Kate Thomas, “Lesbian Arcadia: Desire and Design in the Fin-de-Siècle Garden”

Drawing of the Villa Gamberaia, Edward G. Lawson.

The Villa Gamberaia, Edward G. Lawson.

The GSD’s Spring 2021 Public Programs are all virtual and require registration.

Scroll down to find complete registration instructions and additional information about accessing the GSD’s programs.

Event Description

At the end of the nineteenth century, British and American lesbian artists settled around Florence, Italy, renovating neglected Renaissance estates.  Contemporary accounts describe the hillside region as colonized by a “cult of women.”  These women restored, refashioned and theorized gardens as places of queerly mythic erotic encounter.  In this lecture Professor Thomas will explore how design features such as nymphaeums, water parterres, secret gardens, grottos and boscos provided both refuge and open-air expression for lesbian subjectivity.  Remembering that the first documented use of the term “sexuality” refers to plants, Professor Thomas puts the fields of landscape architecture and queer theory into conversation, arguing that queer theory needs to build a history of lesbian desire that is animated as much by landscape as by other women. Drawing from recent theory on “vibrant matter” and “plant thinking” that sees land and plants  – the non-animal generally – as mobile, sentient and desiring, this lecture will propose that ruined and replanted Italian landscapes shaped modern lesbian relationships to materiality and estate.

Screenshot of a virtual event. Kate Thomas, who wears glasses and a black turtleneck shirt, appears in a small square on the right. A larger rectangle shows her PowerPoint presentation, which contains a photograph of a circular hole through a wall outdoors. Kate and her PowerPoint are surrounded by a green background.

Screenshot of a virtual event. Anita Berrizbeitia and Kate Thomas appear in two rectangles side by side. They are surrounded by a green background.


Kate Thomas is the K. Laurence Stapleton Professor of Literatures in English at Bryn Mawr College.  She publishes and teaches on Victorian literature and material culture, gender and sexuality studies and food studies.  The author of Postal Pleasures: Sex, Scandal and Victorian Letters (Oxford UP, 2012) and the forthcoming Victorian Informatics (University of Pennsylvania Press), she has also published on queer ecology, vegetal poetics, uncanny gardens, and back-to-the-land socialist sex politics.  Recipient of a 2019 Rome Prize in Landscape Architecture from the American Academy in Rome, she is currently working on a book project entitled “Lesbian Arcadia,” which examines the co-relation of literature and landscape for expatriate Anglo-American lesbians living in Italy across the fin-de-siècle.

How to Join

Register to attend the lecture here. Once you have registered, you will be provided with a link to join the lecture via Zoom. This link will also be emailed to you.

The event will also be live streamed to the GSD’s YouTube page. Only viewers who are attending the lecture via Zoom will be able to submit questions for the Q+A. If you would like to submit questions for the speakers in advance of the event, please click here.

Live captioning will be provided during this event. A transcript will be available roughly two weeks after the event, upon request.

Anyone requiring accessibility accommodations should contact the Public Programs Office at (617) 496-2414 or [email protected].