The Centre for the History of European Discourses was incorporated in the Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities in August 2015.

The information in this website is therefore out of date but retained for archival and staff purposes.

In 1949, Dorothy Bussy's novella, Olivia, was published anonymously and what interests me here is the question of the tempestuous relationship that developed between Marie Souvestre became an immediate success. Its treatment of the complex emotional and sexual situation in a girls' school, most notably the break down in the lesbian relationship between the two head teachers and its impact upon the adolescents present, especially 'Olivia' herself attracted immediate attention. It remains in print and is in constant demand in courses on gay and lesbian studies. The work was always regarded as in some sense autobiographical, although Dorothy Bussy (née Strachey) protested vehemently against this idea. Her protestations are entirely justified - and she was certainly not 'Olivia'. Nonetheless, the novel clearly drew on her experiences at the schools run by Marie Souvestre both in France and in England.

What interests me here is the Strachey family involvement in the tempestuous relationships that developed between Marie Souvestre and the women who became both her professional and personal partners in running her schools both in England and in France. Dorothy's mother, Jane Strachey, was a central figure here - a subject of intense jealousy to Marie Souvestre's partners (who saw her as usurping them in her affections), and the centre of Mlle Souvestre's life, when her other relationships came to an end. Jane Strachey herself seemed supremely impervious to the intensity and the sexual overtones of these relationships - but Dorothy, fighting to establish a place for herself in this world separate from her mother, was intensely aware of them.

Focussing on this text and the episodes to which it refers, this paper will explore the changing understanding and expectations of sexual relationship amongst the Stracheys across the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

On this site

Go to top