Edith Johnstone’s The Sunless Heart (1894)


Sunless Heart Image

Edith Johnstone’s The Sunless Heart (1894)

I am about halfway through this lovely little novel that I discovered while preparing a course. Johnstone’s novel deals with the idea of desire among women for other women. Not exactly a “lesbian” novel but certainly a novel exploring female-to-female desire in an interesting and innovative manner for 1894.

What interests me at the moment is how the novel so sharply changes at the beginning of Book II. Book I is from Gasparine O’Neill’s perspective and deals with the intense love she shares with her consumptive (i.e. dying) brother Gaspar. The second half sees an immediate turn to Lotus Grace, M.A., a teacher at a woman’s college in the small Scottish community that Gasparine moved to as a governess. The change, I think, speaks to Johnstone’s ability as a writer. At first it seems too sharp a turn, as if she wants to write another novel instead. However, as I read, I’m finding interesting things that Johnstone uses to connect Book II to Book I. Lotus is also a more educated and intelligent narrator than Gasparine. The result is that the novel becomes increasingly readable and the plot more complex.

A great read that I highly recommend. Again, I am recommending that people purchase the Broadview Literary Edition. I have supplied a link at the beginning of this post to the page on www.broadviewpress.com where you can purchase the novel. A rare find and a great window into the exploration of queer desire in the Victorian age.

Happy Reading!


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