Your Favourite Classical Authors Were Probably Gay
By Alana Rae (she/her) and Kubra Iqbal (they/them)
Queerness in our art and media has struck a revolution, but what about the iconic closeted authors that came before?
As a couple of queers, we understand sapphic subtext. In an age of media where the LGBT+ community are finally starting to get some representation, we find it just too easy to start analysing the heteronormative past.
There has been a lot of speculation around the queerness of female authors in the 18th–20th century. Probably because they published books with straight-up gay undertones. If we look at the likes of Louisa May Alcott and Virginia Woolf, we can see some tell-tale signs. Woolf’s Orlando has been described by Art UK as a “masterpiece of modernist queer fiction”, while Alcott herself said “I fall in love with half a dozen pretty girls and I have never felt that for a man”. Now your average straight historian would claim female adoration. Our diagnosis?
Gay as fuck.
However, we will say that with a lack of overt coming out, there’s no way of telling if these authors were actually fully-fledged lesbians. But we have to consider how the oppressive society they came from could’ve kept them in the Victorian wardrobe.
The 1800s were brutal. Women needed to marry to own property or have any kind of livelihood. They quite literally needed a man to survive, so coming out wasn’t even an option. That being said, Louisa May Alcott never married. Instead, she managed to build a livelihood off her novels.
The most iconic of said novels is Little Women: a coming of age story that follows the journey of four sisters and was recently adapted for screen by Greta Gerwig. The story is loosely based on Alcott’s life. The main character, Jo, is a writer who is boyish and not interested in men despite her many suitors. So basically, all signs point to gay. Still don’t believe us? We have receipts:•“I love my liberty too well to be in a hurry to give it up for any mortal man.” – Jo on her pursuit for either a woman or a... god?•“I just wish I could marry Meg myself and keep her safe in the family.” – Jo on her desire to not be paired with a man, but also not realising the incestuous vibe she’s giving off.•“I am lonely, sometimes, but I dare say it’s good for me,” – Jo on her preference of loneliness over straight marriage.
From here we need to pose the question of whether you can separate the art from the artist. Some people cannot, and this includes our very selves. This is because as a writer, we feel it's almost impossible to make your work impersonal when writing itself is such an emotional, creative experience.
This stands to reason why Little Women served as such an outlet for Alcott to express her queerness, in all its beautiful glory. In other words, you could say the L in LGBT stands for Louisa May Alcott.
Bringing it back to the here and now, Greta Gerwig’s interpretation of Little Women was so stunning in its role as the bridge between the traditional Little Women and one that opens up the space for conservation around gender roles and sexuality. Its 2019 release meant that Gerwig had the liberty to portray Jo in a way that Alcott couldn’t. In fact, it opens up the potential for future iterations where Jo is openly queer, rather than it existing in subtext. And so, we wait eagerly for such a day, and thank the generations of LGBT+ authors before us who paved the way for our current queer media. Now let’s go binge Dickinson.