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French Literature: Twentieth Century  
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Daniel Guérin and Gay Liberation

Among gay male writers, an important post-war presence has been that of Daniel Guérin (1904-1988). Although he wrote in the inter-war years, too, it was in the post-World War II period that he became openly involved in gay liberation. His autobiographical writings include Autobiographie de jeunesse (1965), Le feu du sang: autobiographie politique et charnelle (1977), and Son testament (1979).

His writings touch on, among other things, the class inflections of gay politics. He illustrates the problem of the rift between the gay liberation movement and the feminist movement in France. On the one hand, he was sensitive to the effects of Islamic fundamentalism on Arab women, but on the other, he could not understand the importance of rape as a feminist issue, seeing it merely as a problem of bourgeois repression.

AIDS Literature

Not surprisingly, given the spread of the epidemic, AIDS has become an important subject of recent gay literature in France, especially among men.

Among the writers who have treated this theme is Hervé Guibert (1955-1991), best known for A l'ami qui ne m'a pas sauvé la vie ([1990]; trans. as To the Friend Who Did Not Save My Life, 1991).

In this autobiographical account of his battle with AIDS, Guibert uses a loose, diarylike format to describe his denial, diagnosis, and treatment. The novel also includes an account of the death of Michel Foucault (Guibert's friend, here represented under the pseudonym Muzil), which anticipates the course of the narrator's own illness.

The narrator learns about a possible vaccine and anxiously charts his T-cell count as it slowly drops toward the level where he would no longer be eligible to take part in the French trial of the vaccine, a role promised him by an influential friend, Bill.

But any sense of optimism fades as he learns that the miracle vaccine is not performing as well as anticipated in the United States and that the cure on which he had pinned his hopes will not materialize, not the least because he is abandoned by Bill (hence the novel's title).

Hervé Guibert's other books include La mort propagande, Des aveugles, Mes parents, L'image fantôme, and Le protocole compassionnel.

AIDS is also the theme of Cyril Collard's novel Les nuits fauves (1989), recently translated and made into a prize-winning film. Collard also died of AIDS, in 1993.


This overview of twentieth-century gay and lesbian French literature has attempted to show something of the background that produced the major figures discussed elsewhere.

It is far from being an exhaustive account, omitting, for example, such writers as Renaud Camus, Eric Jourdan, Yves Navarre, and Michel Tournier, to name but a few who have also contributed to the twentieth-century French gay and lesbian literary tradition. But the very impossibility of offering a complete survey itself testifies to the richness of this tradition.

Melanie Hawthorne

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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 >> Overview:  Reading Across Orientations

Until the recent emergence of openly gay and lesbian texts, gay and lesbian readers have "homosexualized" heterosexual literature to make it relevant to their lives.

social sciences >> Aron, Jean-Paul

French writer and public intellectual Jean-Paul Aron is widely credited for giving a human face to AIDS and thereby changing the public perception of the disease and those who suffered from it.

literature >> Baldwin, James Arthur

James Baldwin, a pioneering figure in twentieth-century literature, wrote sustained and articulate challenges to American racism and mandatory heterosexuality.

literature >> Barnes, Djuna

American novelist Djuna Barnes sought new forms of self-representation of lesbians in the face of society's compulsory heterosexuality.

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 >> Barthes, Roland

French semiotician Roland Barthes argued that the reintroduction of the sentimentality of love into sexuality would be the ultimate transgression.

social sciences >> Baudry, André Émile

André Baudry, as leader of the French homophile movement from the early 1950s into the 1980s, was the principal spokesman for homosexuals in France before the rise of gay liberation in the 1970s.

literature >> Cocteau, Jean

An outspoken homosexual, Jean Cocteau was a prolific poet, novelist, critic, essayist, artist, and filmmaker.

literature >> Colette

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

arts >> Collard, Cyril

French writer and filmmaker Cyril Collard became a key figure in the struggle to revise the representation of AIDS in literature and art.

social sciences >> Daughters of Bilitis

The first national lesbian political and social organization in the United States, the Daughters of Bilitis was a significant part of the pre-Stonewall lesbian and gay rights movement.

literature >> Doolittle, Hilda

The bisexual poet and novelist Hilda Doolittle, who published under the initials H. D., wrote poems and autobiographical prose works that celebrate women's romantic relationships with each other.

literature >> Fernandez, Dominique

A member of the Académie française, novelist and academic Dominique Fernandez pioneered the "psychobiography" and explores the complex question of the outlaw nature of homosexuality.

literature >> Flanner, Janet

An expatriate journalist, novelist, and translator, Janet Flanner spent most of her adult life in Paris with her lover Solita Solano.

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 >> Genet, Jean

Jean Genet's work has left a powerful legacy to post-modernity and remains a provocation to questions of gay identity.

literature >> Gide, André

André Gide, one of the premier French writers of the twentieth century, reflected his homosexuality in many of his numerous works.

social sciences >> Guérin, Daniel

French leftist Daniel Guérin came out publicly as a homosexual in his late sixties and for the remainder of his life worked to fuse gay liberation and left-wing politics.

literature >> Guibert, Hervé

Prolific French journalist and novelist Hervé Guibert achieved fame because of his last three books, which recounted in semi-fictionalized form his struggle with the HIV virus.

literature >> Hocquenghem, Guy

Leftist Guy Hocquenghem produced a considerable canon of queer theory and experimental fiction, much of it still unknown outside France.

literature >> Leduc, Violette

The bisexual novelist and memoirist Violette Leduc is an astute psychological observer and a dramatic chronicler of women's issues.

literature >> Pastre, Geneviève

One of France's leading lesbian theorists and political activists, Geneviève Pastre is a writer and publisher who has made lesbian feminism the root of her political and literary work.

literature >> Peyrefitte, Roger

As one of the most famous homosexuals in France in the latter half of the twentieth century, novelist Roger Peyrefitte helped shape the public perception of homosexuals in the days before gay liberation.

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.

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 >> Stein, Gertrude

In addition to becoming--with Alice B. Toklas--half of an iconic lesbian couple, Gertrude Stein was an important innovator and transformer of the English language.

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.

literature >> White, Edmund

One of the most prominent and highly acclaimed figures of contemporary gay literature, Edmund White works in many distinct categories of fiction and nonfiction.

literature >> Winsloe, Christa

The German novelist, dramatist, and screenwriter Christa Winsloe reflected her lesbianism in works that treat sexual identity within societies stratified according to gender roles.

literature >> Wittig, Monique

The controversial lesbian author and theorist Monique Wittig has produced some of the most challenging fictional and theoretical work of second-wave feminism.

literature >> Woolf, Virginia

Passionate friendships with women were essential to the life and work of novelist Virginia Woolf.

literature >> Yourcenar, Marguerite

The prize-winning novelist Marguerite Yourcenar reflected her own homosexuality in her works almost exclusively through male characters, most notably in Memoirs of Hadrian.


Aldrich, Robert. "Homosexuality in France." Contemporary French Civilization (1982): 1-19.

Copley, Anthony. Sexual Moralities in France, 1780-1980: New Ideas on the Family, Divorce and Homosexuality. New York: Routledge, 1989.

Foster, Jeannette H. Sex Variant Women in Literature. 1956; rpt. Tallahassee, Fla.: Naiad, 1985.

Huas, Jeanine. L'homosexualité au temps de Proust. Dinard: Editions Danclau, 1992.

Povert, Lionel. Dictionnaire gay. Paris: Jacques Grancher, 1994.

Robinson, Christopher. Scandal in the Ink: Male and Female Homosexuality in Twentieth-Century French Literature. London: Cassell, 1995.

Schehr, Lawrence, ed. "Discourses and Sex." Contemporary French Civilization 16.2 (Summer-Fall 1992).

_____. The Shock of Men: Homosexual Hermeneutics in French Writing. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1995.

Shaw, Nannette. "Jocelyn François: An Introduction." 13th Moon 8.1-2 (1984): 39-49.

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

Van Casselaer, Catherine. Lot's Wife: Lesbian Paris, 1890-1914. Liverpool: Janus Press, 1986.


    Citation Information
    Author: Hawthorne, Melanie  
    Entry Title: French Literature: Twentieth 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 September 19, 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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