Her Neighbor’s Wife: A History of Lesbian Desire Within Marriage

Univ. of Pennsylvania. Nov. 2019. 328p. ISBN 9780812251746. $39.95. SOC SCI
Gutterman (American studies, Univ. of Texas at Austin; cohost, podcast Sexing History) has written an engaging and nuanced first book on the history of married women who desired women in mid-20th-century America (1940s–80s). Drawing on archival sources that include correspondence, diaries, legal records, oral history interviews, and early lesbian periodicals, Gutterman explores the lives of more than 300 hundred “wives who desired women.” This category encompasses women who married men and later divorced to pursue relationships with women, as well as women who fit their lesbian desires within married lives. Part 1 considers the immediate postwar era, when Americans experienced intense pressure to marry and adjust to the social roles of husband and wife, divorce required finding of fault, and same-sex desire was criminalized and pathologized. Part 2 considers how feminist activism, gay liberation, and changes in marriage law shifted the context within which wives understood their sexuality and made decisions about their marriages.
VERDICT With close reading and deep analysis, Gutterman weaves a thoughtful cultural history that insists on the sexual and relationship agency of midcentury wives and demonstrates that outwardly heterosexual marriages have, at times, indeed contained queer possibilities.

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