UBC Lectures, Seminars, and Symposia

Lesbian Utopias and Polish Nationalism, 1840-1940 Karczewski, Kamil


In the 1840s, Narcyza Żmichowska, an unmarried female teacher from Warsaw, gathered a group of young, devoted women around her, whom she called ‘the Enthusiasts’. Żmichowska encouraged them to strive for economic independence and education. She also assured them that they did not need to rely on men. The Enthusiasts were somewhat peculiar, if not queer—they smoked cigars, engaged in nationalist activism, and believed in a unique form of intimacy between women that Żmichowska dubbed ‘in-sistering’. Several decades later, Zofia Sadowska, a female physician from Warsaw, took things a step further. Not only did she wear men’s clothing, become a rally driver, and invest in oil drilling, but she also was not afraid to publicly declare that there was nothing humiliating about being a lesbian. This raised some eyebrows among Warsaw socialites, but it did not stop Sadowska from creating a home with another woman. Meanwhile, Maria Rodziewiczówna, a nationalist writer, was less vocal about her lesbian love, but she, too, pursued a lesbian dream. She envisioned it as a small cottage in the middle of a forest, where she moved in with her partner. There, they spent their summer months in seclusion, surrounded by Eastern European nature, wildlife, and an abundance of wild berries. This paper explores the ways in which these three non-normative women carved out pockets of respectability for themselves in a male-dominated world without compromising on love, building various and creative homosocial spaces that I, with just a touch of exaggeration, call utopias.

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