Romantic friendships between women in the late-eighteenth and early-nineteenth centuries were common in British society. Young women were drawn to each other, often in romantic ways, in part because of the way in which the society was ordered. In this period, females generally socialized only with other females, from birth until marriage. Even after marriage the majority of women spent most of their time with other women. This deep intimacy between women was encouraged and accepted and is visible in correspondence between female friends. Although there is scholarly literature surrounding romantic friendships during this period, the way in which these relationships challenged gender norms and expectations, as well as their role in resisting the oppression of heterosexual marriage, have not been adequately addressed. By looking at sexuality in history and the way it has been constructed, as well as analyzing queer and feminist theory pertaining to sexuality, I argue that women resisted mainstream structures by devoting their lives to other women, wearing gender non-conforming clothes and living apart from men. My analysis of British women's history in this period, the ways sexuality has been viewed in history and queer and feminist theories pertaining to sexuality, show that romantic friendships between women served as an outlet to resist the systems of patriarchy and marriage, as well as gender roles. A close analysis of The Secret Diaries of Miss Anne Lister and the romantic friendship of Eleanor Butler and Sarah Ponsonby, better known as The Ladies of Llangollen, show that some women in romantic friendships resisted gender norms and heterosexual marriage and lived their lives without men.


Maria Bevacqua

Committee Member

Christopher Corley

Committee Member

Melissa Purdue

Date of Degree




Document Type



Master of Arts (MA)


Social and Behavioral Sciences

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License



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