Amelia Edwards – „Eminent Lesbian“ or Passionate Spinster?
Travel writer Amelia Edwards (1831-1892) loved women. In a blog post for History|Sexuality|Law I examine how various generations of writers have represented her same-sex desire. I also look at how Edwards came to figure in sexological treatises – quite without her knowing.
Amelia Edwards was a talented writer, passionate traveller, and well-known Egyptologist. Her bestsellers Untrodden Peaks and Unfrequented Valleys (1873) and A Thousand Miles up the Nile (1877) captivated their audience with humorous observations and evocative descriptions of landscapes. In 1882, she co-founded of the Egypt Exploration Fund, which still exists as the Egypt Exploration Society.
While Amelia Edwards‘ achievements already made her a well-known public figure during her lifetime, her private life has long remained an enigma – even to her biographers Joan Rees and Brenda Moon. Amelia Edwards formed emotional attachments almost uniquely with women. How did writers represent her same-sex desire? What do the sources say? And how did Amelia Edwards‘ love for a pastor’s wife end up in a German (!) antifeminist treatise?
In my new blog post for History|Sexuality|Law, we look at whether middle-class Victorian women who loved other women (but did not openly talk about it) were really the „romantic friends“ as which they have long been painted – or whether they may have had more in common than we think with women who assumed a more visible lesbian presentation. We will find out about a curious case of sexological telephone games, and if you read to the very end, you may collect your bonus: a poem by Amelia Edwards that reveals that a rose is perhaps not always a rose after all. But, as the poet asks: Who shall tell?
By the way: There will soon be a new biography on the life of this fascinating woman by Margaret Jones, and the Egypt Exploration Society is about to release a new edition of Amelia Edwards‘ A Thousand Miles up the Nile , with an introduction by Carl Graves and Anna Garnett.
Die Reisen der Amelia B. Edwards – Podcast on Amelia Edwards‘ life and travels (in German).
Image in text: Amelia B. Edwards, after 1876. August Weger, after an engraving by Elliott & Fry. © National Portrait Gallery, London, NPG D7713, CC BY-NC-ND 3.0. Licencing conditions and download here.
Header image: Amelia Edwards in 1890, published in: Edwards, Amelia B. (1891): Pharaohs, Fellahs and Explorers, New York: Harper & Brothers (frontispiece, cropped).
Amelia Edwards lesbian