Queering Cozy Classics for the Winter!

Cover for Bookmarked Roundtables

The weather is getting chillier where I live, and I’m starting to yearn for afternoons curled up with a hot drink, rereading something cozily canonical like Austen or Shakespeare. Part of what’s cozy about that scene, for me, is the interpretations of characters I developed on first reading, and still stand by. In fandom, “headcanons” are a reader’s beliefs about a text that are neither confirmed nor contradicted by what’s actually on the page. For instance, you could believe strongly that Charlotte Lucas in Pride and Prejudice is in love with Lizzie Bennet (as I do).

I asked a bunch of my fellow WWAC-ers to tell me their own personal queer headcanons for the classics, and they are delightful, ranging from Shakespeare plays to novels so many of us were assigned to read in school and back again.

Emily Lauer: I have always thought when reading Pride and Prejudice that Charlotte Lucas’s character could easily be in love with Lizzie Bennet. We know that Lizzie and Charlotte spent a lot of time as close friends, and that Lizzie was surprised by Charlotte choosing an entirely practical but unromantic partner. Charlotte, from her side, seems resigned that Lizzie will not understand her choice.

a worn hardback book, the modern library edition of two Jane Austen novels

Zora Gilbert: Please, let me tell you how Sense and Sensibility’s Margaret Dashwood was radicalized at an early age by the parade of shitty men jerking her and her family around, and how she realized that she simply did not have to engage with them if she was willing to flout enough social mores. Sure, England of the time didn’t really afford women a lot of options, but I trust canny little Margaret to figure it out—especially while under the increasingly able guidance of her older sisters and their partners.

On that note… I’ve also always been delighted by the idea of Edward Ferrars as nonbinary—something about the his presence in scenes always feels a little to the left of Austen’s portrayal of even her gentlest men, and his awkwardness coupled with his unwavering personal integrity feels very familiar. I’ve found that rejecting the prescribed gender binary—even just internally—has had a sort of domino effect regarding my acceptance of a lot of other social assumptions or habits, and I definitely see those dominos starting to fall for Edward.

Louis Skye: A lot of Shakespeare plays feel super-queer to me. Merchant of Venice is one of my favourite plays and you cannot tell me that Antonio and Bassanio weren’t in a long-time relationship. Antonio was legit ready to die for this man and he was definitely jealous of Portia for stealing his man. Bassanio just wanted a rich wife so he and his boyfriend could live a good life (that’s my reading of it and you can’t convince me otherwise, haha). This entire play gives off super-queer vibes. Portia and Nerissa disguise themselves as men (I also felt like they’d rather hang out with each other than the dudes in their lives).

Emily Lauer: Louis, I would not dream of telling you otherwise. I feel the same about Shakespeare’s other Antonio, the Antonio in Twelfth Night, and in fact, most other people in Twelfth Night, too! One of Jo Walton’s recent novels Or What You Will, includes a kind of continuation of Twelfth Night in which both Orsino and Viola’s marriage, and Sebastian and Olivia’s marriage still include quite a bit of crossdressing and all four of them in a relationship together, in fact.

Manga Shakespeare, Twelfth Night cover, Nana Li & William Shakespeare, SelfMadeHero

Reagan Anick: Hamlet and Horatio are queer, they just are. Ever since I first read Hamlet for school back in 2018, my reading has been that Hamlet and Horatio are both queer. Maybe that reading can be attributed to my first real exposure to Hamlet being through tumblr posts about the two, or maybe it’s because Horatio cradles Hamlet’s corpse as he dies and says “goodnight sweet prince.” It’s exactly the kind of thing that I latched onto as a teenager and decided had to be true and honestly? I’m ok with that.

Emily Lauer: That’s really interesting to me because I tend to think of headcanon as an individual thing, but it can absolutely be informed by fandom. When I asked another bookish friend, “hey, do you read Charlotte Lucas as being queer and in love with Lizzie?” she said, “Sure, I’ll ship it.” I’m similarly willing to see Hamlet and Horatio the same way.

Kathryn Hemmann: Horatio is most definitely in love with Hamlet, and also, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Husbands. Along the same lines, I will not be the first or last person to argue that Nick Carraway has a crush on Jay Gatsby. In Killing Commendatore, a surreal reimagining of The Great Gatsby, Haruki Murakami digs his heels into the first-person narrator’s attraction by repeatedly directing his focus to the upstart tech boom millionaire character’s voice and lips and hands and fingers. Murakami translated The Great Gatsby into Japanese, so I feel like he knows what’s going on.

on the cover of Kokoro, a woman's face is partially obscured and color is overlayed

Meanwhile, Japanese feminist scholars have long argued that Natsume Soseki’s Kokoro, a [1914] novel that’s roughly equivalent to The Great Gatsby in the Japanese literary canon, is about a queer love triangle in which the characters Sensei and K express their affection for one another by romantically competing for the same woman. Kate Beaton has actually drawn a few Hark! A Vagrant comic strips about Kokoro that contextualize the story within the “I sleep next to a picture of my nemesis and think about him always” homoeroticism of the era, which I think is really sweet.

Lisa Fernandes: I will happily die on my “Jo March is queer, she ends up in a Boston marriage and spends her life with a lovely, smart woman happily teaching/adopting kids and writing novels of great merit and ill fame alike” hill. It’s been there since I was a teenager and it’ll be there when I am an old maid.

the cover of Little Women by Louisa May Alcott shows women's faces surrounded by foliage
Lisa is talking about Jo March from Little Women.

Emily Lauer: And what a fitting image to end our conversation! It’s a lovely view from the Headcanon Hills, come visit any time! We’ll still be here.

Emily Lauer

Emily Lauer

Emily Lauer lives in Manhattan with her husband, daughter and dog. She teaches writing and literature at Suffolk County Community College where she studies comics, kids' books, adaptations and visual culture. She is a former Pubwatch Editor for WWAC, and frankly, there is a lot more gray in her hair than there was when this profile picture was taken.

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