Between Women: Friendship, Desire, and Marriage in Victorian England

Front Cover
Princeton University Press, Jul 10, 2009 - Literary Criticism - 368 pages

Women in Victorian England wore jewelry made from each other's hair and wrote poems celebrating decades of friendship. They pored over magazines that described the dangerous pleasures of corporal punishment. A few had sexual relationships with each other, exchanged rings and vows, willed each other property, and lived together in long-term partnerships described as marriages. But, as Sharon Marcus shows, these women were not seen as gender outlaws. Their desires were fanned by consumer culture, and their friendships and unions were accepted and even encouraged by family, society, and church. Far from being sexless angels defined only by male desires, Victorian women openly enjoyed looking at and even dominating other women. Their friendships helped realize the ideal of companionate love between men and women celebrated by novels, and their unions influenced politicians and social thinkers to reform marriage law.

Through a close examination of literature, memoirs, letters, domestic magazines, and political debates, Marcus reveals how relationships between women were a crucial component of femininity. Deeply researched, powerfully argued, and filled with original readings of familiar and surprising sources, Between Women overturns everything we thought we knew about Victorian women and the history of marriage and family life. It offers a new paradigm for theorizing gender and sexuality--not just in the Victorian period, but in our own.


What people are saying - Write a review

Review: Between Women: Friendship, Desire, and Marriage in Victorian England

User Review  - Anneke - Goodreads

Truly makes one look differently at history, gender roles and the institute of marriage... Eye opening AND entertaining! Recommended for anyone interested in women's studies, history and/or the Victorian era. Read full review


Mobile Objects Female Desire
Plastic Institutions Female Marriage
Woolf Wilde and Girl Dates
Illustration Credits

Other editions - View all

Common terms and phrases

About the author (2009)

Sharon Marcus is Associate Professor of English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University. She is the author of Apartment Stories: City and Home in Nineteenth-Century Paris and London.

Bibliographic information