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3.71  ·  Rating details ·  806 ratings  ·  103 reviews
Considered one of the most subtle and beautifully written lesbian novels of the century, this 1949 classic returns to print in a Cleis Press edition. Dorothy Stracheys classic Olivia captures the awakening passions of an English adolescent sent away for a year to a small finishing school outside Paris. The innocent but watchful Olivia develops an infatuation for her ...more
Paperback, 112 pages
Published October 5th 1987 by Virago Modern Classics (first published 1949)
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Average rating 3.71  · 
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Gabrielle Dubois
I read Olivia, by Olivia in its very first 1949 edition. I made researches to know who Olivia could be and I found: Dorothy Bussy (1865-1960), English, published three works, only one of them was a novel: Olivia in 1949. She has it published under the pseudonym Olivia. In my 1949 edition, the name Dorothy Bussy is not even mentioned.
This novel caused a scandal when it was published. Why? Because it is a disguised autobiography and its subject is the author's love for her female teacher.
In this
Aug 08, 2014 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a supposed classic of lesbian fiction. I had to check it out. Sometimes novels (or movies for that matter) are named classics due to their sheer quality, originality and epic grandness, sometimes it is due to their contents being revolutionary for its day or for pioneering a new territory or genre. With Olivia it might have been the latter. It is a well written story of a student's ardent and incredibly chaste crush on her schoolmistress. As characteristic of its time, the Victorian ...more
Aug 29, 2018 marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: to-read-soon
Heard about this from a great GQ piece called "21 Books You Don't Have to Read," which dismisses canonical standards and offers replacements instead. Here's from the entry for this book:

I have never been able to fathom why The Catcher in the Rye is such a canonical novel. I read it because everyone else in school was reading it but thought it was totally silly. Now, looking back, I find that it is without any literary merit whatsoever. Why waste adolescents' time? Alternatively, I'd suggest
I'll do a proper review of this novel after I see the 1951 movie Olivia, but FYI: it's wonderful.
I was desperately curious about this because boarding school and lesbians and older book makes for a pretty interesting combination. And interesting it is, but so terribly odd in some ways too. I don't think this sort of book would make it past a contemporary slush pile, to be honest. The setup drags on for quite some time, despite the book's short length, and there are numerous red herringsI'd initially expected, for example, that Olivia's love interest would be Laura, but instead...instead we ...more
Suzanne Stroh
In the pantheon of lesbian classics reigns Olivia, Strachey's gripping account of her own coming of age, which is actually a roman à clef about two progressive Belle Époque girls' schools founded by Marie Souvestre. Strachey attended both: Allenswood in England and, in France near the forest of Fontainebleau, Les Ruches. Olivia is set at Les Ruches.

It was, of course, a "beehive" of erotic activity. Top Student Eleanor Roosevelt plays a supporting role in a cast that includes Strachey's
Annabeth Leong
Dec 29, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
When I bought this book I joked to my friend that books like this should come with a tragedy meter. "On a scale of 0-10, how likely are the lesbians to die at the end?" I was nervous that I'd be frustrated and wouldn't enjoy the book because of that tragic trope. However, I found myself drawn in by the writing style. I also really appreciated the sense of adolescent mystery that the book captured. The narrator, Olivia, hasn't really figured out what's going on with erotic connectionsI don't ...more
Paloma Etienne
Sep 25, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: literatura-lgtb
Fantastic and passionate. Mlle Julia is a force of nature
Dec 06, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: lesbians, romantics
Shelves: own-at-home, queer
I cannot believe this work is not more well-known as an early book about the lesbian experience. Possibly autobiographical, it tells the story of a 16-year old girl's love for her teacher. A classic story, to be sure, but Bussy imbues such a passion and immediacy to her tale that it is my personal suspicion that the pain of her loss and her love never faded, even after 40+ years and a marriage. It is impossible to know. what is important is that this is a beautiful little book; an artless, ...more
Nov 16, 2014 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Olivia: A Novel left me with a rather bitter aftertaste, with the melange of love, worship and servitude all rolled into one and served together, upon the pedestal wherein Olivia placed Mlle Julie. I was as ambivalent as Olivia with regard to the perplexing Mlle Julie, and her seemingly bipolar mood swings. However, I wasn't fond of Olivia either, with the extremity of her neediness, nevertheless, I could empathize with her and the depths to which her love went.

Dec 04, 2018 rated it really liked it
Dedicated to the memory of Virginia Woolf, Olivia was Dorothy Stracheys only novel. Published under the pseudonym Olivia it is a subtle classic of lesbian literature. It is more of a novella really at just 114 pages in this edition, and Ill be honest I picked it mainly for its length as I near the end of my A Century of Books. The Afterword reveals that the French school featured in this novella is loosely based on Marie Souvestres Allenswood Academy, attended by both the author and Eleanor ...more
This was a surprise. I was at a library sale and after reading the first sentence on the back cover, I added it to my bag:
When at 16, Olivia left her English family to spend a year in a French finishing school near Paris, she moved into an atmosphere of intellectual and spiritual aliveness such as she had never known.

It wasn't until recently that I read the rest of the blurb and realized that young Olivia becomes intensely infatuated with the headmistress. Olivia relates her thoughts and
Jan 21, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: audio-books, classics, ff
A second reading, audio-book version.
I think I've read this book translated into Polish, about twelve thousand years ago, but my memory could (totally is) be deceiving me.
The feelings remain the same - such a silly, silly story, but great prose. The writing is hauntingly beautiful, stunning.
As for audio book narrator - the majority of dialogue was narrated in thick French accent, and that's kinda plus, and also made me really connect with Gomez Addams
Often cited as one of the handful of literary works on lesbian themes that were available to midcentury readers, Olivia is the story of a Victorian girls first brush with passionate love. Sent away to a posh continental finishing school, Olivia falls in love with her teacher, Mademoiselle Julie, and the novella is at its best in its capturing of Olivias struggle to understand her overwrought adolescent feelings. There is a terrific scene in which Olivia questions another of Mlle Julies ...more
Nicolas Chinardet
Although it may not always have been the case (particularly at the time of publication in 1949), this fairly explicit (for the time) story about the unrequited love of a teenage girl for her headmistress should now perhaps be confined to the YA section.

The style is elegant and refined but the overly bathetic nature of adolescent first love, with all its uncertainties and exaggerations, is captured with too much accuracy for the more mature reader to be able to fully relate to the characters.
Sian Lile-Pastore
I loved this - dreamy, breathy, school almost romance in Paris.
Jun 22, 2017 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
This book didn't do much for me. I didn't really get involved or care much about any of the characters. Not sure if I missed something...
Reread 2019: It's hard to write a good ending: to give the characters enough space without keeping the narrative going too long. But Stratchey handles it perfectly: she gives you just enough details for pathos of the moment to be realised, and then leaves you to cope with your feelings of melancholy and longing. I've read versions of young schoolgirl falls for older woman lots of times, but Olivia to me is the most successful: it doesn't try to moralise, or comment on sexuality, it doesn't try ...more
Sep 21, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
"...And first of all that face. There was that to look at. A long way off, at the end of a table...Why should the mere sight of it make my heart stand still?"-from Olivia

Olivia: A Novel is not necessarily something you'll ever want to experience again. It's a book truly painful to read at times, no matter where you're coming from personally, but particularly so if you ever had an intense crush that pretty much broke your heart.

I didn't expect the writing to be so deep and raw, so pretty and
Shay Caroline
"Olivia" is the story of a teenage girl away at boarding school, and her intense feelings for one of the two women who run it. In some (good) ways, this reminds me of Nevada Barr's "Bittersweet" and Sylvia Brownrigg's "Pages For You", which are both favorites of mine, and both concern girls whose first loves are (somewhat) older women.

First love is gorgeous and awful and all-consuming and unforgettable; Olivia finds all that out first hand. Don't be misled...there is no sex and very little
This is a strange little thing. It's a lovely account of a fervent and chaste schoolgirl crush, as the narrator reminisces on her past and lets us in on the adult dramas she was witnessing the consequences of. It's also a nice study of a charismatic personality who draws countless people into her orbit, and uses them pretty much as she will. The writing is lovely but the tangential view on all the action feels a bit unsatisfying in the end and the teenage obsession gets a little wearying.

I knew
Shannon Castle
The book was first published in 1949, so the writing was a little bit different to what you read nowdays. Olivia is a character that the reader can identify with. She's falling in love for the first time and is overwhelmed by this sense of attraction that she feels for Mlle Julie. Every person that can recall the falling in love with someone for the first time can relate to all the feelings that come along with it. The fear, excitment etc. I ended up wishing that the two women would be able to ...more
Jul 24, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I really enjoyed this. I liked Bussy's writing style and it was a quick read. However, because of the subject matter, I can't bring myself to give it more than 3 stars. I'm a teacher so I detest writers who fetishise and romanticise student-teacher relationships.

I know that this may have been based on something that actually happened to Bussy but I still can't condone 'love stories' when it comes to teachers taking advantage of their students. The student-teacher thing drives me mad. But I
Sam (Hissing Potatoes)
You know what? I enjoyed this book. It's not the greatest thing, and Mlle. Julie's actions often didn't make sense to me. However, the writing was lovely, and Olivia's coming-of-age struggles and thoughts seemed so real and genuine. I think the author drawing from some of her own teenage experiences helped this book come to life. It was a short, quick read that I will probably come back to again.
Faith Reidenbach
A classic lesbian coming-of-age story, not sexually explicit but highly erotic. Perfectly conveys how a first crush can become obsessive. Requires a relatively high reading level of French, so some of it was lost on me.
Raw in its delivery and frightfully exact in its expression, Dorothy Strachey's Olivia not only rekindled within me feelings from my adolescent years but mostly allowed me to finally look upon them with insight, fondness and forgiveness. A healing book of sorts.
anna (½ of readsrainbow)
rep: sapphic mc, side sapphic couple
Older women toying with schoolgirls' hearts and tragic lesbians about sums it up.
Kat King
Sep 16, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Words are impossible to find for a description. This novel has reached me profoundly..
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