Monday, September 29, 2008


Homosexuality in Modern France edited by Jeffrey Merrick and Bryant T. Ragan, Jr. (Not to be confused with its counterpart by the same editors, Homosexuality in Early Modern France: A Documentary Collection, because both Amazon and LibraryThing seems to think they're the same book, or the same person is uploading the wrong cover. For the latter, the cover on my copy shows a statue of Ganymede and the eagle.)

It's a good book! There's ten good essays by smart people, covering the Enlightenment, the French Revolution (one is specifically on the pornography starring Marie Antoinette that was published against her), legislature and its lack in early and mid 19th century Paris, a murder case from 1877 involving a gay couple, the medicalization of "inversion", working class lesbian subculture at the turn of the centuty, Gide's Corydon, and Foucault in the context of French history and politics.

I always remember the things I complained about better. Have some funny excerpts.

"Invisible Women", Sautman, page 186: "According to Julien Chevalier, homosexuality was an aberration rare in high society, "regarded with horror" by the working class, and completely unknown in country areas. It was a vice in which only the "cafe society and theater" engaged. In something of a contradiction, Chevalier argued that gender nonconformity in physical appearance led directly to sexual inversion and that women from the working class and peasantry were more likely to display virile aberrations. Because of promiscuity in servants' quarters, the nervous tension resulting from working in a sitting position too long, and the "physiological harm" caused by the sewing machine, Ali Coffignon also saw women workers as being particularly prone to sexual corruption."

Sewing machines=lesbianism. Got it.
Later in the same essay there's some translation failure: a phrase from Jean Lorrain's La Maison Philibert (1904) is translated as "fags and lezzies". The footnote is only a citation, and there's no modern edition that I can find. "Lezzies" might be gougnottes (girlfriends), as used elsewhere in the text with better notes, but I have no idea what "fags" was originally. It irritates me when liberal translations show up in academic works. If that's the best connotative selection, make a note and explain your choices.

"Natalism, Homosexuality, and the Controversy over Corydon" by Martha Hanna is very interesting and has a lot of stuff I was glad to learn. In one part, discussing (at the time) modern reactions to Greek homosexual practices, there's a paragraph on Dr. Riolan's 1909 Pederastie et homosexualitie that's just comedy gold:
"Unlike modern pederasty, which Riolan characterized as the predilection of dissipated older men bored by heterosexuality, Greek pederasty was, he argued, a culturally specific aesthetic response to the ugliness of Greek women. "In Greece, pederasty was the result of the admiration the Greeks professed for beautiful forms. Like all women of the Orient, Greek women quickly lost their youthful shape, and the citizen of Athens, returning from the Olympic Games, could not help but compare the women whom he saw in Athens to the athletes he had applauded in the arena." If, as Riolan suggested, pederasty was understandable in those societies where women quickly lost their sexual allure, it was neither understandable, permissible, nor defensible in a nation like France, famous for its beautiful- and desirable- women. Riolan was not the only medical expert convinced that beautiful women constituted a nation's best protection against homosexuality."

I think my housemate's reaction was "Oh my god, there's so many things wrong with that I don't even know what to say!"

Maybe I need an "adventures in stupidity" tag.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

...please where can I buy a unicorn?