Foster, Jeannette. 1985. Sex Variant Women in Literature. The Naiad Press. ISBN 0-930044-65-7 Third edition of the original 1956 publication.
An extensive catalog of literary references to women who challenge heteronormativity in some fashion.
This book is an extensive catalog of literary references to women who challenge heteronormativity in some fashion, although it would be misleading and anachronistic to apply the label “lesbian” in most cases. Approximately 20% of the book covers the entirety of literary history up to the late 19th century. Another 20% is speculation on the sexuality of a handful of pre-20th century women, primarily writers. The remainder covers the 20th century, or more broadly the “post-sexology” era. The scarcity of pre-20th century material cannot entirely be attributed to the literary focus of the book, but is certainly shaped by the greater availability of resources on more recent publications. There is an extensive bibliography, both of primary publications and of academic literary studies. The second and third editions each added an appendix of selected titles published since the previous edition (with notes that the much greater number of publications made it impossible to be comprehensive).
For these reasons, it’s difficult for me to recommend this as an active reference work except for the state of the field as of the mid 20th century and as an early pioneering stab at a comprehensive look at queer women in literature. I don’t advise using it for an understanding of the available material prior to the 19th century as the deficiencies in scope are too great. Therefore it is of little practical use for the purpose of the current project, but would be invaluable for someone interested in literature of the first half of the 20th century.