Contemporary French Civilization

Perverse preterition and nineteenth-century French queer narrative strategies: the case of Belot's Mademoiselle Giraud, ma femme (1870)

Contemporary French Civilization (2012), 37, (2-3), 255–271.

Abstract

In this study I discuss the shifting narrative structures of a nineteenth-century text designed at once to hide and to expose partially a queer content. Lawrence Schehr first explored this structure in the writings of Proust and Gide, concluding that the beginnings of modernist narrative structure in their works also offered propitious conditions for a queer discourse. Applying Schehr's theory to an earlier text, I analyze Adolphe Belot's 1870 novel Mademoiselle Giraud, ma femme in terms of the narrative conflict of a moral discourse used in service to a titillating subject matter: lesbianism is immoral; in order to remove the danger, society must be able to talk about it. But talking about lesbianism could be perceived as subversive, so it's better not to talk about it but around it. The commercial gains of Belot's strategy being obvious, I examine the literary value of the conflicted narrative, the queer discourse. The components of literary mastery, manipulation of standard narrative techniques, and especially the continual use of preterition provide a model for a burgeoning queer discourse, one that offers queerness in form as well as in content for the playful but not frivolous presentation of a queer subject.

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Belot, Adolphe. Mademoiselle Giraud, ma femme. New York: MLA, 2002. Mademoiselle Giraud, ma femme Google Scholar

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Schehr, Lawrence R., The Shock of Men: Homosexual Hermeneutics in French Writing. Palo Alto, CA: Stanford University Press, 1995. The Shock of Men: Homosexual Hermeneutics in French Writing Google Scholar

Schultz, Gretchen. Sapphic Fathers. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, forthcoming. Sapphic Fathers Google Scholar

Sedgwick, Eve Kosofsky. Between Men: English Literature and Male Homosocial Desire. New York: Columbia University Press, 1985. Between Men: English Literature and Male Homosocial Desire Google Scholar

Smith, Nigel E. "Silence, Secrecy, and Scientific Discourse." In Dominique D. Fisher and Lawrence R. Schehr, eds. Articulations of Difference: Gender Studies and Writing in French. Palo Alto, CA: Stanford University Press, 1997. 83-99. Articulations of Difference: Gender Studies and Writing in French 83 99 Google Scholar

Thiesse, Anne-Marie. Le Roman du quotidien: lecteurs et lectures populaires à la Belle Époque. Paris: Le Chemin Vert, 1984. Le Roman du quotidien: lecteurs et lectures populaires à la Belle Époque Google Scholar

Belot, Adolphe. Mademoiselle Giraud, ma femme. New York: MLA, 2002. Mademoiselle Giraud, ma femme Google Scholar

Bourdieu, Pierre. Les Règles de l'art: Genèse et structure du champ littéraire. Paris: Seuil, 1992. Les Règles de l'art: Genèse et structure du champ littéraire Google Scholar

Compère, Daniel. Dictionnaire du roman populaire français. Paris: Nouveau monde, 2007. Dictionnaire du roman populaire français Google Scholar

Counter, Andrew. "One of Them: Homosexuality and Anarchism in Wilde and Zola." Comparative Literature, 63.4 (2011): 345-365. One of Them: Homosexuality and Anarchism in Wilde and Zola Comparative Literature 63 345 365 Google Scholar

Cryle, Peter. The Telling of the Act: Sexuality as Narrative in Eighteenth- and Nineteenth-Century France. Newark: University of Delaware Press, 2001. The Telling of the Act: Sexuality as Narrative in Eighteenth- and Nineteenth-Century France Google Scholar

Dean, Carolyn J. Sexuality and Modern Western Culture. New York: Twayne, 1996. Sexuality and Modern Western Culture Google Scholar

Derrida, Jacques. Of Grammatology. Trans. Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1997. Of Grammatology Google Scholar

Fisher, Dominique D., and Lawrence R. Schehr, eds. Articulations of Difference: Gender Studies and Writing in French. Palo Alto, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1997. Articulations of Difference: Gender Studies and Writing in French Google Scholar

Foucault, Michel. La Volonté de savoir. Paris: Gallimard, 1976. La Volonté de savoir Google Scholar

Gutermann-Jacquet, Deborah. Les Équivoques du genre: devenir homme et femme à l'âge romantique. Rennes: Presses universitaires de Rennes, 2012. Les Équivoques du genre: devenir homme et femme à l'âge romantique Google Scholar

Hamon, Philippe, and Alexandrine Viboud. Dictionnaire thématique du roman de mœurs (1850-1914). Paris: Presses Sorbonne Nouvelle, 2003. Dictionnaire thématique du roman de mœurs (1850-1914) Google Scholar

Johnson, Michael A. "Sodomy, Allegory, and the Subject of Pleasure." FLS 34 (2007): 1-12. Sodomy, Allegory, and the Subject of Pleasure FLS 34 1 12 Google Scholar

Laqueur, Thomas. Solitary Sex: A Cultural History of Masturbation. New York: Zone, 2003. Solitary Sex: A Cultural History of Masturbation Google Scholar

Lucey, Michael. Never Say I. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2006. Never Say I Google Scholar

Powell, David A. "Sodomite Ambassador Courts Disorder and Unlaw: Jean Lorrain's Illegal Discourse." Conference paper. Nineteenth-Century French Studies Colloquium. 25 October 2011. Sodomite Ambassador Courts Disorder and Unlaw: Jean Lorrain's Illegal Discourse Google Scholar

Rivers, Christopher. "Improbable Prescience: Émile Zola and Naturalism." Excavatio, 14.1-2 (2001): 41-62. Improbable Prescience: Émile Zola and Naturalism Excavatio 14 41 62 Google Scholar

Rivers, Christopher., "Introduction." Mademoiselle Giraud, ma femme. New York: MLA, 2002. ix-xxxvi. Mademoiselle Giraud, ma femme ix xxxvi Google Scholar

Rosario, Vernon A. The Erotic Imagination: French Histories of Perversity. New York: Oxford University Press, 1997. The Erotic Imagination: French Histories of Perversity Google Scholar

Schaffner, Anna Katharina. "Fiction as Evidence: On the Uses of Literature in Nineteenth-Century Sexological Discourse." Comparative Literature Studies, 48.2 (2011): 165-199. Fiction as Evidence: On the Uses of Literature in Nineteenth-Century Sexological Discourse Comparative Literature Studies 48 165 199 Google Scholar

Schehr, Lawrence R. Alcibiades at the Door: Gay Discourses in French Literature. Palo Alto, CA: Stanford University Press, 1995. Alcibiades at the Door: Gay Discourses in French Literature Google Scholar

Schehr, Lawrence R., "Filiations queer?" In Robert Harvey and Pascal Le Brun-Corder, eds. Queer: repenser les identités. Rue Descartes 40 (2003). 18-26. Filiations queer? Queer: repenser les identités. Rue Descartes 40 18 26 Google Scholar

Schehr, Lawrence R., French Gay Modernism. Champaign: University of Illinois Press, 2004. French Gay Modernism Google Scholar

Schehr, Lawrence R., "Recto/Verso: Mapping the Contemporary Gay Novel." FLS 34 (2007): 194-209. Recto/Verso: Mapping the Contemporary Gay Novel FLS 34 194 209 Google Scholar

Schehr, Lawrence R., The Shock of Men: Homosexual Hermeneutics in French Writing. Palo Alto, CA: Stanford University Press, 1995. The Shock of Men: Homosexual Hermeneutics in French Writing Google Scholar

Schultz, Gretchen. Sapphic Fathers. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, forthcoming. Sapphic Fathers Google Scholar

Sedgwick, Eve Kosofsky. Between Men: English Literature and Male Homosocial Desire. New York: Columbia University Press, 1985. Between Men: English Literature and Male Homosocial Desire Google Scholar

Smith, Nigel E. "Silence, Secrecy, and Scientific Discourse." In Dominique D. Fisher and Lawrence R. Schehr, eds. Articulations of Difference: Gender Studies and Writing in French. Palo Alto, CA: Stanford University Press, 1997. 83-99. Articulations of Difference: Gender Studies and Writing in French 83 99 Google Scholar

Thiesse, Anne-Marie. Le Roman du quotidien: lecteurs et lectures populaires à la Belle Époque. Paris: Le Chemin Vert, 1984. Le Roman du quotidien: lecteurs et lectures populaires à la Belle Époque Google Scholar

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Powell, David