Sharon Marcus and Ellis Avery: On fire



has an intriguing evening of estrogen-powered literature on tap for tonight, starting with Sharon Marcus and her new book, Between Women: Friendship, Desire, and Marriage in Victorian England. Here Marcus sources lots of cultural artifacts to suggest that even during this supposedly uptight period, plenty of women formed relationships that often went beyond friendship to sexually intimate ones.

Publishers Weekly was duly impressed …

Going against the current academic grain, Marcus maintains that images of women in fashion magazines did not turn women into passive objects but represented women's own "erotic appetite for femininity." Much of Marcus's material will be new to the common reader, and she presents it in plain, engaging prose. Many of her examples are marvelously intriguing: her critique of the conservative opposition to same-sex marriage is bolstered by her documentation of prevalent female-female marriage in the 19th century involving such noted women as Charlotte Cushman, Anne Lister and Rosa Bonheur. This is an important addition to the current literature on sexuality and gender.

Meanwhile, in her debut novel, The Teahouse Fire, Ellis Avery puts her research of the ancient Japanese tea ceremony on the narrative line. In her story, Avery sets up a contrast between a native and non-native and how they both adhere to the tradition. Yukako comes from a family steeped in the tradition, while Aurelia, a French orphan who moved to Japan as a child, is adopted by a tea master's family.

Here's what Booklist had to say …

Avery adroitly conveys the intricacies of the tea ceremony, "the language of diplomacy," and the subtle ways in which it was transformed as Japan moved from a Shogun society to one ruled by the emperor. At the same time, she illuminates other social changes, such as the arrival of the steam engine, women no longer blackening their teeth, and the lifting of the ban on Christianity. Aurelia remains Yukako's stalwart friend through doomed romances and a disappointing marriage, telling her, when Yukako resumes her father's tea ceremonies after his death, "You took an art that could have died, and you made it live."

Avery will join Marcus for this doubleheader tonight (Feb. 8) at 8 p.m., and the event is free to the public. (Here's a map.)

Check out this recent appearance by Avery ...

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