Like most genres of popular literature, science fiction has been slow to present lesbians in a positive light. During the late 19th century and early 20th century, lesbians were entirely unrepresented in science fiction, with homosexuality an act only depraved men engaged in. Which makes Gregory Casparian's The Anglo-American Alliance. A Serio-Comic Romance and Forecast of the Future (1906), the first lesbian science fiction novel, all the more notable.
Casparian (1855-1947) was a Turkish Armenian who emigrated to the United States in 1877 after making himself unwelcome in Turkey as an officer in the Armenian army. He settled in New York and became an artist, painter, and photoengraver for an engineering firm. Little else can be found about him, but he must have been an interesting and thoughtful man, for The Anglo-American Alliance, his only book, is remarkably progressive sexually.
The Anglo-American Alliance, set in the future of 1960, has two plots. The first is a detailed history of a 20th century in which the United States and the United Kingdom are the major powers on Earth, colonialism is still in force (Great Britain having colonized central Africa in the 1920s), and technology has advanced in a limited fashion: prenatal sex determination and suspended animation are now possible, a germicide for laziness has been developed, benefitting "the negroes of the Southern States" [sic], and an enormous telescope has discovered "vegetation and moving objects" on Mars and Venus. A Persian astronomer, Abou Shimshek, has found an "ice lens" which allowed him to discover a new planet on which live a race of telepathic, furred, electric-wheel-riding aliens.
The second is the romance between Aurora Cunningham, the daughter of Great Britain's Secretary of Foreign Affairs," and Margaret MacDonald, the daughter of an American senator. Aurora is beautiful, blonde, blue-eyed, gentle, and has a speech impediment: "a typical English maiden." Margaret is Aurora's "very antithesis. She was somewhat taller, with sparkling black eyes and raven hair, of imposing dignity and carriage, but withal the equal of Aurora in the matter of natural gifts and accomplishments. She had, moreover, a captivating frivolity and aggressiveness which almost bordered on masculinity." And she's good at the kinds sports young women are fond of, which sometimes involve donning armor.
The two meet at the Diana Young Ladies' Seminary in Cornwall and fall immediately in love: "they were drawn to each other with a mysterious sympathy which attracted the attention of outsiders and furnished ample excuse for comment. Directly after their first meeting they had become inseparable companions and confidants." But as time passed this strange attachment grew so marked and its manifestations so alarmingly flagrant that they themselves became aware of its dangerous consequences.
They realized that if they gave free license to indiscreet emotional demonstrations class room or in public, not only would their actions not be tolerated by the College faculty and cause their expulsion from the Seminary, but they would also be subjected to unendurable ostracism by the rest of the students. But still worse was the confronting fact that they would undoubtedly become the topic of unpleasant notoriety through the publicity given by the sensational press. They had therefore the good judgment to pledge themselves to control their emotions in the presence of class, and to exercise wide-awake circumspection in their behavior in public and towards the opposite sex.
Casparian further describes how Aurora and Margaret were the only women in the Seminary who "refrained from making an alliance" with any of the "gallant swains from the Academy."
Now, passionate pairings among women were not unknown when Casparian wrote An Anglo-American Alliance. Many Victorian women, both American and English, formed "romantic friendships" or "passionate friendships," and a number of those became "Boston marriages," in which both women lived together, financially independent, and shared a house. Such pairings were very occasionally represented in late-Victorian fiction, though any lesbianism was absent or kept only as a covert subtext. But Casparian went far beyond that.
Aurora and Margaret are on the verge of graduating from the Seminary, which will mean their separation, a prospect which both loathes. So they make "a solemn compact, bound by an inviolable oath, not to make any alliance with any suitor whatever and to remain united to each other in souls until death should them part." Aurora goes further, and in a "fatuous ardor of love" writes "an impromptu poem of fealty, entitled ‘Wilt Thou Remember Thy Vow?' It revealed the intensity of their emotions, their utter subjugation and mutual abandonment of will and desire each to the other...."
Aurora returns home after graduation, and Margaret faints after she leaves. She is brought to the famous Hindu "Vivisectionist and Re-Incarnator" Dr. Hyder Ben Raaba, who discovers why Margaret is so distraught, and helps her recover. A few months later, after Margaret has inherited her dead father's wealth, she receives a card from Dr. Ben Raaba, asking after her health. Margaret then has a brilliant idea, which Dr. Ben Raaba agrees to: a "mental and physical metamorphosis" which transforms Margaret into a man. Margaret, now "Spencer Hamilton," becomes a famous musician, woos and wins Aurora, and the pair live happily ever after.
An Anglo-American Alliance would have been better (and extraordinarily progressive) had Aurora and Margaret lived happily ever after as women, it must be admitted. Nonetheless, An Anglo-American Alliance is the first science fiction novel with a pair of lesbian lovers as heroines, one of whom becomes science fiction's first transgender hero.
All images taken from the original novel, which is available for free download from Google Books.