Selby Wynn Schwartz, in her early days, dares to imagine the possibilities and the chaotic selves of 20th century women, sometimes queer. A tribute to artists, writers, actors, role-players and dreamers, Schwartz’s creation is emboldening. The piece depicts an unsightly but rhythmic set of pioneering women from the previous century, but written for those who look in the mirror today.
Long listed for the Booker, After Sappho is depicted in segments where the characters come together to form a community, unrelated to their cities and states. It is made up of sad but tirelessly optimistic women. A sensual blend of naturally erotic words, Schwartz successfully attempts to expand women’s identities into the relentless, enduring, and perhaps unavoidable presence of men and their decisions.
Sappho of Lesbos was an ancient Greek poetess and some of her spoken word and work fragments suggest that she was “lesbian” or Sapphic. Both mean relationships between women of the same sex. Regardless of sexual orientation, it sometimes denotes a woman’s relationship to her sexual identity or sexual behavior.
Against a background of miasma, coupled with Italian laws limiting a certain pair of chromosomes, only Schwartz’s prose and flow are rather convincing. Often decrying oppression and behaviors, Wynn envisions their emancipation and the urgent need to speak out.
“It was what X was not.
She writes about the fantasies and actions of women who did not desire young men or their “hot breaths” at the time, on the contrary – associates and companions. Against ‘articles of Italian law’ binding a daughter to a ‘wife on her father’s word’, Schwartz’s insight into the ordeal of a daughter, who was raped at her father’s factory and married to the man who “owned” her, is undisciplined.
The author justifies the absence of maternal instinct and why we were forced to leave their son, who was born “in the middle of laundry and bruises” and the man to whom their father had “delivered” her.
And the one where they chose to “permanently stop being a wife”, the one where she prefers women to wives.
No matter how strong they were, they all returned to their art and expression as a last and only first resort. In the absolute absence of legislators, leaders, bosses, family bosses, decision-makers, gods and self-proclaimed men, the author draws a parallel with the re-entries of politics, revolution, world war. Sometimes one damage at a time, other times half a step ahead.
Like the one where women are “authorized to sign” as witnesses. They could now be recognized on papers. Behind an identity yet acquired but the first.
Schwartz expanded the boundaries that define a woman but blessed her with hope for the present.
In a magnificent set of characters – Sarah Bernhardt, Colette, Eleanor Duse, Lina Poletti, Josephine Baker and the divine Virginia Woolf as feminists, Sapphists, painters, sinners and authors of the past, are reimagined and brought to life in After Sappho.
As each character fights for themselves, freedom, and the mere word of their nights and days, they meet Sappho, a Greek poetess born in Lesbos, often referred to as “the poetess.”
She was dubbed the ninth Muse by Plato. Schwartz opens a door to 20th century queer women who have ventured to speak, direct and perform as they saw it. Additionally, After Sappho portrays the concept of a sanctuary in meanings that bring together multiple intellects. Inventing a new perspective on queer feminists in early 20th century Europe and a meaningful rewriting of history, Schwartz intends to create a place where they can be melancholic yet open.
She asks for a house, a home for Sapphics, each connected to the other. A fearless take on women who have breathed to sketch a refuge or an idea of refuge.
Schwartz presents his artists from the previous century with their interests and insight but does not deprive you of words of a girl’s beauty. Those where they fall into fetishes and love each other too.
It centers on the Italian poet Lina Poletti, who “has her own ways of escaping the century”, in the 1900s and covers her zeal for the inner life of female artists. A poetic mosaic of literary pieces which, once assembled, form the story of a lesbian family through the generations.
One of the first publicly gay women in Europe, Poletti wore men’s clothing and was sadly prejudiced.
“Then she got up to dress for dinner.
Speaking of Lina Poletti, the author says her former name – Cordula “looked like a hopeful bunch anyway” while “Lina was elegant.” A free Lina was one who “read Sappho,” Wynn explains.
Wynn Schwartz exposes his characters in turn, merges them and lets their sounds “fly”, climb on our tongues.
Seducing the waking minds of readers, Wynn includes Virginia Woolf in the narrative. Using the collective first-person “We” voice, Schwartz’s bold and compelling narrative takes an unconventional path that hides no known structure, while “grabbing the wires” and showing the way forward in a meaningful way. innumerable.
Women, perhaps rogue but mostly provocative, of distinct spheres, distinct minds and lives unite for dreams that are rooted in identical roots. Business was dead, men forced themselves, offspring and prodigy left behind and, these women stood up for the vulnerable in the time of war. Their voices rise for urgent liberation and to identify tyranny.
Because the only thing they “feared was compromise”.
— ENDS —