14 Creating Boundaries: Homosexuality and the Changing Social Order in France, 1830-1870

Victoria Thompson

Upon its publication in 1835, Théophile Gautier Mademoiselle de Maupin caused a tremendous sensation. In his study on Gautier, the journalist Maxime du Camp recalled that upon reading the novel 'people covered their faces and asked, "alas! is it possible?"'1 Preceded by an inflammatory preface in which Gautier attacked the French bourgeoisie for its alleged materialism and self-interest, the story itself was a tale of cross-dressing intrigue, in which characters explored the possibility of gender reversal and same-sex love.

Gautier's hero, d'Albert, was searching for a perfect love, one that would enable him to transcend the boundaries of the self and become one with his beloved. To evoke this union of two persons, Gautier used the image of the hermaphrodite, whom he described as 'two equal and separate beauties which form a whole superior to each separately'. 2 Combining male and female in one body, the hermaphrodite could be considered an ideal metaphor for heterosexual union. Yet Gautier chose instead to give this metaphor an interesting twist. D'Albert did come close, at least for a short time, to realizing his desire of losing himself in another, but not by meeting the perfect woman. Instead, d'Albert lost his sense of identity

Earlier versions of this article were presented at "'Homosexuality in Modern France'", a conference sponsored by the Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies at the Graduate School and University Center of the City University of New York and funded by the Florence Gould Foundation, and at the 1995 Annual Meeting of the American Historical Association. I would like to thank all those who made very helpful comments on these two occasions, and in particular, Barry Bergen, Lynn Hunt, and Bonnie Smith. This article has greatly benefited from discussions with the other contributors to the volume Homosexuality in Modern France, and from the many careful readings of the volume's editors, Bryant T. Ragan and Jeffrey Merrick . I would also like to thank Joan Scott for her comments and suggestions, and Deborah Hamilton for her willingness to read, critique, and discuss many versions of this article. Reprinted with permission from Jeffrey Merrick and Bryant T. Ragan (eds.), Homosexuality in Modern France ( New York: Oxford University Press, 1996).

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