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Sapphic Fathers

Sapphic Fathers: Discourses of Same-Sex Desire from Nineteenth-Century France

Copyright Date: 2015
Pages: 320
  • Book Info
    Sapphic Fathers
    Book Description:

    Gretchen Schultz explores how male writers and their readers in late nineteenth-century France took lesbianism as a cipher for apprehensions about sex and gender during a time of social and political upheaval.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-6639-9
    Subjects: Language & Literature, Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. Preface
    (pp. xiii-2)
  6. Introduction: Backstories
    (pp. 3-26)

    In the United States of the 1950s, as the American homophile movement began tentatively to form, a fledgling lesbian group in search of a name turned to a book written sixty years before by a Frenchman. Pierre Louÿs’sChansons de Bilitis(1894), a cycle of prose poems recounting the life and loves of a fictional contemporary of the ancient Greek poet Sappho, gave birth to the Daughters of Bilitis (DOB).² While one present-day critic has called theChansons“a popular source of voyeuristic thrills,” in 1955 the DOB contended that “it presents a sensitive and searching picture of Lesbian love.”³...

  7. 1 The Poetics of Lesbian Identification
    (pp. 27-64)

    At the mid-century, a circle of young poets moved on from the romantic flirtation with androgyny and transvestism, exemplified in works by Honoré de Balzac, George Sand, and Théophile Gautier, and began to write about same-sex intimacy between women, around which a literary fixation rapidly developed. Sapphic legend was to a large extent responsible for opening the lyric to such possibilities: the double association of lesbian and poet invited affiliation with the ancient Greek poet. As a result, poems of the period that feature female homoeroticism frequently take place in an idealized ancient setting – Lesbos, Sappho’s birthplace – and allow for...

  8. 2 Tribades for Sale: Popular Fiction and Backroom Books
    (pp. 65-104)

    The 1870 publication of Adolphe Belot’s serial novelMademoiselle Giraud, ma femme, which relates the story of a man who unwittingly marries a tribade, was a watershed event in the history of the sapphic novel. A scandalous success that went through forty-five editions in five years, it was translated into several languages and forever linked Belot’s name with lesbian plots. Mademoiselle Giraud both inaugurated a wave of novels representing female homosexuals and anticipated the psychiatric discussions of homosexuality soon to follow. Although forgotten by the turn of the century, the novel’s immediate cultural import was felt in France and beyond,...

  9. 3 Dystopian Sapphism: Anti-Feminism, Class Warfare, and the Elite Novel at the Fin de Siècle
    (pp. 105-150)

    “Fin de siècle” denotes the end point of a period of time dominated by a pessimistic political and philosophical outlook. It also refers to an aesthetic stance, whose relation to the idea of cultural decline is anything but straightforward. In his widely read bookDegeneration(1892), the German journalist and physician Max Nordau asserted that, although international in its application, “Finde-siècleis French, for it was in France that the mental state so entitled was first consciously realized” (1). His work both exemplifies the cultural divide that pivoted on the idea of decline and encompasses the inconsistencies of the period....

  10. 4 Scientia Sapphica
    (pp. 151-186)

    British physician Havelock Ellis prefaced his 1897 studySexual Inversionwith a vindication of research on human sexuality. He noted the reluctance with which his contemporaries spoke of their intimate lives: “In this particular field the evil of ignorance is magnified by our efforts to suppress that which never can be suppressed. […] It is a mistake, [some] say, to try to uncover these things; leave the sexual instincts alone” (vi). Drawing attention to religion’s furtive monopoly on the subject, Ellis contested the Church’s authority and disputed its expertise: “the Catholic Church […] took an active and inquiring interest in...

  11. 5 Intertexts and Afterlives: From the French Canon to U.S. Lesbian Pulps
    (pp. 187-230)

    As this tour of male-authored sapphic literature has aimed to show, nineteenth-century French fictional works of all genres factored predominantly in the construction of female homosexuality, with scientific studies playing a significant, but secondary, role. From novels destined for canonicity to now-forgotten best-sellers, from the poetic to the pornographic, and in naturalist as well as decadent fiction, the texts composing this considerable body of literature responded to each other and left traces of themselves in subsequent works. Creative writers referred to, borrowed from, embellished, and sometimes satirized existing portraits, including clinical studies, thereby linking their work to predecessors and contemporaries...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 231-260)
  13. Bibliography
    (pp. 261-284)
  14. Index
    (pp. 285-295)