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“Considered one of the most subtle and beautifully written lesbian novels of the century, this 1949 classic returns to print in a Cleis Press edition. Dorothy Strachey’s classic Olivia captures the awakening passions of an English adolescent sent away for a year to a small finishing school outside Paris. The innocent but watchful Olivia develops an infatuation for her head “Considered one of the most subtle and beautifully written lesbian novels of the century, this 1949 classic returns to print in a Cleis Press edition. Dorothy Strachey’s classic Olivia captures the awakening passions of an English adolescent sent away for a year to a small finishing school outside Paris. The innocent but watchful Olivia develops an infatuation for her headmistress, Mlle. Julie, and through this screen of love observes the tense romance between Mlle. Julie and the other head of the school, Mlle. Cara, in its final months. “Although not strictly autobiographical, Olivia draws on the author’s experiences at finishing schools run by the charismatic Mlle. Marie Souvestre, whose influence lived on through former students like Natalie Barney and Eleanor Roosevelt. Olivia was dedicated to the memory of Strachey’s friend Virginia Woolf and published to acclaim in 1949. Colette wrote the screenplay for the 1951 film adaptation of the novel. In 1999, Olivia was included on the Publishing Triangle’s widely publicized list of the 100 Best Gay and Lesbian Novels of the 20th Century. “Dorothy Strachey (1865-1960) was the sister of the novelist Lytton Strachey and a prominent member of the Bloomsbury Group…….Olivia, originally published under a pseudonym, is her only novel.” -- Amazon.com


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“Considered one of the most subtle and beautifully written lesbian novels of the century, this 1949 classic returns to print in a Cleis Press edition. Dorothy Strachey’s classic Olivia captures the awakening passions of an English adolescent sent away for a year to a small finishing school outside Paris. The innocent but watchful Olivia develops an infatuation for her head “Considered one of the most subtle and beautifully written lesbian novels of the century, this 1949 classic returns to print in a Cleis Press edition. Dorothy Strachey’s classic Olivia captures the awakening passions of an English adolescent sent away for a year to a small finishing school outside Paris. The innocent but watchful Olivia develops an infatuation for her headmistress, Mlle. Julie, and through this screen of love observes the tense romance between Mlle. Julie and the other head of the school, Mlle. Cara, in its final months. “Although not strictly autobiographical, Olivia draws on the author’s experiences at finishing schools run by the charismatic Mlle. Marie Souvestre, whose influence lived on through former students like Natalie Barney and Eleanor Roosevelt. Olivia was dedicated to the memory of Strachey’s friend Virginia Woolf and published to acclaim in 1949. Colette wrote the screenplay for the 1951 film adaptation of the novel. In 1999, Olivia was included on the Publishing Triangle’s widely publicized list of the 100 Best Gay and Lesbian Novels of the 20th Century. “Dorothy Strachey (1865-1960) was the sister of the novelist Lytton Strachey and a prominent member of the Bloomsbury Group…….Olivia, originally published under a pseudonym, is her only novel.” -- Amazon.com

30 review for Olivia

  1. 5 out of 5

    Anna Luce

    ★★★★✰ 4 stars “And so that was what love led to. To wound and be wounded. ” Set in a French finishing school Dorothy Strachey's Olivia tells the story of a schoolgirl's infatuation with her headmistress. Narrated by its titular character, Olivia perfectly evokes adolescent love. Olivia becomes enamoured with Mlle. Julie, and experiences an awakening of sorts. “Pretty girls I had seen, lovely girls, no doubt, but I had never paid much conscious attention to their looks, never been particularly inter ★★★★✰ 4 stars “And so that was what love led to. To wound and be wounded. ” Set in a French finishing school Dorothy Strachey's Olivia tells the story of a schoolgirl's infatuation with her headmistress. Narrated by its titular character, Olivia perfectly evokes adolescent love. Olivia becomes enamoured with Mlle. Julie, and experiences an awakening of sorts. “Pretty girls I had seen, lovely girls, no doubt, but I had never paid much conscious attention to their looks, never been particularly interested in them. But this was something different. No, it was not different. It was merely being awakened to something for the first time—physical beauty. I was never blind to it again.” Not only do her feelings towards Mlle. Julie alter her sense of self but they also seem to heighten her senses. Her narration is full of ecstatic exclamations and passionate declarations. She often looses herself is sensuous raptures in which she elevates Mlle. Julie to a godly status. Olivia however is not the only to pine after her, and Mlle. Julie herself seems to be involved with the other headmistress, Mlle. Cara. Strachey's perfectly captures the anguish of unreciprocated love. Mlle. Julie is Olivia's objet petit a, in other words her unattainable object of desire. Although Olivia longs for Mlle. Julie, it seemed to me that the impossibility of this love magnified the intensity of her feelings. She seems almost satisfied by her own yearning and angst. Strachey vividly renders Olivia's finishing school, from the petty jealousies between pupils to the rivalry between Frau Riesener and Signorina. I particularly liked reading about the school's two factions: the 'Julie-ites' (who studied Italian with Signorina) and the 'Cara-ites' (who studied German with Frau Riesener). The novel doesn't have a plot as such. The narrative seems intent on using a certain type of language in order to translate to the page Olivia's feelings towards Mlle. Julie. Through her grandiose prose Strachey articulates the highs and lows of Olivia's infatuation. Her writing has a flamboyantly poetic quality, one that complements Olivia's emotions—from her desire to her misery—and her reverence towards Mlle. Julie. Being an individual who is not only prone to crushes, but one that tends to romanticise said crushes, well, I rather identified with Olivia. It's a pity that Olivia is Strachey's only novel. Some of my favourite quotes: “Was this stab in my heart, this rapture, really mine or had I merely read about it? For every feeling, every vicissitude of my passion, there would spring into my mind a quotation from the poets.” “These people seemed to be beset on every side by “temptations”; they lived in continual terror of falling into “sin”. Sin? What was sin? Evidently there loomed in the dark background a mysterious horror from which pure-minded girls must turn away their thoughts, but there were dangers enough near at hand which made it necessary to walk with extreme wariness—pitfalls, which one could hardly avoid without the help of God.” “Did I understand the play at that first reading? Oh, certainly not. Haven’t I put the gathered experience of years into my recollection of it? No doubt. What is certain is that it gave me my first conception of tragedy, of the terror and complication and pity of human lives. Strange that for an English child that revelation should have come through Racine instead of through Shakespeare. But it did.” “I went to bed that night in a kind of daze, slept as if I had been drugged and in the morning awoke to a new world—a world of excitement—a world in which everything was fierce and piercing, everything charged with strange emotions, clothed with extraordinary mysteries, and in which I myself seemed to exist only as an inner core of palpitating fire.” “But there was no need of wine to intoxicate me. Everything in her proximity was intoxicating.” “The dullest of her girls was stirred into some sort of life in her presence; to the intelligent, she communicated a Promethean fire which warmed and coloured their whole lives. To sit at table at her right hand was an education in itself.” “No, I have never seen anyone freer from every sort of selfishness, never seen anyone devote herself to others with such manifest gladness. And yet, with all her altruism, one could never think of her as self-sacrificing. She never did sacrifice herself. She had no self to sacrifice. When she gave her time, her thoughts, her energies to bringing up her stepbrothers and stepsisters, it was really a joy to her.” “I think there was nothing else she wanted. If I too would have liked to serve, I was continually conscious that I was incapable and unworthy, continually devoured by vain humilities. And then there was also in me a curious repugnance, a terror of getting too near.” “Let me think of those words later, I said to myself, there’s too much in them—too much joy and terror. I must brush them aside for the moment. I must keep them, bury them, like a dog his bone, till I can return to them alone.” “It was at this time that a change came over me. That delicious sensation of gladness, of lightness, of springing vitality, that consciousness of youth and strength and ardour, that feeling that some divine power had suddenly granted me an undreamt-of felicity and made me free of boundless kingdoms and untold wealth, faded as mysteriously as it had come and was succeeded by a very different state. Now I was all moroseness and gloom—heavy-hearted, leaden-footed.” “But I wasn’t thinking. I was sometimes dreaming—the foolish dreams of adolescence: of how I should save her life at the cost of my own by some heroic deed, of how she would kiss me on my death-bed, of how I should kneel at hers and what her dying word would be, of how I should become famous by writing poems which no one would know were inspired by her, of how one day she would guess it, and so on and so on.” “On the very first morning of what was to be my new life, how could I expect to banish entirely those haunting visions—of a shoulder—of a profile?” “I had been so utterly absorbed by the newness and violence of all my emotions, that it had never occurred to me the present could be anything but eternal.” “I must feed on beauty and rapture in order to grow strong.” “I pondered the episodes I have just related. I lived them over again, sometimes with ecstasy, sometimes with anguish.” Read more reviews on my blog / / / View all my reviews on Goodreads

  2. 4 out of 5

    Gabrielle Dubois

    I read Olivia, by Olivia in its very first 1949 edition. I made researches to know who Olivia could be and I found: Dorothy Bussy (1865-1960), English, published three works, only one of them was a novel: Olivia in 1949. She has it published under the pseudonym Olivia. In my 1949 edition, the name Dorothy Bussy is not even mentioned. This novel caused a scandal when it was published. Why? Because it is a disguised autobiography and its subject is the author's love for her female teacher. In this a I read Olivia, by Olivia in its very first 1949 edition. I made researches to know who Olivia could be and I found: Dorothy Bussy (1865-1960), English, published three works, only one of them was a novel: Olivia in 1949. She has it published under the pseudonym Olivia. In my 1949 edition, the name Dorothy Bussy is not even mentioned. This novel caused a scandal when it was published. Why? Because it is a disguised autobiography and its subject is the author's love for her female teacher. In this autobiographical novel, Olivia, a sixteen-year-old English girl, is sent to a renowned French boarding school to study. Two lovers women run it: Miss Julie, - in real life Marie Souvestre (1835-1905), French - and Miss Cara. As soon as she arrived in this small boarding school which accommodated no more than thirty-five teenager girls, Olivia fell in love with Miss Julie, who did not seem indifferent to the young girl. This love might be chaste, except for a few hand rubs and rare hugs. But no matter what the blur, love is there, real, passionate. Olivia throws herself into love whole-heartedly, without having the key of what this love is. It's her first love, it's violent, whole, handsome. Olivia will discover that it is love, she will also discover jealousy, selfishness, hatred, anything that comes behind love or upsets it. If she loved afterwards, this first love will have left its mark on her for ever. "She was reading for me. For me, for me alone. I knew it. Yes, only I could understand. I, and no one else! And, once again, through my whole being, I tasted this feeling of total intimacy, of close communication, that words, that even caresses are powerless to awaken. I was with her forever; I was close to her, at her side, in this infinitely beautiful, infinitely distant area, whose divine radiance spread over our dark and icy world, the warmth of pity, tenderness, renunciation." A very beautiful love story, full of nuance, where classical literature and poetry, taught at the school and read to her students by Miss Julie, can arouse the impulses of the heart, as well as soothe hearts in love or unhappy ones. There is a passage in the book that touched me personally. A person who is dear to me, in my life, has taken a wrong path for years, wrong for her and her family. I realized that months ago. But she doesn't want my help and refuses to face the reality of her situation. She runs to disaster, it breaks my heart, and my powerlessness gnaws at me. I try to get used to the idea that you can't help a person in spite of her or him, despite all the desire you have to be helpfull. Everyone is responsible for their choices and their lives. That's why, when I read the following passage, it helped me to accept: "Poor Miss Cara had been a weak, selfish and vain creature. That's how I judged her. She had allowed herself to be degraded by suffering; she had not known how to fight against jealousy and bad pride. Would she have been able to fight? I didn't know. But we could fight and I could fight! Between good and evil, to choose good was all what we had to do, was it?" Great female authors do us good! PS: I read this book in its French 1949 version, so the quotes are my translation, forgive my English, please!

  3. 5 out of 5

    Bandit

    This is a supposed classic of lesbian fiction. I had to check it out. Sometimes novels (or movies for that matter) are named classics due to their sheer quality, originality and epic grandness, sometimes it is due to their contents being revolutionary for its day or for pioneering a new territory or genre. With Olivia it might have been the latter. It is a well written story of a student's ardent and incredibly chaste crush on her schoolmistress. As characteristic of its time, the Victorian sens This is a supposed classic of lesbian fiction. I had to check it out. Sometimes novels (or movies for that matter) are named classics due to their sheer quality, originality and epic grandness, sometimes it is due to their contents being revolutionary for its day or for pioneering a new territory or genre. With Olivia it might have been the latter. It is a well written story of a student's ardent and incredibly chaste crush on her schoolmistress. As characteristic of its time, the Victorian sensibilities of the era make this primarily the passion of the mind and not a happy one at that. The object of affections comes across as emotionally manipulative and cruel, the eponymous character is much too naïve and reserved and the entire novel is somewhat overwrought with sentimental ornamentations. It is entirely possible that it simply packs a lesser punch that other gay and lesbian classics of its time because, although inspired by certain real facts, this is a work written by a heterosexual woman who has consistently denied that Olivia was based on her. No personal struggle has inspired this, it is merely a sort of tragic fantasy, a fine read with some lovely language usage, but far from a great one.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Oriana

    Heard about this from a great GQ piece called "21 Books You Don't Have to Read," which dismisses canonical standards and offers replacements instead. Here's from the entry for this book: I have never been able to fathom why The Catcher in the Rye is such a canonical novel. I read it because everyone else in school was reading it but thought it was totally silly. Now, looking back, I find that it is without any literary merit whatsoever. Why waste adolescents' time? Alternatively, I'd suggest Oli Heard about this from a great GQ piece called "21 Books You Don't Have to Read," which dismisses canonical standards and offers replacements instead. Here's from the entry for this book: I have never been able to fathom why The Catcher in the Rye is such a canonical novel. I read it because everyone else in school was reading it but thought it was totally silly. Now, looking back, I find that it is without any literary merit whatsoever. Why waste adolescents' time? Alternatively, I'd suggest Olivia, the story of a British teenage girl who is sent to a boarding school in France. It is short and written in a kind of levelheaded and deceptively straightforward style. Olivia eventually falls in love with her teacher Mademoiselle Julie T, who in turn, and without reciprocating that love out loud, is equally in love with Olivia. Julie never takes a wrong step, but there are signs for those who know how to read them. I've read Olivia many, many times, and bought it for many of my friends.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Ana

    I'll do a proper review of this novel after I see the 1951 movie Olivia, but FYI: it's wonderful. I'll do a proper review of this novel after I see the 1951 movie Olivia, but FYI: it's wonderful.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Liralen

    I was desperately curious about this because boarding school and lesbians and older book makes for a pretty interesting combination. And interesting it is, but so terribly odd in some ways too. I don't think this sort of book would make it past a contemporary slush pile, to be honest. The setup drags on for quite some time, despite the book's short length, and there are numerous red herrings—I'd initially expected, for example, that Olivia's love interest would be Laura, but instead...instead we I was desperately curious about this because boarding school and lesbians and older book makes for a pretty interesting combination. And interesting it is, but so terribly odd in some ways too. I don't think this sort of book would make it past a contemporary slush pile, to be honest. The setup drags on for quite some time, despite the book's short length, and there are numerous red herrings—I'd initially expected, for example, that Olivia's love interest would be Laura, but instead...instead we have something of a Boston marriage between teachers, and teachers embroiled in jealousy and schemes and...all sorts of things. Now, jealousy and schemes and so on—those would still go over like gangbusters. But no, what makes this feel so specific to its time is the peculiar chaste crush Olivia develops on one of her teachers at finishing school. Olivia does not really know what the crush means; I don't think she really has any idea what she wants out of it other than to be close to the teacher. Another, more sophisticated girl might. It is not entirely clear, either, what Miss Julie wants, but it's so utterly clear—to everyone, perhaps, but Olivia—that Olivia is not going to get what she's looking for. In a contemporary book, I'd probably be looking for quite a bit more—for more character development, especially of students; for more about Olivia post-schooling; for more action, even quiet action (not necessarily more relationship action between Olivia and Miss Julie, mind, because...consent...and not necessarily more relationship action in general). Still...the slow pacing and older feeling to the book seem absolutely right for what it is, and gosh, I have to start reading more 'literary' books, because the vocabulary here was a delight.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Suzanne Stroh

    In the pantheon of lesbian classics reigns Olivia, Strachey's gripping account of her own coming of age, which is actually a roman à clef about two progressive Belle Époque girls' schools founded by Marie Souvestre. Strachey attended both: Allenswood in England and, in France near the forest of Fontainebleau, Les Ruches. Olivia is set at Les Ruches. It was, of course, a "beehive" of erotic activity. Top Student Eleanor Roosevelt plays a supporting role in a cast that includes Strachey's headmist In the pantheon of lesbian classics reigns Olivia, Strachey's gripping account of her own coming of age, which is actually a roman à clef about two progressive Belle Époque girls' schools founded by Marie Souvestre. Strachey attended both: Allenswood in England and, in France near the forest of Fontainebleau, Les Ruches. Olivia is set at Les Ruches. It was, of course, a "beehive" of erotic activity. Top Student Eleanor Roosevelt plays a supporting role in a cast that includes Strachey's headmistress and later employer, Marie Souvestre, rivaling the narrator for the love of another teacher. Natalie and Laura Barney were also among Souvestre's notable boarders, and we learn in Barney's 1926 novel, Les amants feminins ou la troisième, that Natalie still kept a cottage nearby, thirty years later. Les Ruches left a lifelong impression upon most of its students, and so does Olivia. Much is written between the lines, so go slowly and savor what is not being said as much as what is being written. In that respect it reminds me of the other reigning majesty in the pantheon, A Legacy by Sybille Bedford. Of the two, Olivia is much easier to read.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Annabeth Leong

    When I bought this book I joked to my friend that books like this should come with a tragedy meter. "On a scale of 0-10, how likely are the lesbians to die at the end?" I was nervous that I'd be frustrated and wouldn't enjoy the book because of that tragic trope. However, I found myself drawn in by the writing style. I also really appreciated the sense of adolescent mystery that the book captured. The narrator, Olivia, hasn't really figured out what's going on with erotic connections—I don't thi When I bought this book I joked to my friend that books like this should come with a tragedy meter. "On a scale of 0-10, how likely are the lesbians to die at the end?" I was nervous that I'd be frustrated and wouldn't enjoy the book because of that tragic trope. However, I found myself drawn in by the writing style. I also really appreciated the sense of adolescent mystery that the book captured. The narrator, Olivia, hasn't really figured out what's going on with erotic connections—I don't think she quite knows what she is feeling, and I don't think she knows how to parse the behavior that goes on around her. This makes for a moving mystery story. I remember how it felt to not quite understand what was going on in myself and others. The novel is a fast, deceptively simple read, but there's a lot going on with the characters. I expect I'll be thinking about this for quite some time. And (***spoiler alert***) given how many of the characters read as lesbians to me, I was pleasantly surprised to find that almost none of them died at the end.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Paloma Etienne

    Fantastic and passionate. Mlle Julia is a force of nature

  10. 5 out of 5

    Alaina

    I cannot believe this work is not more well-known as an early book about the lesbian experience. Possibly autobiographical, it tells the story of a 16-year old girl's love for her teacher. A classic story, to be sure, but Bussy imbues such a passion and immediacy to her tale that it is my personal suspicion that the pain of her loss and her love never faded, even after 40+ years and a marriage. It is impossible to know. what is important is that this is a beautiful little book; an artless, guile I cannot believe this work is not more well-known as an early book about the lesbian experience. Possibly autobiographical, it tells the story of a 16-year old girl's love for her teacher. A classic story, to be sure, but Bussy imbues such a passion and immediacy to her tale that it is my personal suspicion that the pain of her loss and her love never faded, even after 40+ years and a marriage. It is impossible to know. what is important is that this is a beautiful little book; an artless, guileless story about a girl's innocent - but forbidden- love.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Amy

    Olivia: A Novel left me with a rather bitter aftertaste, with the melange of love, worship and servitude all rolled into one and served together, upon the pedestal wherein Olivia placed Mlle Julie. I was as ambivalent as Olivia with regard to the perplexing Mlle Julie, and her seemingly bipolar mood swings. However, I wasn't fond of Olivia either, with the extremity of her neediness, nevertheless, I could empathize with her and the depths to which her love went.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Kat

    Review to come. K & K buddy read. Just peachy!

  13. 5 out of 5

    Ali

    Dedicated to the memory of Virginia Woolf, Olivia was Dorothy Strachey’s only novel. Published under the pseudonym ‘Olivia’ it is a subtle classic of lesbian literature. It is more of a novella really at just 114 pages in this edition, and I’ll be honest – I picked it mainly for its length as I near the end of my A Century of Books. The Afterword reveals that the French school featured in this novella is loosely based on Marie Souvestre’s Allenswood Academy, attended by both the author and Elean Dedicated to the memory of Virginia Woolf, Olivia was Dorothy Strachey’s only novel. Published under the pseudonym ‘Olivia’ it is a subtle classic of lesbian literature. It is more of a novella really at just 114 pages in this edition, and I’ll be honest – I picked it mainly for its length as I near the end of my A Century of Books. The Afterword reveals that the French school featured in this novella is loosely based on Marie Souvestre’s Allenswood Academy, attended by both the author and Eleanor Roosevelt, which in itself is rather fascinating. I’m not sure why – but I wasn’t altogether certain that I would enjoy Olivia – perhaps I read a review of it somewhere which put me off – however, I enjoyed it enormously. What a shame it is that Dorothy Strachey only ever published this. Dorothy Strachey’s writing is beautiful, and there is a lot that is very quotable from this slim volume. “Was this stab in my heart, this rapture, really mine or had I merely read about it? For every feeling, every vicissitude of my passion, there would spring into my mind a quotation from the poets. Shakespeare or Donne or Heine had the exact phrase for it. Comforting, perhaps, but enraging too. Nothing ever seemed spontaneously my own.” A woman recollects the final year of her education, a year when she discovered life at its fullest, found passion and in a sense, herself. Olivia is sixteen when she is sent to Les Avons a finishing school near Paris, run by two mademoiselles. This is a school of an entirely different kind. It is a school where there are few rules, where laughter and passionate discussion are actively encouraged. Olivia revels in this atmosphere so unlike anything she has experienced before. Full review: https://heavenali.wordpress.com/2018/...

  14. 4 out of 5

    Judy

    This was a surprise. I was at a library sale and after reading the first sentence on the back cover, I added it to my bag: When at 16, Olivia left her English family to spend a year in a French finishing school near Paris, she moved into an atmosphere of intellectual and spiritual aliveness such as she had never known. It wasn't until recently that I read the rest of the blurb and realized that young Olivia becomes intensely infatuated with the headmistress. Olivia relates her thoughts and emotion This was a surprise. I was at a library sale and after reading the first sentence on the back cover, I added it to my bag: When at 16, Olivia left her English family to spend a year in a French finishing school near Paris, she moved into an atmosphere of intellectual and spiritual aliveness such as she had never known. It wasn't until recently that I read the rest of the blurb and realized that young Olivia becomes intensely infatuated with the headmistress. Olivia relates her thoughts and emotions in beautiful prose. (I believe this book is considered literature.) There are no passionate sex scenes. For the most part, this reads like female friendships of the late 1890s. Girls hold hands and dance together. They greet and leave each other with a kiss. It isn't until later in the story that the intensity of the feelings becomes blatant enough to be recognized by a naive reader (like me). This is reminiscent of Brokeback Mountain. The author, Dorothy Strachey, dedicated the book to the memory of her friend Virginia Woolf.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Violet

    A second reading, audio-book version. I think I've read this book translated into Polish, about twelve thousand years ago, but my memory could (totally is) be deceiving me. The feelings remain the same - such a silly, silly story, but great prose. The writing is hauntingly beautiful, stunning. As for audio book narrator - the majority of dialogue was narrated in thick French accent, and that's kinda plus, and also made me really connect with Gomez Addams A second reading, audio-book version. I think I've read this book translated into Polish, about twelve thousand years ago, but my memory could (totally is) be deceiving me. The feelings remain the same - such a silly, silly story, but great prose. The writing is hauntingly beautiful, stunning. As for audio book narrator - the majority of dialogue was narrated in thick French accent, and that's kinda plus, and also made me really connect with Gomez Addams

  16. 4 out of 5

    l.

    Older women toying with schoolgirls' hearts and tragic lesbians about sums it up.

  17. 4 out of 5

    carlageek

    Often cited as one of the handful of literary works on lesbian themes that were available to midcentury readers, Olivia is the story of a Victorian girl’s first brush with passionate love. Sent away to a posh continental finishing school, Olivia falls in love with her teacher, Mademoiselle Julie, and the novella is at its best in its capturing of Olivia’s struggle to understand her overwrought adolescent feelings. There is a terrific scene in which Olivia questions another of Mlle Julie’s favori Often cited as one of the handful of literary works on lesbian themes that were available to midcentury readers, Olivia is the story of a Victorian girl’s first brush with passionate love. Sent away to a posh continental finishing school, Olivia falls in love with her teacher, Mademoiselle Julie, and the novella is at its best in its capturing of Olivia’s struggle to understand her overwrought adolescent feelings. There is a terrific scene in which Olivia questions another of Mlle Julie’s favorites, Laura, as to the nature of her love for the teacher. Does Laura’s heart skip beats when Mlle Julie is nearby? Does Laura feel the same longing outside of Mlle Julie’s presence, and awe in it? No, Laura simply loves her. Olivia concludes that her feelings must be something different from ordinary love, either something more, or something less. And they can’t possibly be less. So there is a sexual component to Olivia’s feelings for Mlle Julie, and the book is oblique but completely clear in naming it. Olivia shies away from it, but when she falls at Mlle Julie’s feet and covers her hands with kisses, when she writhes in her bed in anticipation of Mlle Julie coming to see her or in anguished jealousy that Mlle Julie might be going to see another girl, the nature of her feelings is lucidly captured. The relationship with Mlle Julie remains chaste, though the implication is strong that it’s a bit of a struggle for Mlle Julie to ensure the boundary isn’t crossed. And Mlle Julie’s serial attractions to her students are not the only disturbing thing about her school. Indeed, there is a sort of Victorian hysteria lurking about the place at all times. At the heart of it is Mlle Julie’s long-time relationship with her co-headmistress, the sickly Mlle Cara. There is clearly some estrangement between them, goosed onward by two other teachers, a stern German mistress who encourages Cara’s invalidism, and the diminutive Italian mistress, referred to mostly as the Signorina, who devotes herself to Julie. These rifted passions are so indiscreetly exposed around the school that the girls openly divide themselves into Julie-ite and Cara-ite factions. Signorina indulges in shockingly inappropriate conversations with Olivia about her own (the Signorina’s) passion for Mlle Julie and about the turbulent history of Julie and Cara’s love. The entire place is awash in ill-concealed passions and jealousies, and no one at all seems to have any sense of boundaries. Even the magnificent, intellectual Mlle Julie is not above the hormone-driven insanity; in one completely bananapants scene, she flirts openly and sexually with another student (possibly deliberately to fan poor Olivia’s jealousy); she follows this up with a reassuring promise to Olivia that she will come to Olivia’s room late that night(!). Mlle Julie may know French poetry inside and out, but her judgment here is more than a little suspect. And of course, all of these feminine rivalries and jealousies come to a superbly Victorian head in a touch of melodrama involving the obligatory bottle of chloral hydrate. If all girl’s schools of the time were as dysfunctional as this one, it’s small wonder that women’s education wasn’t taken seriously.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Mana

    To be young and a teenager again when everything felt so serious and impactful. This Victorian novel explores the sexual awakening of the title character Olivia. In this novel, Olivia's mother has two friends who run a boarding school. When Olivia comes of age she joins the school. She's excited to reinvent herself. At her campus she grows close to some of her teachers. Perhaps too close. Strachey wrote this book late in life, which gives her perspective for the perspectives of Olivia, Signora, an To be young and a teenager again when everything felt so serious and impactful. This Victorian novel explores the sexual awakening of the title character Olivia. In this novel, Olivia's mother has two friends who run a boarding school. When Olivia comes of age she joins the school. She's excited to reinvent herself. At her campus she grows close to some of her teachers. Perhaps too close. Strachey wrote this book late in life, which gives her perspective for the perspectives of Olivia, Signora, and Mademosielles Julie and Cara. Olivia becomes infatuated with her teacher, an older woman, and is groomed by Signora who is closer to Olivia's age. Signora teaches Olivia how to act and what to expect. She becomes almost a blueprint of Olivia's ideal future. It's hard to condemn Olivia for her infatuation. Mademoiselle Julie introduces her to new experiences, shows her Paris, rich texts--all of which foreshadows the relationship upheavals and the novel's denouement. However, we should fully condemn Mademoiselle Julie for all of her behavior. This novel is a classic British Victorian with its polylingual European aristocrats, the examination of cis female gender expression, and loads of introspective brooding. The exploration of one's body and how young people see/treat themselves vs how other people see/treat them is expertly portrayed. Strachey is able to write young girls starved for validation, for affirmation without making them vapid or condemning them for their desires. There is a scene that's so classically British I cannot ignore it. During the party scene, Olivia's mom buys a sari after her trip from India. Olivia wears it as a costume, and Mademoiselle Julie calls Olivia her "little Indian." This is definitely gross but accurately portrays Britain as a colonial power in the 20th century. These rich, white women were able to go to lavish boarding schools and have sapphic sexual awakenings because of the oppression of different communities. Their causal racism further affirms these characters as the social elite of their time evidenced by which cultures they respect and which ones they deem as ornamental. This is a book full of emotion. It's loaded with introspection and little action until the last third of the novel, which is typical when compared to its contemporaries. This is a great book for those who love classics, coming of age stories, and sapphic journeys. Thank you, Penguin Classics, for providing a reading copy in exchange for an honest review.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Nicolas Chinardet

    Although it may not always have been the case (particularly at the time of publication in 1949), this fairly explicit (for the time) story about the unrequited love of a teenage girl for her headmistress should now perhaps be confined to the YA section. The style is elegant and refined but the overly bathetic nature of adolescent first love, with all its uncertainties and exaggerations, is captured with too much accuracy for the more mature reader to be able to fully relate to the characters.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Sian Lile-Pastore

    I loved this - dreamy, breathy, school almost romance in Paris.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Jeana

    This book didn't do much for me. I didn't really get involved or care much about any of the characters. Not sure if I missed something...

  22. 4 out of 5

    rosamund

    Reread 2019: It's hard to write a good ending: to give the characters enough space without keeping the narrative going too long. But Stratchey handles it perfectly: she gives you just enough details for pathos of the moment to be realised, and then leaves you to cope with your feelings of melancholy and longing. I've read versions of young schoolgirl falls for older woman lots of times, but Olivia to me is the most successful: it doesn't try to moralise, or comment on sexuality, it doesn't try t Reread 2019: It's hard to write a good ending: to give the characters enough space without keeping the narrative going too long. But Stratchey handles it perfectly: she gives you just enough details for pathos of the moment to be realised, and then leaves you to cope with your feelings of melancholy and longing. I've read versions of young schoolgirl falls for older woman lots of times, but Olivia to me is the most successful: it doesn't try to moralise, or comment on sexuality, it doesn't try to shame, and respects the intensity of Olivia's emotions. At the same time, it doesn't pretend that this love is the best or purest in Olivia's whole life: but it does capture the intensity of formative love. The novella is the ideal form for this, and Stratchey inhabits the intensity of sexual awakening, while tying this to the confusing, painful and unreasonable adult world. I find it very moving. ** Reivew from 2018: A fictionalised account of a year the author spent at a finishing school in Paris, this tells the story of naive Olivia and the love she feels for her teacher, Mlle Julie. This is a tightly woven novella, full of the turbulent emotions of youth, and Strachey's writing is lively and sophisticated. This is a quick read, but gives the reader a lot: an impression of the Victorian finishing schools and the social mores of the times, a sense of Olivia's deep affection and blossoming sexuality, and a portrait of the complex Mlle Julie. It also gives us a sense of how greatly women's lives were curtailed by the social norms, and yet how deeply emotions were felt. It's a moving book, and a beautiful account of first love. I highly recommend it.

  23. 5 out of 5

    angie

    "...And first of all that face. There was that to look at. A long way off, at the end of a table...Why should the mere sight of it make my heart stand still?"-from Olivia Olivia: A Novel is not necessarily something you'll ever want to experience again. It's a book truly painful to read at times, no matter where you're coming from personally, but particularly so if you ever had an intense crush that pretty much broke your heart. I didn't expect the writing to be so deep and raw, so pretty and eas "...And first of all that face. There was that to look at. A long way off, at the end of a table...Why should the mere sight of it make my heart stand still?"-from Olivia Olivia: A Novel is not necessarily something you'll ever want to experience again. It's a book truly painful to read at times, no matter where you're coming from personally, but particularly so if you ever had an intense crush that pretty much broke your heart. I didn't expect the writing to be so deep and raw, so pretty and easy to connect with...a crush may not be on the full scale of mutually reciprocated mature love, but it's no less real or painful for being what it is. Anyone who has ever felt completely gaga over someone else will get what Olivia is going through, no matter how over the top her emotions may seem at the time. ("If it depended on altering the feelings in my heart, I was no more capable of doing that than of plucking the heart out of my breast." So many wonderful quotes that just really speak to you.) Dorothy Strachey Bussy first published this anonymously under the name Olivia and based it loosely on things that happened to her when she was a teenager away at school and fell in love with one of her teachers. This is something that has been written been many times before, but somehow here it seems fresh and just a little too much to bear at times.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Shay Caroline

    "Olivia" is the story of a teenage girl away at boarding school, and her intense feelings for one of the two women who run it. In some (good) ways, this reminds me of Nevada Barr's "Bittersweet" and Sylvia Brownrigg's "Pages For You", which are both favorites of mine, and both concern girls whose first loves are (somewhat) older women. First love is gorgeous and awful and all-consuming and unforgettable; Olivia finds all that out first hand. Don't be misled...there is no sex and very little physi "Olivia" is the story of a teenage girl away at boarding school, and her intense feelings for one of the two women who run it. In some (good) ways, this reminds me of Nevada Barr's "Bittersweet" and Sylvia Brownrigg's "Pages For You", which are both favorites of mine, and both concern girls whose first loves are (somewhat) older women. First love is gorgeous and awful and all-consuming and unforgettable; Olivia finds all that out first hand. Don't be misled...there is no sex and very little physical contact in this story, but the emotions burn red hot. It has the feel of a classic tragedy, and also of a really good YA novel of today. The story is loosely based on Marie Souvestre's Allenswood Academy, attended by both the author and Eleanor Roosevelt, among many other notables of the first half of the 20th century. But this is not about anyone, really, except Olivia and Mlle. Julie. There were times when I had to set it down and just let a scene wash over me. It's very smoothly written, full of heart, joy and sadness; it simply blew me away. Highly recommended.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Bellish

    This is a strange little thing. It's a lovely account of a fervent and chaste schoolgirl crush, as the narrator reminisces on her past and lets us in on the adult dramas she was witnessing the consequences of. It's also a nice study of a charismatic personality who draws countless people into her orbit, and uses them pretty much as she will. The writing is lovely but the tangential view on all the action feels a bit unsatisfying in the end and the teenage obsession gets a little wearying. I knew This is a strange little thing. It's a lovely account of a fervent and chaste schoolgirl crush, as the narrator reminisces on her past and lets us in on the adult dramas she was witnessing the consequences of. It's also a nice study of a charismatic personality who draws countless people into her orbit, and uses them pretty much as she will. The writing is lovely but the tangential view on all the action feels a bit unsatisfying in the end and the teenage obsession gets a little wearying. I knew it was at least inspired by the author's life, even if she denied that the protagonist was based on her, but I didn't realise how many parallels to real, well-known individuals were in there until after I'd finished. Perhaps one to race through again to enjoy those little Easter eggs.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Shannon Castle

    The book was first published in 1949, so the writing was a little bit different to what you read nowdays. Olivia is a character that the reader can identify with. She's falling in love for the first time and is overwhelmed by this sense of attraction that she feels for Mlle Julie. Every person that can recall the falling in love with someone for the first time can relate to all the feelings that come along with it. The fear, excitment etc. I ended up wishing that the two women would be able to r The book was first published in 1949, so the writing was a little bit different to what you read nowdays. Olivia is a character that the reader can identify with. She's falling in love for the first time and is overwhelmed by this sense of attraction that she feels for Mlle Julie. Every person that can recall the falling in love with someone for the first time can relate to all the feelings that come along with it. The fear, excitment etc. I ended up wishing that the two women would be able to run away together, like a fanstay almost. Whist overall it was a depressing read, I am pleased I read the novel. Dorothy was a good story teller and it's a shame it was her only published book.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Ceri

    I really enjoyed this. I liked Bussy's writing style and it was a quick read. However, because of the subject matter, I can't bring myself to give it more than 3 stars. I'm a teacher so I detest writers who fetishise and romanticise student-teacher relationships. I know that this may have been based on something that actually happened to Bussy but I still can't condone 'love stories' when it comes to teachers taking advantage of their students. The student-teacher thing drives me mad. But I real I really enjoyed this. I liked Bussy's writing style and it was a quick read. However, because of the subject matter, I can't bring myself to give it more than 3 stars. I'm a teacher so I detest writers who fetishise and romanticise student-teacher relationships. I know that this may have been based on something that actually happened to Bussy but I still can't condone 'love stories' when it comes to teachers taking advantage of their students. The student-teacher thing drives me mad. But I really enjoyed the writing so 3 stars.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Sam (Hissing Potatoes)

    You know what? I enjoyed this book. It's not the greatest thing, and Mlle. Julie's actions often didn't make sense to me. However, the writing was lovely, and Olivia's coming-of-age struggles and thoughts seemed so real and genuine. I think the author drawing from some of her own teenage experiences helped this book come to life. It was a short, quick read that I will probably come back to again.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Faith Reidenbach

    A classic lesbian coming-of-age story, not sexually explicit but highly erotic. Perfectly conveys how a first crush can become obsessive. Requires a relatively high reading level of French, so some of it was lost on me.

  30. 4 out of 5

    pjerrot

    Raw in its delivery and frightfully exact in its expression, Dorothy Strachey's Olivia not only rekindled within me feelings from my adolescent years but mostly allowed me to finally look upon them with insight, fondness and forgiveness. A healing book of sorts.

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