Contemporary French Civilization

Transnationalism and sexual identity in literature: from the French canon to US pulp fiction

Contemporary French Civilization (2012), 37, (2-3), 193–215.

Abstract

This article considers the afterlives of male-authored Sapphic fiction produced in nineteenth-century France by prominent writers (including Diderot, Balzac, Gautier, Baudelaire, Belot, Louÿs, Zola, Mendès). It follows the transnational and trans-temporal movement of these enduring images to the United States of the 1950s, a moment when the homophile movement emerged and the Daughters of Bilitis was founded. In particular, it studies the impact of French literature on distant identity formation by examining traces in lesbian pulp fiction. Although such representations of female homosexuality were arbitrary and ideological products targeted to an audience of men, they also beckoned to unintended readers, women in search of images and a vocabulary with which to identify their sexual attractions during a time in which there was no public discourse about homosexuality. French literature thus contributed to the growing portfolio of portraits that would amount to a heritage for sexually nonconformist women in search of identities and drawn to images of and explanations for their difference.

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Author details

Schultz, Gretchen