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Sex, Knowledge, and Receptions of the Past$
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Kate Fisher and Rebecca Langlands

Print publication date: 2015

Print ISBN-13: 9780199660513

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: September 2015

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199660513.001.0001

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Anachronistic Readings of Eighteenth-century Libertinage in Nineteenth- and Twentieth-century France

Anachronistic Readings of Eighteenth-century Libertinage in Nineteenth- and Twentieth-century France

Chapter:
(p.65) 3 Anachronistic Readings of Eighteenth-century Libertinage in Nineteenth- and Twentieth-century France
Source:
Sex, Knowledge, and Receptions of the Past
Author(s):

Peter Cryle

Publisher:
Oxford University Press
DOI:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199660513.003.0004

This chapter examines patterns of anachronism in historical writing about sexuality, considering in particular how certain historical periods tend to be taken as exemplary. That has notably been the case with ancient Greece and Victorian Britain, but also with eighteenth-century France. Ancien régime aristocratic erotic practices have often been viewed as examples of enlightened behaviour, serving as the antithesis of a bourgeois present. French historical writing, from the Goncourt brothers to Philippe Sollers, has in fact tended to make the libertine eighteenth century into a semiotic and political convenience. Systematic anachronism has also occurred when medical discourse has been deployed to diagnose in the libertine eighteenth century sexual pathologies invented only in the nineteenth. A historical period in which erotic and medical talk were largely disjunct has sometimes been reconstructed anachronistically as a repository of exemplary sexual pathologies.

Keywords:   anachronism, the Enlightenment, Goncourt brothers, history of sexuality, hysteria, Philippe Sollers, repression, sexual pathologies

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