This chapter argues that 'lesbian middle-brow' writing from the early part of the twentieth century offers an important counterpoint to queer theory's long-standing opposition to normativity. Whereas early queer theoretical formulations opposed 'regimes of the normal' that specifically upheld heteronormativity, the sharpness of this critique has morphed into a more general position in which any kind of normativity or conformism is treated as intrinsically suspect. By contrast, novels with famous lesbian protagonists such as Radclyffe Hall's The Well of Loneliness (1928) and The Unlit Lamp (1924), along with Mary Renault's The Friendly Young Ladies (1944), show the manifold reasons why historical queers have been attached to the idea of the normal – for example, for the opportunity it offers of safety and protection from violence. Moreover, they show the importance of what might seem distinctly non-radical to contemporary readers – namely, middle-brow realism – in the history of lesbian representation and subjectivity. These middle-brow novels are the occasion to reflect on what keeps anti-normativity at the heart of queer theoretical strategy: the opportunity it provides of opposing a form of sameness framed as stultifying, conformist and assimilationist.
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