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Surpassing The Love Of Men: Romantic Friendship And Love Between Women From The Renaissance To The Present

3.92  ·  Rating Details  ·  508 Ratings  ·  28 Reviews
First published in 1981, this feminist classic began modestly as an academic essay on Emily Dickinson's love poems and letters to her future sister-in-law, Sue Gilbert. In her original introduction, Faderman recalled her surprise at finding these records of an erotic attachment between women that showed no evidence of guilt, anxiety, or the need for secrecy. Yet 60 or 70 y ...more
Paperback, 496 pages
Published July 1st 1985 by The Women's Press Ltd (first published October 1st 1981)
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Jun 01, 2014 Anna rated it it was amazing
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. Faderm ...more
Erica Freeman
Mar 18, 2012 Erica Freeman rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
Mar 23, 2013 Alice rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 regret
Jul 11, 2013 Melvina rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 ...more
Nov 05, 2007 Linda rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: lgbt, nonfiction
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 th
Freyja Vanadis
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 t ...more
May 26, 2011 catharine rated it it was amazing
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.
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.
Sep 09, 2015 S.M. rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jul 15, 2010 M rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 liv ...more
Jul 29, 2014 Smoothw rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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.
Aug 07, 2016 J rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: lgbt
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.
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 Phy
Ronald Lett
Jan 20, 2016 Ronald Lett rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Everyone currently alive
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 sou ...more
Apr 13, 2016 Sandra rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Interesting, but maybe I wasn't the intended audience for this book.
Annie Holmes
Mar 22, 2014 Annie Holmes rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Read and loved long ago.
Jul 05, 2016 jax rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Aug 31, 2015 Bryn Hammond rated it liked it
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.
Apr 17, 2012 Martha rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
Dec 26, 2009 Valerie rated it really liked it
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.
Feb 19, 2008 Harper rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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.)
Jun 20, 2007 HeavyReader rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: people interested in women who love women
Shelves: feminist
This book was very thorough. It went on and on and on and on. It had a lot of good information, but it seemed like it really went on longer than it needed to.
Baxter Trautman
Dec 20, 2011 Baxter Trautman rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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.
Feb 28, 2014 Laura rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: genre-nonfiction
Maybe updated editions will be better (the one I read was printed in 1981) but WOW holy gender essentialism Batman.
Nov 15, 2008 Jude rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
an affirmation of so much of the love that has always shaped and saved the lives of women.
Aug 10, 2007 Mo rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: lesbo-a-go-go
This combined two of my favorite topics when I was in college: women and 19th century literature.
paperback, light wear at edges of covers and pages.
Aug 13, 2008 Danielle rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
a good look at history.
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Lillian Faderman is an internationally known scholar of lesbian history and literature, as well as ethnic history and literature. Among her many honors are six Lambda Literary Awards, two American Library Association Awards, and several lifetime achievement awards for scholarship. She is the author of The Gay Revolution and the New York Times Notable Books, Surpassing the Love of Men and Odd Girls ...more
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“Love between women could take on a new shape in the late nineteenth century because the feminist movement succeeded both in opening new jobs for women, which would allow them independence, and in creating a support group so that they would not feel isolated and outcast when they claimed their independence. … The wistful desire of Clarissa Harlowe’s friend, Miss Howe, “How charmingly might you and I live together,” in the eighteenth century could be realised in the last decades of the nineteenth century. If Clarissa Harlowe had lived about a hundred and fifty years later, she could have gotten a job that would have been appropriate for a woman of her class. With the power given to her by independence and the consciousness of a support group, Clarissa as a New Woman might have turned her back on both her family and Lovelace, and gone to live “charmingly” with Miss Howe. Many women did.” 4 likes
“Education continued to come under particularly strong fire...: If women learned how to manage in the world as well as men, if they learned about history and politics and studied for a profession, of course they would soon be demanding a voice and a role outside the home. The medical doctors soon discovered that education was dangerous to a female's health.” 1 likes
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