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In Love with a Handsome Sailor

In Love with a Handsome Sailor: The Emergence of Gay Identity and the Novels of Pierre Loti

  • Book Info
    In Love with a Handsome Sailor
    Book Description:

    Writing at first anonymously and later under the pen name Pierre Loti, French author Julien Viaud (1850-1923) produced a series of fictions that sympathetically portrayed male same-sex desire and its accompanying societal conflicts. Due to the constraints of the time, Viaud had to develop various strategies for discussing his subject covertly; his success in doing so is demonstrated by the great critical and commercial success he enjoyed during his lifetime, which included his election to the French Academy at age forty-one.

    Richard Berrong presents a gay reading of the novels and novellas of Julien Viaud, chronologically tracing his development of a distinct homosexual identity and the strategies that he employed to discuss it in a way that would not be obvious to the general public. In so doing, Berrong asserts that Viaud's development of a homosexual identity undermined and realigned dominant constructions of masculinity, presented the need for gay community, and elaborated the role of literature for gay men. The first book-length gay reading of Viaud's corpus, this work will make an important contribution not only to the study of Viaud, but also to the study of gay and lesbian history, culture, and literature.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-7604-6
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. A Note on References and Translations
    (pp. ix-x)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. xi-2)

    During the last two decades of the nineteenth century and the first several of the twentieth, Julien Viaud (1850–1923), writing under the pseudonym Pierre Loti, was one of France’s most widely read and admired authors. His popular works went through hundreds of editions in his homeland and were translated regularly into many languages, including English. The French Academy, election to which was France’s highest honour for men of letters, chose him as a member in 1891 at the unusually young age of forty-one. In the English-speaking world no less a critic than Henry James declared him to be a...

  6. CHAPTER ONE Was Julien Viaud Gay? An Examination of the Evidence
    (pp. 3-17)

    In his interesting but often homophobicL’Oeuvre de Pierre Loti et l’Esprit ‘fin de siècle’(1955), Keith G. Millward admitted that he could not pronounce on Viaud’s sexuality for lack of written proof.¹ That is the only honest answer that can be offered. Many writers on Viaud have not stopped there, however, preferring to cross the boundary between speculation and unverified assertion. Lesley Blanch, in the most widely available biography of Viaud in English,Pierre Loti: The Legendary Romantic(1983), declared that ‘Loti was heterosexual, loving women passionately, and while he loved some men withequalfervour ... it is...

  7. CHAPTER TWO Contextualized Suggestion and Ambiguity: Aziyadé
    (pp. 18-41)

    For the general reading public, Viaud’s first novel,Aziyadé(1879), has been the story of a young British naval officer, Harry Grant, referred to as Loti, who, during a tour of duty in Salonika and Constantinople, falls in love with a young Circassian odalisque.¹ The view of Pierre Loti as an author of exotic heterosexual love stories that developed as a result may explain why the gay elements in this and subsequent narratives were not generally noticed. Even predisposed readers do not always see what they are not expecting to encounter. Nor were there any public scandals in Viaud’s life,...

  8. CHAPTER THREE Discovering a Fuller Range of Sexuality: The Marriage of Loti
    (pp. 42-54)

    The Marriage of Loti(1880), Julien Viaud’s second novel, was his first literary and commercial success.¹ Indeed, eighteen years later Reynaldo Hahn turned it into an opéra-comique, making it the first of Viaud’s works to be adapted for the lyric theatre. It repeats the formula that Viaud was in the process of making famous: a Western European sailor has an affair with a young woman in an exotic locale, only to sail away at the end. As withAziyadé, however, such a summary does not do justice to the full range of sexual desire depicted in the text.The Marriage...

  9. CHAPTER FOUR A Plea for Sexual Understanding: The Story of a Spahi
    (pp. 55-74)

    Unlike his first two novels, Viaud’sThe Story of a Spahi(1881) does not feature the character Harry Grant/Loti, nor does it depict its protagonist, French spahi Jean Peyral, as involved in any sort of homoerotic relationship. Even more than the two preceding works, however, it seems to have been written intentionally to explain – and, unlike the first two novels, to justify – how a man, such as the Loti ofAziyadé, could become involved in a homosexual relationship. If anything, it is surprising that it took Viaud this long to do so. Gay writers, like gay men in...

  10. CHAPTER FIVE Man (Men?) in Love: My Brother Yves
    (pp. 75-103)

    My Brother Yves(1883), Julien Viaud’s fourth novel, must have been greeted with more than routine expectation by a portion of its original reading public. Four years before, withAziyadé, a non-homophobic, accepting depiction of Samuel’s love for Loti and Loti’s tolerance and even sharing of such emotions and desires, Viaud must have left some readers hoping for a follow-up.The Marriage of Lotihad gone back in time, showing the title character’s earlier predisposition for same-sex relationships.The Story of a Spahihad developed narrator Pierre Loti as a character with an erotic interest in other men and proposed...

  11. CHAPTER SIX Different Contexts, Different Sexualities: Iceland Fisherman
    (pp. 104-120)

    Iceland Fisherman(1886) has always been the most successful of Viaud’s novels. The French Academy awarded it the Vitet prize upon its appearance,¹ and it went through 265 editions in France alone during its first twenty years.² Today it remains the best known of the author’s works, in 1996 undergoing its fifth film adaptation.³ At least in part, its popularity has been the result of the fact that it recounts in a very appealing way the heterosexual relationship between Yann Gaos, a huge, very masculine Breton fisherman, and Gaud Mével, a young Breton woman who falls in love with him....

  12. CHAPTER SEVEN The Origin of Sexual Ambiguity in the Madame Butterfly Legend: Madame Chrysanthemum
    (pp. 121-126)

    After the less direct but more intense approach to recounting one man’s love for another inIceland Fisherman, the year after, withMadame Chrysanthemum(1887), Viaud returned to using two male characters and the restrictions that imposed. As withMy Brother Yves, this does not seem to have had an adverse affect on sales:Madame Chrysanthemumwent through 222 editions in the thirty-four years before Viaud’s death,¹ making it one of the most popular of his novels and a significant commercial success. Most of the tension that underlies the principal relationships in the two preceding novels is absent from this...

  13. CHAPTER EIGHT A Proustian Probing into Childhood and the Beginnings of Sexuality: The Story of a Child
    (pp. 127-152)

    Viaud’s seventh novel,The Story of a Child(1890), has received little attention from literary critics, probably because it has been regarded as autobiography rather than a novel. Clive Wake, inThe Novels of Pierre Loti, which devotes a chapter to each of Viaud’s novels, wrote no chapter on it. Claude Martin, a major contemporary Viaud scholar, did not include it in his list of the author’s novels.¹ Yet Viaud did entitle the workLe roman d’un enfant, which can meanThe Story of a Child, A Novel About a Child, or both, sinceromanis used in French to...

  14. CHAPTER NINE Works of Self-Doubt: A Phantom from the East and Sailor
    (pp. 153-169)

    On 21 May 1891, at the age of only forty-one, Julien Viaud was elected to the French Academy, a body created in 1635 by Richelieu to oversee the French language and one to which election has ever since been regarded as a signal honour. For the rest of his life, Viaud had the privilege of joining the gatherings in the Mazarin Palace where some of France’s most distinguished writers discussed their native tongue and considered ways to keep it pure. Not the least of its appeal to this man who loved exotic outfits was the uniform, the famous Green Suit,...

  15. CHAPTER TEN Creating the Allegorical Gay Novel: Ramuntcho
    (pp. 170-207)

    Viaud’s ninth novel,Ramuntcho(1897), likeThe Story of a Spahi,Iceland Fisherman, andSailor, does not appear autobiographical. It deals with a group of poor Basques, one of whom, Ramuntcho, runs contraband by night and plays pelota during the day. It does not seem to have potential for a gay reading, either: the main plot focuses on Ramuntcho’s love for a poor young Basque woman, Gracieuse Detcharry, and his efforts to marry her despite her mother’s opposition. The title character does have male friends, but his relationships with them are not erotic or romantic, unlike Loti’s with Yves in...

  16. CHAPTER ELEVEN A Defense of Homosexuals and a Consciousness Raising: The Awakened
    (pp. 208-232)

    With the conclusion ofRamuntchoand the title character’s departure for an unknown that he would confront ‘without courage,’ Viaud seemed to abandon the issue of homosexual desire that had informed most of his previous fiction. Thereafter he published two collections of short pieces originally written for various venues,Impressions(1897) andOn Life’s By-ways(1899), and three travel narratives,The Last Days of Peking(1902),India(1903), andTo Ispahan(1904). He also wrote three works for the theatre: a play about one of his ancestors,Judith Renaudin(1898), the book for an operetta based onThe Marriage of...

  17. Conclusion
    (pp. 233-238)

    After publishingThe Awakened, Julien Viaud lived seventeen years and published ten more volumes. He wrote no more novels, however. Instead, he went back to what he had been doing afterRamuntcho, producing a dramatization of that novel (1908), another collection of previously published short pieces,Sleeping Beauty’s Chateau(1910), and two more travelogues,Egypt(1909) andA Pilgrimage to Angkor(1912).¹ The travelogues still evince the ‘gay gaze’ noted in some of the novels, but there is no further creation of plot or characters. Thereafter, from 1913 to 1920, Viaud became involved in politics, devoting his literary efforts to...

  18. Notes
    (pp. 239-294)
  19. Works Cited
    (pp. 295-304)
  20. Index
    (pp. 305-310)