The Ladies of Llangollen

The Ladies of Llangollen
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Desire, Indeterminacy, and the Legacies of Criticism
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Fiona Brideoake
Transits: Literature, Thought & Culture, 1650–1850
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This book explores the lives and afterlives of Lady Eleanor Butler and Miss Sarah Ponsonby, whose 1778 elopement rendered them pivotal figures in the history of female same-sex desire. Butler and Ponsonby’s shared life—written, performed, and enacted in the everyday—embodied a form of queer celebrity constituted by their notably visible remoteness to erotic legibility. Their queerness further discloses the provisionality of the varied critical and political movements that have claimed them as ancestors in order to sustain their own subject positions.
The Ladies of Llangollen is the first book length critical study of Lady Eleanor Butler and Miss Sarah Ponsonby, whose 1778 elopement and five decades of “retirement” turned them into eighteenth century celebrities and pivotal figures in the historiography of female same-sex desire. Debates within the history of sexuality have long foundered over questions of what constitutes “proof” of past sexual desires and practices, and the nature of Butler and Ponsonby’s intimacy has been deemed inimical to productive critical consideration. In this ground-breaking study Fiona Brideoake attends to the archive of their shared life—written, performed, and enacted in the vernacular of the everyday—to argue that they embodied an early iteration of female celebrity in which their queerness registered less as the mark of some specified non-normativity than as the effect of their very public, very visible resistance to sexual legibility. Throughout their lives and afterlives, Butler and Ponsonby have been figured as chaste romantic friends, prototypical lesbians, Bluestockings, Romantic domestic archetypes, and proleptically feminist modernists. The Ladies of Langollen demonstrates that this heterogeneous legacy discloses the queerness of their performatively instantiated identities.
Introduction: Casting Butler and Ponsonby: Before ‘the Ladies of Llangollen’

Chapter 1: “Sketched by many hands”: Narrating Butler and Ponsonby

Chapter 2: Engendering the Ladies: Romantic Friendship, Gender Difference and Queer Critical Practice

Chapter 3: Becoming the Ladies of Llangollen

Chapter 4: “[K]eep yourself in your own persons, where you are”: Butler and

Ponsonby’s Transformation of Plas newydd

Chapter 5: ‘The spirit of blue-stockingism’: Were the Ladies of Llangollen ‘Blue’?

Chapter 6: “Love, above the reach of time”: Butler and Ponsonby and the

Performance of Romanticism

Chapter 7: ‘The Future Arrives Late’: Butler and Ponsonby and their

‘Spiritual Descendents,’ 1928-37



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