So you like Gentleman Jack? Well, me too. And my wife. My wife and I actually binge watched Season 1 three times while we were off work for our anniversary. (I don’t need to say anything more about that, though.) Anyway. It’s grand, isn’t it?
Jack is in my wheelhouse frankly. A historical cross-dresser? It’s my thing. Actually, it’s a couple of my things.
But, maybe you want more. And maybe you also like to read? (If you don’t like to read, frankly, I’m not even sure why you’re here.) Here are my suggestions.
The Secret Diaries of Miss Anne Lister
Edited by Helena Whitbred
The Secret Diaries of Miss Anne Lister is the original text that inspired the series. Helena Whitbred decoded and edited the volume. Her story and that of the journals coming to light are told both in the introduction of the edited journals and on Helena’s website. It should go without saying that this is a historical document and while it may be full of scintillating liaisons with a remarkable number of women Anne knew, it is also filled with a great deal of mundane details, like what she ate at so and so’s house. I love that shit, but then I have two degrees in history. Also, if you’re a fan of the show, and the Ann/es, you may not like the actual historical outcome for Anne and Ann (unless you ship her with Mariana Lawton).
Charity & Sylvia, A same-sex marriage in early America
Rachel Hope Cleves
Rachel Hope Cleves researched the rural New England relationship of Charity Bryant and Sylvia Drake in her monograph Charity & Sylvia, A same-sex marriage in early America. In it, Cleves deftly argues that their community valued their presence and accepted them as a couple far more than they were put off by any supposed impropriety of it. Charity, like Anne Lister, left a few broken hearts and scandals in her wake in New England at close to the same time Anne was in England and the Continent until, unlike Anne, settling down faithfully with Sylvia.
If you like the era of Gentleman Jack, then the aristocracy of Life Mask lived only a little earlier then Anne Lister’s escapades in the series, taking place rather around the time of the French Revolution. It focuses with great historical care on the love triangle among the widower and sculptor Mrs. Anne Damer (all those gay Ann/es), the Earl of Derby (of horse race fame), and the famous comic actress Eliza Farren. Emma Donoghue is a great researcher of the historical women who loved women and I am a huge fan of her work—both fiction and non-fiction. Life Mask fits within a sort of trilogy of 19th century novels exploring class and women along with Slammerkin and The Sealed Letter.
If you find yourself pretty fond of historical fiction with cocksure butches and brazen femmes—no need for smelling salts over here—you could jump ahead to the latter half of the 19th century and across the world to a very hot San Francisco where you might enjoy this murder mystery. Emma Donoghue’s Frog Music jumps around chronologically to let you enjoy Jenny Bonnet, despite her murder, which launches the reader into a fast-paced and sweaty thriller.
Tipping the Velvet
Perhaps the most cocksure of all the Toms and lady Jacks in literature is Nan King in Sarah Waters’s debut novel Tipping the Velvet. Nan has none of Anne Lister’s wealth or status and comes from a later more revolutionary era at the end of the 19th century. Plenty of sexy times with all sorts and a very satisfying arc.
Honestly, the connections between Waters’s third novel and Gentleman Jack are limited to 19th century women navigating a mutual attraction to each other and seeking to secure wealth. But for all that, I had to include Fingersmith because it is the novel Waters wrote. It is full of twists and delightfully unpredictable. (None of her subsequent novels lived up to this one for me, to be honest. My actual recommended reading list for Waters is to read her first three novels in order of publication: Tipping the Velvet, Affinity, and Fingersmith.) In fact, Affinity may have been a better selection, but I like Fingersmith better and find the ending most satisfying.
So, there you have it. Plenty of historical women enjoying other women and having sexy times in both non-fiction and historical fiction. If you know of others you think I should have included, hit me up on social media. Go forth and get your read on!