La Garçonne (That’s “boy” in French, but with a feminine suffix. It was translated to “The Bachelor Girl” in English versions) was, as far as I can tell, the first lesbian novel. It was written by Victor Margueritte, a heterosexual man, and was published in 1922, the same day the French senate denied women the right to vote.
The novel was seen as completely scandalous at the time. It’s about a woman, named Monique, who learns that her fiancé is cheating on her and already has a kid with another woman. She is understandably angry and calls off the marriage. In fact, she walks out on her whole former life, including her oppressive family. She lives life on her own terms: wearing her hair short, smoking cigarettes, dressing like a boy, and having multiple sexual partners, including women.
The original book was illustrated with twenty-eight colour pictures by Van Dognen, who would go on to get an award for these illustrations by the Légion d'Honneur. His illustrations in La Garçonne of thin and elegant Monique, with large almond-shaped eyes and short hair, got him artistic recognition. Not so with the author of the novel.
Victor Margueritte caused an uproar with this bestseller. It sold 600,000 copies and after it had been published for a year more than 150 articles had been written about the book. The controversy of the book, not only because of its lesbian references, but also because of the promotion of equality between the sexes, caused him to lose his Légion d'Honneur award. He was, in a sense “de-knighted” for writing such a disgraceful work.
La Garçonne was even successful enough to be made into a movie in 1936. The title of Margueritte’s novel has been used as a title for a German lesbian magazine, as well as a fashion style similar to the English “Flapper”, most likely because the heroine, Monique, sports the bob haircut epitomized by the style.
La Garçonne (n.d.). Retrieved May 7, 2007, from http://www.kb.nl/bc/koopman/1919-1925/c17-en.html
La Garçonne (2007, February 11). Retrieved May 25, 2007, from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/La_Garçonne
French literature: Twentieth century (2002). Retrieved May 7, 2007, from http://www.glbtq.com/literature/french_lit3_20c.html