The ‘lesbian desire’ of my title is a deliberate come-on. If this is the last you hear of it, it is because, enticing as it may sound, it doesn’t exist. Not, at least, as such. For the conceptual framework within which was articulated an early modern discourse of female desire is radically different from that which governs our own modes of perception and experience. If, as David Halperin reminds us, we have witnessed only one hundred years of homosexuality (Halperin 1990), then how is the even more recent discursive invention, the lesbian, to be related to sexual systems of four hundred years ago? The following discussion attempts to begin to answer that question by examining the asymmetrical representations of three early modern discursive figures: the French female sodomite, the English tribade, and the theatrical ‘femme’. My intent is to keep alive our historical difference from early modern women and at the same time to show how historically distant representations of female desire can be correlated, though not in any simple fashion, to modern systems of intelligibility and political efficacy. This essay is at once an act of historical recovery and a meditation on the difficulties inhering in such an act.