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Lady into Fox, Fox into Lady: Rewriting Lesbian Stereotypes in Summer Will Show

Gay Wachman


Intertextuality is basic to Sylvia Townsend Warner’s narratives: she is

a formidably learned, effortlessly allusive writer. From her slyly

absurd references to Wordsworth in the lush tropical setting of Mr.

Fortune’s Maggot (1927) through her retelling of Apuleius’s Cupid

and Psyche to produce an allegory of class oppression in her first historical

novel, The True Heart (1929), to the densely woven

intertextuality of Summer Will Show (1936), she uses allusion both to

ground her apparently implausible narratives within literary history

and to question and parody the politics, ‘history’, and narratology of

her predecessors. It is appropriate that in this novel, where the lesbian

romance in Paris is precisely coterminous with the 1848 revolution,

many of the allusions are to nineteenth-century French literary history.

Warner’s ‘unwriting’ of Flaubert’s L’Éducation Sentimentale has

received a great deal of attention since it was first noted by Terry

Castle in her 1990 theorisation of the lesbian triangular plot. Later

writers, in contrast, have emphasised the allusion’s Marxist significance.

1 Quite another fictional genealogy seems more to the point,

however, when we consider Warner’s characterisation of Minna

Lemuel, the revolutionary Jewish story-teller: the representation, usually

by women writers, of the powerful, sexually active, sometimes

evil and sometimes doomed femme artiste, as in Madame de Stael’s

Corinne, Charlotte Brontë’s Villette, George Sand’s Consuelo, and

Colette’s La Seconde.2 It is now abundantly clear that the intertextuality

of Summer Will Show demonstrates that the novel is

narratologically, politically, and sexually revolutionary.

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