Reading the lives between the lines: lesbian literature and oral history in post-war Britain

Murphy, Amy Tooth (2013) Reading the lives between the lines: lesbian literature and oral history in post-war Britain. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

Due to Embargo and/or Third Party Copyright restrictions, this thesis is not available in this service.
Printed Thesis Information:


In existing scholarship of twentieth-century British lesbian history the post-war period has been largely overlooked. Whereas the interwar period and the 1970s and 1980s have garnered much critical interest as crucial loci of lesbian identity formation, the post-war period has been obscured between the two. What work does exist has focused almost exclusively on the creation of lesbian public spaces and lesbian communities. This has been to the exclusion of research into lesbian home and private life, and has also served to obscure experiences of closeted or isolated women.

The critical focus on the interwar period in particular has also been facilitated and corroborated by lesbian literary studies, which has used the modernist movement as the backbone for the creation of a lesbian literary canon. This has been to the obscuration of lesbian literature of the post-war period. Furthermore, this academic bias has overlooked the significance of the cultural value of such literature by failing to acknowledge or investigate what lesbians in post-war Britain were actually reading.

This thesis positions itself at the intersection of these research gaps. Employing an interdisciplinary approach this project argues for the greater inclusion of post-war literature and post-war lesbian lives in scholarly investigation. Through close textual analysis of a range of post-war lesbian literature and oral history interviews conducted by the author, this thesis presents insights into the minutiae of lesbian life and into the roots of lesbian identity formation within this period.

To situate itself within existing historiography this thesis takes as its starting point the lesbian magazine, Arena Three (1964-71), undertaking an analysis of the magazine’s book review column in order to build a picture of the post-war lesbian reader. Following on from this, close textual analyses of lesbian pulp fiction and original oral history transcripts are used to assess representations of domesticity. Specifically the concepts of hetero-domesticity and homo-domesticity are developed and employed to investigate lesbian identities as they existed within both heterosexual and same-sex relationships. Graham Dawson’s oral history theory of ‘composure’ is used to examine how lesbian narrators are successful or unsuccessful in incorporating experiences of hetero-domesticity into wider lesbian narratives. This framework is similarly employed to investigate the ways in which homo-domestic experiences can assist lesbian narrators to achieve composure. Lastly oral history reminiscences of reading in the post-war period are analysed in order to assess the role that literature played, both in lesbian identity formation and in facilitating narrators’ journeys into wider lesbian social worlds.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Additional Information: Due to confidentiality restrictions the full text of this thesis cannot be made available online. Access to the printed version is available. An edited version of Chapters 3 and 4 of this thesis appears as one chapter in the edited collection, British Queer History: New Approaches and Perspectives, ed. by Brian Lewis (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2013)
Keywords: lesbian literature, lesbian history, lesbianism, gender history, LGBT history, queer history, post-war, middlebrow, domestic, domesticity, history of sexuality, lesbian studies, cultural history, feminist theory, oral history, Arena Three, interdisciplinarity, post-war lesbian literature, lesbian identity, composure, lesbian studies, British history, cultural theory, lesbian oral history,
Subjects: D History General and Old World > DA Great Britain
H Social Sciences > HQ The family. Marriage. Woman
P Language and Literature > PR English literature
Colleges/Schools: College of Arts & Humanities > School of Critical Studies > English Literature
College of Arts & Humanities > School of Humanities > History
Supervisor's Name: Abrams, Prof. Lynn and Shuttleton, Dr. David
Date of Award: 2013
Embargo Date: 13 May 2016
Depositing User: Ms Amy T Murphy
Unique ID: glathesis:2013-4243
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 29 May 2013 11:20
Last Modified: 13 May 2016 14:23

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