The work of leading scholar Terry Castle, called by the New York Times "always engaging...consistently fascinating," has helped to revolutionize thinking about lesbian studies and eighteenth-century literature. Reenvisioning the era as peculiarly alive with complexity, in which gender, sexuality, and culture are in constant flux, she offers provocative new theories on culture and sexual identity. This collection offers several of Castle's liveliest essays on female identity from the eighteenth century to the early twentieth century. Throughout the book are woven themes which are constant in Castle's work: fantasy, hallucination, travesty, transgression, and sexual ambiguity. Like the mythical thermometer of the title, which was purported to measure female lasciviousness, literature is filled with devices for quantifying elements of women's nature and sexuality which are hard to define--or uncomfortable to confront. Looking at images that mask or mystify female nature, like the masquerade or ghosts, these essays offer a challenging look at a fascinating range of issues involved in the exploration of gender studies.
The inaugural volume in Oxford's Ideologies of Desire, The Female Thermometer foreshadows the thought-provoking and forward-looking nature of the books that will make up the series. Its revisionist version of eighteenth-century life will intrigue all those concerned with cultural studies and issues of gender relations throughout history.