Sarah Waters and Emma Donoghue: Lesbian writers successful in the straight world

When Sarah Waters published The Little Stranger last year, she was nominated for the Man Booker Prize for the third time, but it was her first best-selling, well-received novel that had absolutely no lesbian content. The protagonist was a male doctor, and the story was one of good vs. evil and class struggle instead of the sexuality-driven period dramas readers typically produced by the author of Tipping the Velvet, Affinity and Fingersmith.

This year, lesbian author Emma Donoghue was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize for her critically acclaimed, best-selling novel Room. Like Waters, Donoghue’s past work had Sapphic-themes, and one of her most recent books before Room was Inseparable: Desire Between Women in Literature, a collected history of lesbian themes, characters and relationships in books since the beginning of time.

Perhaps the steadfast lesbian readerships of both authors is wondering the same thing: Have we been abandoned?

It does feel like an unfair question to ask any artist who happens to be gay but doesn’t produce “gay” work, but when an author arguably builds a career in writing about their own community, it’s easy to expect they will continue on the course of keeping us happily satisfied. Waters addressed this in an interview with upon the publication of The Little Stranger.

She told us:

I understand it, that’s one thing. I know for myself that we don’t have so many lesbian writers and readers, filmmakers, whatever, that we feel we can afford to lose them. I don’t in any way feel that lesbians have lost me. It’s just that this book came along and the story really grabbed me.

I knew it wasn’t a lesbian story but it had other things that appealed to me, like the gothic stuff, so as far as I’m concerned it’s very much a Sarah Waters’s novel. I hope that my readers, lesbian or straight, will feel that too. But I do understand the disappointment.

Funny enough, I looked at the site because there’s a thread about the new book and various comments about why I might have gone for a non-lesbian book. Actually, that was quite unnerving because it makes it seem like it was a calculated move on my part, but it really wasn’t.