‘My Little Ghost-Slave’: The Queer Lives of Rosa Praed
Feminist re-readings and literary excavations of Praed's corpus and life have elided, or simply failed to consider worthy of analysis, her occult novels and beliefs. More disturbing is the almost universal silence surrounding Praed's life with and love of the trance medium Nancy Harward, and her subsequent textual exploration of same-sex female desire. This silence, I believe, constitutes a violent adherence to what Judith Butler terms 'the naturalizing narratives of compulsory heterosexuality' (146). Lesbian literary theorist Liz Yorke has called for an attentive approach to the silences; 'to identify, theorize, and explore ... the gap between lesbian lives and those dominant discourses which problematically avoid, distort, suppress, or condemn the actualities of lesbian existence' (187). The heterosexual feminist readings of Praed by Sheridan, Giles and Spender have effectively reduced Nancy Harward to a ghostly eccentricity in Praed's life and work, a queer spectre adding peculiarity to the margins. However, often ignored biographical material reveals a different story, where the woman Rosa called 'my little ghost-slave', occupies a central place within the narrative.
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Published 1 October 1996 in Volume 17 No. 4. Subjects: Lesbian relationships, Literary influences, Love, Sexuality & sexual identity, Spirituality, Writer's craft, Rosa Praed, 19th Century Women Writers.