not wanting emotional relationships with men whether or not you are attracted to them. Women’s bodies are still generally presumed to be sexually available to men. Moreover, any attraction is generally assumed to be sexual, despite the asexual community’s efforts at subdivision (sexual/romantic/sensual elements, etc). And as sexual attraction is treated as the most important and irresistible component of love, non-sexual relationships are deemed unimportant. This is why I felt a sense of loss when reading about romantic friendships. I love my close female friends very much, however none of them are my 'girlfriend', so these relationships are trivialised. In the media, there are very few depictions of female friendships that are recognisable to me. Female characters in films and on TV are so often rivals for a man's interest, rather than having emotional attachments to one another. Since the 18th century women's lives have improved immeasurably, but not without some losses. We still live in a misogynistic world, though I'm well aware that as a white, middle class woman I'm insulated from the worst of it.

  • Маrika Kosciuszko
    2019-03-14 13:35

    Vycerpavajuca antologia, za ktorou je poctivy kus prace! Autorka sa sustreduje na vztahy medzi zenami za poslednych 400 rokov- cerpa z romanov, poezie, odbornej literatury, dobovej tlace. Detailne zachytava ako sa menilo vnimanie lesbickych vztahov v priebehu storoci a co konkretne malo na tieto zmeny vplyv. Okrem toho prinasa jednotlive osudy zien/parov, ktore sa aj napriek dobe, ktora im nepriala, rozhodli ist vlastnou cestou. Nelahke citanie, ktore ale stoji za tu namahu preluskat sa do konca.

  • Erica Freeman
    2019-02-24 13:31

    I read this in college, and even with my unreasonably long list of "to-reads," I can't wait to read it again. Validating and fascinating. Not just about lesbianism, but about intellectual, "fraternal," and even sensual (not necessarily sexual) love, respect, and affections between women.

  • Melvina
    2019-03-07 16:38

    Very interesting. I got impatient with some of the chapters; it seemed repetitive at times. As I read it, it became more clear to me that romantic friendships haven't gone away, they're just called something else. In many of the examples, these women were not "romantically" involved with several friends, these were exclusive relationships. These friendships involved two women who were totally in love with each other, or exclusively attached to one another. The Boston marriages, for instance. By the end of the book, I was convinced there is no such thing as "romantic friendships". They are now just called same-sex relationships or same-sex marriage. Our current culture doesn't have a problem with two women being exclusively attached to each other (well, for the most part; we've come a long way, but it's still not perfect). I love the history in this book and there were so many great examples of real women as well as literary characters. I recommend it for the history AND the scholarship.

  • Alice
    2019-02-27 14:23

    Even if you disagree with some of Faderman's 1981 conclusions (especially about more contemporary events — the section on feminism and women 'choosing' to be lesbian as a feminist statement made me do some facepalming), the amount of research that went into this book — PRE-INTERNET, mind you — is staggering.She traces the history of romantic friendship from the 1500s to the 1970s, and gives an excellent overview of lesbian literature while doing so. She has stated in recent times that she regrets the Anne Lister diaries not having come to light when she was writing this, but that is one missed example among tens that she did find.I read Diana Victrix by Florence Converse because of this book. I know more about Gertrude Stein; I am looking forward to reading the poetry of Amy Lowell; I'm trying to get my hands on the letters of Geraldine Jewsbury and Jane Carlyle; I'll be reading 'A Description of Millennium Hall,' as well as 'Lesbia Brandon' by Swinburne and 'Ormond' by Charles Brockden Brown. It's been a fantastic experience.

  • Linda
    2019-03-18 19:33

    Lillian Faderman's book is a summary of society's views toward love between women over the last 400 years. That's a rather ambitious project. She's got a lot of ground to cover and covering that ground takes a while. That can make the book a bit slow at times, but it's definitely a worthwhile read. Much of the history she discussed was totally unknown to me and while dry, it was interesting.It seems likely that her goal for the book was to show that society didn't view love between women with through the same lens as many in society do today. To summarize the book in a sentence or two is a disservice but Faderman argues that until the end of the 19th Century, society not only tolerated but encouraged love between women (what was known as "romantic friendship") at least so long as the relationship wasn't perceived as sexual or neither woman was trying to either pass as a man or usurp a male role. Only with the advent of psychiatry and the first studies of human behavior was a friendship between women that went beyond simple friendship seen as disordered.She uses letters and literature of the periods to make her case and also shows how the modern myth of the lesbian as a vampire-like creature had it's origins in 17th Century French literature. Given how little literature dealt with lesbian themes, these early works were often the basis or inspiration for much of what followed, even into 20th Century America.The modern debate about whether same-sex love is genetic or caused by environment is also shown to be a debate that dates back to the early psychiatrists.If you want a book that provides some insight into how society came to be in it's current form, this is a good start down that path.

  • Freyja Vanadis
    2019-03-06 15:28

    This book took me forever to read; not only because it's long, but because it's full of (too much) information. And while Faderman doesn't exactly use a dry style of writing - she's very readable - she does tend to repeat the same thing over and over and over. She had countless examples of female couples through the centuries, who all did the same things and acted the same way. Pretty soon they all blended together and I had a hard time keeping track of who's who. It's like the people were all the same, just the names changed.

  • catharine
    2019-03-05 18:17

    Weighty, but a fascinating read on the history of relationships between women and, more interestingly, the drastic changes in perception about physical and intense emotional interaction. Within 20 years of 1900, having a close female friend as the center of your emotional life went from completely normal and expected, to being the sign of a diseased mind. Amazing stuff - it totally reframed Anne of Green Gables, Little Women, and My Antonio for me.

  • ael
    2019-03-25 15:39

    I'm getting really tired of Lillian Faderman's "all lesbians are nice ladies who hold hands as they walk down the beach" thing, also of the trans-invisibility thing (all inverts were just dykes? really?), but I know she's just coming from a certain generation. That said, she certainly does churn out the easy-reading dyke history tomes.

  • Carlos
    2019-03-05 15:42

    This book was interesting if a bit long. Faderman has an amazing ability to recreate the pre-Freudian world of the 17th and 18th centuries when the idea of romantic friendships between women were not yet contaminated by the baggage of the “sexual invert”. She highlights how in at a time when women were ignored by men and society in general they found the best company among their own members. While she takes pains to make sure that the reader does not assume that all of these intense friendships were what we would call today lesbian relationship, she does try to highlight how women who loved women were able to do so more openly at this time. Faderman then continues her story documenting how the rise of feminism and Freud’s sex theories created a backlash against these relationships. They were now suspected of encouraging deviant behavior and actually undermining society (!). Faderman follows this trend through the countless novels that started shifting from depicting the “pure” love of two women to the pathological seductions of murderous lesbians. While I felt that the author goes a bit overboard in trying to follow this change of heart in the literary tastes and its reflection of society as a whole, the book was still an interesting read that illustrates the counterintuitive rise and fall of women’s relationships from when women were thought of as asexual to when they were suspected of being deviants.

  • Vitani Days
    2019-03-03 11:17

    Davvero un ottimo, interessantissimo saggio che prende in esame la storia delle "amicizie particolari" femminili dal Rinascimento ai giorni nostri. Molto ben documentato, ricchissimo di esempi, aneddoti e consigli di lettura, offre un quadro completo ed esauriente di come si sia evoluto il concetto di "lesbica" (o meglio, di "donna che ama altre donne") nel corso dei secoli, e di quanto il giudizio e la dominanza maschili abbiano influito sulla percezione del ruolo della donna all'interno della società.Ampio spazio è dedicato al XVIII e al XIX secolo, e sono affrontate da più punti di vista tematiche come le romantic friendships, il travestitismo, la femme fatale, il Boston marriage, passando poi al Novecento e alla rivoluzione sessuale.Un saggio che induce alla riflessione e che è illuminante per quanto riguarda la storia della sessualità femminile da un punto di vista strettamente sociologico. Soprattutto, fa capire quanto della nostra mentalità sia frutto di una scientificità che si è affermata solo nella seconda metà dell'Ottocento, incasellando in via definitiva la sessualità umana all'interno del binomio "etero-omo", e quanto certi preconcetti dati proprio da tale mentalità siano errati e, a tutt'oggi, duri da scalzare.Ricchissima tra l'altro la bibliografia.Lettura assolutamente consigliata!

  • Meri Elena
    2019-03-18 15:45

    This is an interesting and informative book about the history of intimate relationships between women in Western Europe and (later) the USA from the 1500s to the 1970s. It is definitely a long and a dense read, but well worth the time, I thought. I will say that it is overflowing with the author's opinions. I learned a lot of historical facts, but I had to read everything through a very thick filter of Lillian Faderman's interpretation of everything and everyone. I found her perspective intriguing, but having her present her thoughts as gospel truth got old fast. Despite that frustration, this was still a good book.

  • Sabrina
    2019-03-20 18:35

    The first two thirds of this book, dealing with "romantic friendship" between women in the 16th-19th centuries, are brilliantly done. A fascinating examination of lesbian history and women's history. The final third, dealing with the 20th century, is weaker in comparison, particularly due to Faderman's advocacy for what are now seen as outdated concepts (e.g. political lesbianism). However, all in all, it's a valuable and enjoyable read. Maybe consider stopping reading once you get to the second wave feminist movement.

  • Highlyeccentric
    2019-03-13 11:25

    Actually more useful to me than expected (including some citations on opposite-sex friendship!). As a work of scholarship, exactly what I expected: wildly generalising, often flat out wrong about late-early-modern society, deeply lesbian essentialist. Some neat historical case studies, lots of dubious interpretation.

  • Cathy Bogart
    2019-03-01 18:35

    A classic! Must read anyone interested in female relationships!

  • Alex
    2019-03-08 14:36


  • M
    2019-03-19 11:22

    The subject matter is so much worth a look that it carries the book in spite of Faderman's use of it to grind an axe. There is exquisite academic writing to be found, but none of it between these covers. The author has an idea worth exploring, adequately researches it, and presents it in what should have been a timely manner. Unfortunately, in the early twentieth century, women as well as men unquestioningly embraced the ex cathedra rulings of modern psychology. Several generations later, we live in a time of a population fragmented into cliques, where there is little sense of identity beyond the political and sentimental, and in which people with the perspicacity or inclination to question the status quo more than superficially appear to be few. It's strange to consider that, had the male establishment not intuitively identified a weapon insidiously damaging to the advancement of women, at once depriving them of an age-old source of strength and striking at their Achilles' heel, that women should be in love with each other and be physically intimate with each other might seem no more aberrant or unnatural now than it did before psychologists successfully demonized such behavior a century ago.

  • S.M.
    2019-03-10 16:21

    I certainly took my time in reading this (over a year--oops), so the earlier sections have lost some of their original "oomf." That said, the discussions regarding historical relationships between women, specifically the idea of the romantic friendships, was fascinating and easily the best parts of the entire book. They were informative and well-researched, and full of information and ideas I'd never heard or thought of before. In contrast, the latter parts that discuss second-wave feminism were odd and uncomfortable to read. There's blatant homo-, trans-, and bi-phobia throughout. It was moderately interesting in terms of learning about ideas that were central to second-wave feminism, but Faderman believed (believes?) that to be a true feminist meant one had to choose lesbianism and had to reject any and all male relationships (...though perhaps not familial relationships with the brothers and fathers? It's difficult to tell). Overall, I do recommend "Surpassing the Love of Men." It was interesting and informative and, from what I've gleaned, a seminal part of second-wave feminism. However, I do wish I'd skipped, or perhaps just skimmed, the latter sections.

  • Sarah
    2019-03-23 19:26

    So this book has been sitting in the used LGBT studies section probably since I was hired and I was always like "oh, goofy titled book, you sound totally boring." But, wow, I didn't expect to be reading so much dirty sixteenth century porn. Goodness. My favorite quote so far:There were occasional poems during the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries which poked fun at lesbian love, such as "Tribades seu Lesbia" by Francois Mainard (1582 - 1646), in which the writer tells "Beautiful Phyllis" that if her finger knew how to urinate along with what else it knows it could pass for something unmentionable."lol.Also, Lillian Faderman has a delightfully understated academic snarkiness that I'm highly enjoying.(more to come)

  • Ronald Lett
    2019-03-02 18:19

    An excellent history of romantic friendship, with a little of the associated links of first and second wave feminism, from the sixteenth century through the first half of the twentieth century. The main text is well sourced (the endnotes are over 60 pages), so there are quite a lot of concrete references to go with the main points of the text. One nitpick is that the author will sometimes overquote, ie., list an entire paragraph of references within the main text, or lift an entire poem from source when only a single stanza is referenced. Otherwise, an indispensable read.

  • J
    2019-03-12 16:22

    very extensive and very interesting in demosntrating how lesbian love has been seen through the century and how its never been only a sexual thing but also repetitive and most important, very transphobic. im used to "casual" transphobia in lgbt history/theory but this is on another level (at least she doesnt speak about it much). also there is an hilarious bit where she implies butch women are only butch bc they have been brainwashed by fiction describing lesbians as masculine.

  • Smoothw
    2019-02-22 19:26

    Comprehensive, but dull and axe grindey. It's dull because it analyzes a bunch of mostly forgotten novels from centuries past that have lesbian themes, most of which are justly forgotten.It's axe grinding (and thus plenty suspect) because it was written during that brief decade when people believed political lesbianism was a thing (perhaps it still is? i hope not) and thus argues that female homosexuality is entirely socially constructed.

  • jax
    2019-03-21 17:37

    Fascinating read that is inspiring and depressing (and anger inducing at the injustices of the past). Overall this book could be more intersectional and as a 35 year old book it has its dated terminology and at times really feels its age. However despite this, the narrative and depth of research really captured me, especially in the earlier eras that explore early queer and feminist experiences.

  • Bryn Hammond
    2019-03-02 15:21

    My 1981 cover isn't here: photograph of two nineteenth-century ladies, an arm around each other, one of them in a haughty go-away glance over her shoulder straight at the camera. I dare say this is way outdated in attitudes, but I met a lot of interesting women.

  • Valerie
    2019-02-27 18:27

    I read this when I was a Literature Major at UCSC. I can't remember if I read it for a class, or for research for a paper. But I remember being impressed by the author's research and the exhaustive nature of this book.

  • Martha
    2019-02-28 11:18

    It's a bit dated now (2012), with a lot of talk about political lesbians vs congenital, etc. But the earlier sections are quite good. If I were teaching a course on societal attitudes to same-gender attraction, I would use portions of this. It's also very readable.

  • Laura
    2019-03-11 15:44

    Maybe updated editions will be better (the one I read was printed in 1981) but WOW holy gender essentialism Batman.

  • Baxter Trautman
    2019-03-13 12:19

    A classic in non-fiction lesbian literature. Read it as a very young coming-out lesbian and found it a tremendous source of comfort, inspiration, and pride.

  • Harper
    2019-02-28 18:44

    Boring lesbian history. Interesting if you're patient, because it's pretty repetitive. It is very thorough and takes a very historical approach (not social or thematic.)

  • Sandra
    2019-03-13 13:37

    Interesting, but maybe I wasn't the intended audience for this book.