Terry Castle

Terry Castle has taught at Stanford since 1983. Her books include The Apparitional Lesbian, The Female Thermometer: 18th-Century Culture and the Invention of the Uncanny and a memoir, The Professor. She has written in the LRB about Jane Austen’s letters to her sister, Cassandra; about meeting Hillary Clinton; her uneasy semi-friendship with Susan Sontag; Patricia Highsmith’s worst thoughts; and her obsession with Art Pepper.

Gotcha, Pat! Highsmith in My Head

Terry Castle, 4 March 2021

Consider her brilliant reveals: the slow build-up of mad, off-kilter thoughts; the choking bolus feelings of hatred, fright, revulsion; then the explosive release of force – corporeal, appalling, exquisite – immediately followed by inrushing panic and dread. In the 1950s and 1960s, Alfred Hitchcock was her only rival at capturing such vertiginous changes of state: the lightning-quick slippage from normal to horrific and back again. Back, that is, to a now nightmarish perversion of normal life from which you, the killer, realise you’ll never escape, even should the outrage you’ve just committed go undiscovered. (In classic Highsmith – witness the supremely twisty Ripley novels – even the most frenzied murders sometimes go unrecognised as such.) You’re not dead yet, but you’re unquestionably in hell: for ever. Also indisputable is the fact that Highsmith was able to dramatise the loss of control so shockingly because she knew how it felt. Though not herself a homicidal maniac (as far as one knows), she could imagine what it was like to be one. Her brain had been arranged for it: she had blown out her own frontal lobes early on.

Love-impaled Sappho, help me in my discombobulation! Did you hear that? HILLARY CLINTON IS FLIRTING WITH ME! She’s got my hand and she is warming it up! Bejeezus! (It’s getting positively toasty!) Not only that – my god! She’s giving me the Look! (What look?) The Look You Can’t Mistake! The Nanosecond Too Long Look! The Look you get when someone shows you her trowel for the first time! The Look you get when contemplating the Mysteries of Rosicrucianism! The Look that goes with the wordless poetical language of Secret Handshakes!

Rhodes, July. Charmed marine breezes, Blakey and I in the Old City, ensconced in medieval hostel-cum-boutique hotel formerly occupied by those nutty-crusader Knights of St John. (A few grim-faced Saracens, too, no doubt – especially after Suleiman the Magnificent’s successful siege of Rhodes in 1522.) Cobbled streets around the fortress awash in the fanatic blood of centuries, but we’re in a holiday mood, sipping ouzo, feeling spoiled, a bit bloated even, also somehow holy. With iPads out and glowing numinously we’re discussing the latest mishmash of blog news from our homeland.

‘There is a visibility so tenuous, so different, or so discomfited that it is easy to miss,’ Lisa Cohen observes in All We Know, and, contrariwise, ‘a visibility so simple, so precise, or so extreme that it, too, is obscure.’ Why do we see what we see? Why do we fail to see what others see? Can we see things before they are ready to be seen? Can we see things before we are ready to see them? Such questions lie at the heart of Cohen’s strikingly elegant and assured biographical study of three now almost forgotten lesbian women.

Do I like it? Outsider Art

Terry Castle, 28 July 2011

His lips with joy they burr at you, But, Betty! what has he to do With stirrup, saddle, or with rein?

Wordsworth, ‘The Idiot Boy’

Like most people who live in cities I’ve had occasional street encounters with lunatics – none of them (the encounters) exactly Wordsworthian. There was the man with Tourette’s, whimpering, on the bus in Minneapolis – head and...

One Night in Maidenhead

Jean McNicol, 30 October 1997

‘Honey, she’s a forerunner, that’s what she is, a kind of pioneer that’s got left behind. I believe she’s the beginning of things like me.’ Radclyffe Hall has...

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Paean to Gaiety

Lorna Sage, 22 September 1994

In this camp and dashing and deliberately lightweight study of a certain strand of ‘sexual ontology’ Terry Castle pursues the lesbian-as-ghost from Defoe’s wistful nearly-real...

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