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French Literature: Nineteenth Century  
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The Poèmes aristophanesques (1904) of Laurent Tailhade (1854-1919) includes a piece entitled "Le troisième sexe," and many other rather sarcastic references to homosexuality; only in his posthumously published erotic poetry in La Quintessence satyrique (1926) did he write joyously of gay sexuality.

Albert Samain (1858-1900) and Marc-André Raffalovich (1864-1934) also wrote gay poetry.

In his essay, "Conseils familiers à un jeune écrivain" (1896), the symbolist critic Rémy de Gourmont (1858-1915) pointed to the proliferation of gay writers at the end of the century. He advises heterosexuals to adopt the mannerisms of "inverts" in order to enhance their literary reputation, but counsels gay writers to maintain a certain reserve since too much openness might be damaging to their career.

The Realist and the Naturalist Movements

The realist movement (ca 1850-1865) and its successor, naturalism (ca 1865-95), though fascinated by lesbianism, avoided depictions of male homosexuality.

The aim of realist authors was ostensibly to describe all phenomena in scientific detail, and naturalism pushed this aesthetic even further by documenting even the "basest" and heretofore most hidden aspects of the human character, including criminality and sexual deviance. So it is surprising that realist and naturalist fiction failed to turn its characteristically unflinching gaze to male homosexuality.

Yet nonfictional texts by the mostly heterosexual-identified male authors associated with these movements suggest that it was not entirely foreign to them. For example, in the highly ironic Dictionnaire des idées reçues by Gustave Flaubert (1821-1880), "Pederasty" is defined as follows: "Sickness that affects all men at a certain age."

Indeed, in his correspondence, Flaubert graphically describes his sexual encounters with young men, whereas in his fiction one finds only a passing allusion to "strange loves" that are "obscene unions as serious as marriage" (in his novel of ancient Carthage, Salammbô, 1862).

Similarly, the Journal of the brothers Goncourt, Edmond (1822-1896) and Jules (1830-1870), contains numerous reflections on the activities of their contemporaries. This gossipy journal speculates on the sexuality of several authors who took pains to identify themselves as exclusively heterosexual (including Gautier, Barbey D'Aurevilly, and Maupassant), and relates stories about openly gay authors (Lorrain and Montesquiou, for example).

In his novel Les Frères Zemganno (1879), Edmond evokes the more than familial love shared by the brothers.

Zola not only created no gay male characters, he deliberately avoided a literary study of male homosexuality when offered the opportunity. In 1889, he received a letter and accompanying diary from a self-loathing young Italian homosexual, who wrote that "I could have been a delightful and adored woman, a mother and wife beyond reproach, but I am only an incomplete and monstrous being, desiring the impermissible."

This anonymous gay man exhorted Zola to turn his literary talent to a study of homosexuality. Zola declined to use these confessions as the basis of a literary portrait; instead, he presented them to a medical doctor, Saint-Paul, who was working on a study of "inversion."

Under the pseudonym of Laupts, Saint-Paul subsequently published the document as Roman d'un inverti-né in Archives d'Anthropologie criminelle et de psychologie normale et pathologique (1894-95), with a preface by Zola.

Like Zola, Raffalovich also collaborated with psychiatrists and sexologists in new studies of sexual deviance. Unlike Zola, he was himself gay and has been called a homosexual militant. Raffalovich contributed numerous articles to the same medical review that published Le Roman d'un inverti-né.

Grouped together in his volume Uranisme et unisexualité (1896), these articles set forth his theories on the difference between acquired and innate inversion.

Similarly, the novelist and essayist Joséphin Péladan (1859-1918), who was obsessed by androgyny, explores this theme in his nineteen-volume La décadence latine (1886-1907).

Although gay male literature flourished more openly in the poetry of the period, there were several important gay novelists at the end of the century, including especially Pierre Loti (pseudonym of Julien Viaud, 1850-1923) and the Belgian Georges Eekhoud (1854-1927).

Loti, a naval officer, wrote numerous travel novels, many characterized by their oriental setting. His Aziyadé (1879) tells the story of a sea captain who falls in love with a harem woman who, quite likely, is really a man in female dress; the character of Aziyadé returns in Fantôme d'Orient (1891), where her gender is again ambiguous. In Aziyadé, as well as in Mon frère Yves (1883), the author also writes of passionate friendships between men.

Eekhoud's Escal-Vigor (1900) is perhaps the most daring gay novel of the period. Banned as pornographic, it is among the first to focus unapologetically on gay relationships. In L'Autre vue (1904), Eekhoud's protagonist becomes a prison guard in order to seduce adolescent delinquents.

Gretchen Schultz

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literature >> Overview:  Decadence

Nineteenth-century Decadent literature either describes aspects of decadent life and society or reflects the decadent literary aesthetic.

arts >> Overview:  European Art: Nineteenth Century

Several artists and art critics of the nineteenth century achieved a self-aware homosexual identity that is expressed in both their lives and their works, but lesbianism is only rarely depicted in terms of identity during this period.

social sciences >> Overview:  France

France, the second largest nation in Western Europe, has a rich, if markedly ambivalent, relationship to glbtq people and cultures.

literature >> Overview:  French Theater

French-speaking theater has a long history of depicting male and female homosexuals and in exploring the complexities of homosexual life.

social sciences >> Overview:  Paris

One of the world's most iconic cities and an influential hub of Western culture, Paris is also a major international glbtq center.

literature >> Balzac, Honoré de

One of the masters of French nineteenth-century fiction, Balzac provocatively includes both lesbian and gay male characters in his novels.

literature >> Barney, Natalie Clifford

In addition to being the muse and inspiration of other writers, American expatriate Natalie Barney, known as the Amazon, was a poet, memoirist, and epigrammatist in her own right.

literature >> Baudelaire, Charles

Baudelaire was among the first French poets to include lesbians as subjects.

literature >> Colette

One of France's most beloved authors, Colette wrote novels with strong lesbian subtexts.

arts >> Dorval, Marie

Popular nineteenth-century French actress Marie Dorval enjoyed an intense romantic friendship with the writer George Sand that fueled much speculation among Parisian gossips of the time, as well as among later biographers and historians.

literature >> Foucault, Michel

One of the leading philosophers of the twentieth century, Foucault has had an enormous influence on our understanding of the lesbian and gay literary heritage and the cultural forces surrounding it.

literature >> Huysmans, Joris-Karl

J. K. Huysmans, an important figure in the Aesthetic and Decadent movements, exemplified a style of homosexuality at a pivotal moment in the emergence of a gay identity.

literature >> Lorrain, Jean (Paul Duval)

Almost as renowned for his homosexuality and depravity as for his literary achievements, Jean Lorrain was a French poet, novelist, and journalist of the "decadent movement" during the Belle Époque.

literature >> Loti, Pierre (Julien Viaud)

One of the most popular and respected French novelists of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Julien Viaud, who wrote under the name Pierre Loti, created a series of novels that chronicle the struggle of a man to understand his homoerotic feelings.

literature >> Montesquiou-Fezensac, Count Robert de

Count Robert de Montesquiou was a writer during France's Belle Epoque, but he is best remembered as a dandy and an aesthete, who inspired the literary creations of others.

literature >> Proust, Marcel

Marcel Proust is the author of A la recherche du temps perdu, one of the major achievements of Modernism and a great gay novel.

arts >> Raffalovich, Marc André

Russian-English poet and writer on sexuality, Marc André Raffalovich is best known today as a patron of the arts.

literature >> Rimbaud, Arthur

Because his writing stresses liberation, the French "boy-poet" Arthur Rimbaud, whose art is based solely on his individual creativity, is a progenitor of modern gay poetics.

literature >> Sand, George

The bisexual writer Amantine-Aurore-Lucile Dupin, better known as George Sand, is as infamous for her cigar-in-hand cross-dressing as she is famous for her eighty novels, twenty plays, and numerous political tracts.

literature >> Sappho

Admired through the ages as one of the greatest lyric poets, the ancient Greek writer Sappho is today esteemed by lesbians around the world as the archetypal lesbian and their symbolic mother.

literature >> Verlaine, Paul

The poetry of Paul Verlaine celebrates both heterosexual and homosexual activity, including lesbian relationships.

literature >> Vivien, Renée

Renée Vivien, who had many affairs with women, openly celebrated lesboerotic love in her poetry and dreamed of women-controlled spaces in an era when most women were still domestically confined.


Berthier, Philippe. "Balzac du côté de Sodome." Homosexual Themes in Literary Studies. Wayne Dynes, ed. New York: Garland, 1992. 1-31.

Courouve, Claude. Dictionnaire de l'homosexualité masculine. Paris: Payot, 1985.

De Jean, Joan. Fictions of Sappho, 1546-1937. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1989.

Faderman, Lillian. Surpassing the Love of Men: Romantic Friendship and Love Between Women from the Renaissance to the Present. New York: Morrow, 1981.

Foster, Jeannette. Sex Variant Women in Literature. 1956. Tallahassee, Fla.: Naiad Press, 1985.

Foucault, Michel. History of Sexuality; Volume I: An Introduction. Trans. Robert Hurley. New York: Random House, 1978.

Groupe de Recherches et d'Études sur l'Homosocialité et les Homosexualités (GREH). Actes du colloque international "Homosexualité et lesbianisme: mythes, mémoires, historiographies." 3 vols. Lille: Cahiers Gai-Kitsch-Camp, 1989-1991.

Larivière, Michel, ed. Les Amours masculines. Paris: Lieu commun, 1984.

Lejeune, Philippe. "Autobiographie et homosexualité en France au l9eme siècle." Romantisme 17:56 (1987): 79-94.

Mendès-Leite, Rommel, and Pierre-Olivier de Busscher, eds. Studies from the French Cultures. New York: Haworth Press, 1993.

Nye, Robert. Masculinity and Male Codes of Honor in Modern France. New York: Oxford University Press, 1993.

Stambolian, George, and Elaine Marks, eds. Homosexualities and French Literature: Cultural Contexts, Critical Texts. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1979.

Weil, Kari. Androgyny and the Denial of Difference. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1992.


    Citation Information
    Author: Schultz, Gretchen  
    Entry Title: French Literature: Nineteenth Century  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
    Publication Date: 2002  
    Date Last Updated October 15, 2005  
    Web Address  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 1995, 2002 New England Publishing Associates  


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