Rachel reviews Patience & Sarah by Isabel Miller

patienceandsarah

First published in 1969 under the title A Place for Us, Patience & Sarah is a lovely classic lesbian novel by Isabel Miller. Like Nancy Garden’s Annie on my Mind, this book is one of the first and few books of the time to have lesbian female protagonists in love, and to have a happy ending. It is still popular today and one of the most beloved LGBT novels.

Taking place in Connecticut in 1816, the story follows the viewpoints of Patience White and Sarah Dowling. Patience is in her late twenties, which at that time labeled her as a spinster. She lives with her brother Edward, his wife Martha, and her little nieces and nephews. She not only helps Martha care for the children, Patience is a wonderful painter, which she would love to do for a living. Sarah Dowling is the second-oldest in a house full of sisters. Being strongest, her father picks her to help him do the “men’s” work. A hard worker and itching to buy her own land, Sarah one day goes to the White’s home to deliver wood, and she meets Patience. The two feel an instant connection as they share a meal together and look at Patience’s pictures. It’s love at first sight, and when Sarah reveals her plans to go to Genesee, New York, and start a farm, Patience asks to come too.

After sharing their first kiss, the two women are happily in love. However, their families find out about their love, and react badly. Initially worried about her reputation, Patience refuses to go with Sarah, and Sarah sets off, heartbroken and alone. En route to Genesee and disguised as a boy, she meets Parson Peel, a knowledgeable man in books and learning. After learning to read, Sarah returns to her community and reconciles with Patience. Finally accepting her feelings for Sarah, Patience travels with her lover to hopefully find a good life together.

Patience & Sarah is a simple read, but Isabel Miller conveys so much in her story: from what the characters are thinking and feeling to brief but beautifully written details of the scenery and other observations. The characters of Patience and Sarah balance each other out well, though there are personality clashes between them sometimes. At first, the idea of them deciding to move to New York together after only a second meeting seemed too quick and impulsive to me, but as the women’s story moved along, I was nonetheless still rooting for them.

The novel had a good cast of characters with their own personalities. Some of the more sympathetic and likeable ones were Sarah’s sister Rachel, and Parson Peel. The Parson especially was entertaining, with his acceptance of differences and his endless supply of facts from the books he read. He taught Sarah more than just letters; he showed her possibilities she hadn’t known existed.

The love story between the two women blooms as they travel and build their own farm. They endure some trials as well as their own worries and doubts, but both Patience and Sarah really are in love, and believe that as long as they have each other, they can get through anything. Their unyielding bond is admirable.

Isabel Miller based Patience & Sarah on two real historical women. Painter Mary Ann Willson and her companion Miss Brundidge settled together in Greene County, New York around 1820. Miller even dedicated her book to them, which I found very touching.

All in all, Patience & Sarah is a wonderful historical lesbian romance that warms the heart. Anyone who is interested in LGBT literature be they gay or straight, should take the time to read this amazing novel.

Allysse reviews Patience & Sarah by Isabel Miller


Patience & Sarah by Isabel Miller

Patience and Sarah is a novel about two girls falling in love and trying to live together in the 19th century.

Love is a strong element in the novel. It is what drives the main characters into action but it is not the only kind of love we discover while reading. Patience sister in law has a longing for Patience and Parson falls in love with Sarah while she passes as a boy. But we can also find a more platonic love like the one Patience brother has for his sister. I really enjoyed how all the relationships were described, it always felt very true. I especially liked having the novel narrated alternatively by Patience and Sarah. It allows the reader to get a wider picture of both characters, getting their thoughts on the same situation. They both have very distinctive voices so it was never boring to switch voice and read again about what had already happened.

However the story is much more than a love story, it’s also a journey Patience and Sarah have to undertake before being able to live together. At first their love is instinctive, like love at first sight, and they are in consequence too quick in their reaction. Sarah is too innocent while Patience too cautious. They both have to undertake a long journey within themselves before being able to be re-united and in a way to test their love. I especially enjoyed Sarah’s journey and how she grew up, becoming more aware of the world.

Another aspect of the novel I really appreciated is how religion is treated and how Patience sees it. She never really think herself as a sinner because she feels that something as good as love cannot be a sin in God’s eyes. I really enjoyed how she relates her life to the Bible to create her paintings.

All in all it is an excellent book and I would recommend it to everyone. There was a few things I didn’t enjoy such as the change of tense in the verbs, but overall I loved Patience and Sarah and it is definitely going in my to reread list.

General Recommendations

If you’re not sure where to start with Lesbrary (queer women) reading, here are some of my favourites.

The Classics

1) Rubyfruit Jungle by Rita Mae BrownRubfruit Jungle

This 1970s novel is not only a lesbian/queer women classic, it also entertaining and challenges social norms even to this day. I still remember the day I realized I needed to read more queer women books. It was when my mother found out I had not read Rubyfruit Jungle and said “And you call yourself a lesbian.” I’m glad she shamed me into picking it up. Lesbian author.

2) Patience and Sarah (or A Place for Us) by Isabel Miller

Written in 1969, but set in the early 19th century, this queer classic also manages to tell a romance between two women without being depressing. It also influenced my very author’s work: Sarah Waters.

3) Well of Loneliness by Radclyffe Hall

Do not let this be the first Lesbrary book you read. If I was doing this list by order of which is most classic, I would start with this one, but it violated my cardinal rule: don’t be depressing. Once upon a time, any books that had queer content had to demonstrate that they were not actually advocating for queerness, so they had to either go straight, die, or go crazy. Often a combination of these three. I recommend Well of Loneliness because it’s a classic (published in 1928), because it was actually surprisingly not very difficult to read, and because it was judged as obscene although the hot lesbian love scene consisted entirely of “And that night they were not divided”, but it’s not a pick-me-up book. In fact, if it wasn’t such a classic, I never would have read it at all; I refuse to read books that punish characters for being queer. I also got the suspicion while reading it that the protagonist was transgendered, not a lesbian. Lesbian (or transgender?) author.

Teen

Aaah, what is more lesbian than the coming-out story…

Hello, Groin1) Hello, Groin by Beth Goobie

I found this book after my teens, but I still loved it. Hello, Groin deals with the protagonist’s attraction to women as well as censorship at her school. A book theme inside a lesbian book? I’m in love. It also is well-written and optimistic. I highly recommend this one.

2) Annie on My Mind by Nancy Garden

The classic lesbian teen book. I read this a while ago, so all I really remember is that I thought they fell in love awfully fast, but I enjoyed it, and it’s definitely a must-read for the well-read lesbrarian.

General Fiction

1) Tipping the Velvet by Sarah Waters

This is my very favourite book, queer or not. Sarah Waters has a writing style that I can just sink into, and despite the fact that I rarely seek out historical fiction, I fell in love with Tipping the Velvet. The ending is such a perfect representation of the odd, complicated nature of love. Plus, this is a coming-out story, that classic trope. Fingersmith is a very close second, which also has lesbians, but includes an absolutely killer, twisting plot. If you’re not shocked by the direction this takes, you are much more clever than I am. Lesbian author.

2) Pages for You by Sylvia BrownriggPages for You

This is an odd book for me. In the beginning, I thought, “this is sort of clumsily written”, but by the end I was blown away. I’m not sure what it is, but I really loved this book.

3) Oranges are not the Only Fruit by Jeanette Winterson

This isn’t my favourite of Winterson’s books, but it is, again, a classic. Jeanette Winterson has a beautiful, dream-like way of writing, and I plan to read all of her books eventually, though she is quite prolific. This one is rumoured to be semi-autobiographical, and it’s definitely worth reading. Lesbian author.

4) Kissing the Witch by Emma Donoghue

I have a soft spot for fairy tale re-tellings, so it wasn’t surprising that a lesbian fairy tale re-telling made the list. What is surprising, though, is not only Donoghue’s readable writing style, but her ability to weave each story into the next, creating a whole tapestry connecting some of your favourite fairy tales. Lesbian author.

Memoirs/Biographies

1) anything by Ivan E. Coyote

Coyote is not exactly woman-identified, but ze’s not man-identified either, so that’s good enough for me to make the list. I love Coyote’s style, and the stories including in any of the collections (One Man’s Trash, Close to Spider Man, Loose End, The Slow Fix) are short, to-the-point, and always affecting. Queer author.

Fun Home2) Fun Home by Alison Bechdel

Bechdel is the creator of the famous lesbian comics Dykes to Watch Out For. In her graphic autobiography, she illustrates her childhood, constantly drawing comparisons to her father. It may violate my “don’t be depressing” rule, but the comics alone are worth reading it for, and perhaps the uneasy feeling you’ll get afterward. Lesbian author.

3) Aimée & Jaguar: A Love Story, Berlin 1943 by Erica Fischer

I actually read about half of this thinking it was a really elaborate fictional story, so that should tell you how well it was written. Plus, a lesbian love story in Berlin, 1943? You know it’s going to be interesting at the very least.

That’s all I can think of for now, but I hope to get some real reviews up soon! Feel free to start sending in reviews (more lengthy than these general recommendations, hopefully). Just click on Guest Lesbrarians at the top.

Thanks for reading!