Living in Arcadia: Homosexuality, Politics, and Morality in France from the Liberation to AIDS

Living in Arcadia: Homosexuality, Politics, and Morality in France from the Liberation to AIDS

by Julian Jackson

View All Available Formats & Editions

In Paris in 1954, a young man named André Baudry founded Arcadie, an organization for “homophiles” that would become the largest of its kind that has ever existed in France, lasting nearly thirty years. In addition to acting as the only public voice for French gays prior to the explosion of radicalism of 1968, Arcadie—with its club and review


In Paris in 1954, a young man named André Baudry founded Arcadie, an organization for “homophiles” that would become the largest of its kind that has ever existed in France, lasting nearly thirty years. In addition to acting as the only public voice for French gays prior to the explosion of radicalism of 1968, Arcadie—with its club and review—was a social and intellectual hub, attracting support from individuals as diverse as Jean Cocteau and Michel Foucault and offering support and solidarity to thousands of isolated individuals. Yet despite its huge importance, Arcadie has largely disappeared from the historical record.

The main cause of this neglect, Julian Jackson explains in Living in Arcadia, is that during the post-Stonewall era of queer activism, Baudry’s organization fell into disfavor, dismissed as conservative, conformist, and closeted. Through extensive archival research and numerous interviews with the reclusive Baudry, Jackson challenges this reductive view, uncovering Arcadie’s pioneering efforts to educate the European public about homosexuality in an era of renewed repression. In the course of relating this absorbing history, Jackson offers a startlingly original account of the history of homosexuality in modern France.

Editorial Reviews

George Chauncey

Living in Arcadia is a work of exceptional erudition, originality, and insight. It not only restores the most important French homophile movement to history in all its complexity; it also uses that history to make a powerful revisionist argument for the intelligence, savvy, courage, and, indeed, dignity of the people who founded and guided it. Julian Jackson shows that they were more assertive, diverse, and radical on sexual matters than they are commonly made out to be. As one of the most important studies of the pre-Stonewall homophile movement we have, Living in Arcadia represents a major new contribution to both gay history and French history.”

Todd Shepard

“This is a vibrant, multifaceted history of one of the late twentieth-century Europe’s most important homosexual organizations. It uncovers how the French group Arcadie emerged, struggled, and flourished in a society that was taking new steps to punish and silence sexually marginal men and women. On this solid foundation, Jackson builds an innovative analysis of how homosexuality in the West was lived by individuals and debated in public from the 1950s through the 1980s. Wide-ranging research, beautiful writing, and astute insight reinvigorate our understanding of both gay liberation and post-1945 France.”

Michael Sibalis

“This book is a major work of scholarship—well written and thoroughly researched—that throws light on a little understood period of gay history in France, while also adding to our knowledge of the international ‘homophile’ movement and contemporary France in general. By telling the story of Arcadie, Jackson presents a rich and ultimately sympathetic account of what it meant to be a homosexual Frenchman in the years after World War II and before the rise of gay liberation. In addition to elucidating Arcadie’s raison d’être, nature, achievements, and shortcomings, Jackson gives readers a vivid portrait of its founder, André Baudry, a man about whom little has been known until now.”

Gay and Lesbian Review - Hans Soetaert

"A remarkable book full of vivid details about this forgotten episode in French gay history."

Product Details

University of Chicago Press
Publication date:
Edition description:
New Edition
Product dimensions:
6.20(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.00(d)

Read an Excerpt


By Julian Jackson

The University of Chicago Press

Copyright © 2009 The University of Chicago
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-226-38925-7

Chapter One

Homosexuality in France from the Revolution to Vichy

Homosexuality and the Revolution

In the autumn of 1791 the French Constituent Assembly promulgated a new penal code abolishing the criminalization of "sodomy," a decision confirmed by the Napoleonic Penal Code of 1810. Since 1791 same-sex relations between adults have never been illegal in France.

The significance of the decriminalization of sodomy should not be overemphasized. This issue was never specifically debated by the Assembly, and the decision was probably a fortuitous consequence of the general project to secularize the legal code by eliminating offenses like blasphemy, heresy, and sacrilege that were seen as relics of religious superstition. In that sense the decision was in line with Enlightenment thinking: Voltaire had almost fifty years earlier intervened to prevent the execution for sodomy of the "libertine" Abbé Desfontaines. On the other hand, Voltaire's objection to the barbarity of the punishment did not imply approval of the offense. It is almost certainly apocryphal that after a same-sex experience at the court of Frederick the Great, Voltaire had declared that he would not repeat it on the grounds that "once a philosopher, twice a sodomite," but his stated view of sodomy was that it was "an infamous outrage against nature" and a "disgusting abomination." Other Enlightenment thinkers were no different, and Condorcet was unique in advocating decriminalization on the grounds that, although a "vile, disgusting vice," sodomy did not violate other men's rights.

What further limits the importance of the decriminalization of sodomy is that the penalties against it were less and less often applied. In the whole eighteenth century, seven individuals were executed for sodomy in Paris, and except in one instance their offense had been accompanied by other crimes like rape or murder. The last capital punishment to be carried out was against a former monk, executed in 1783 for having stabbed an errand boy who resisted his sexual advances. The only case that does not fit this pattern was that of two men executed in July 1750 after being arrested for having sex in the street. History does not record why they suffered this punishment when they had committed no other apparent misdeed.

Although executions for sodomy were exceptional, the eighteenth century witnessed increasingly vigorous policing of same-sex activity. This has allowed historians of the period to observe the emergence of what could be described as a sort of "sodomitical subculture" in Paris at this time. In 1749 alone, 244 individuals were arrested, but for offenses like public immorality or unruly behavior. The police were repressing less a sin against nature than an offense against social order. In parallel with this change in perception, the word "pederast" became increasingly preferred to "sodomite."

Regulating Sexual Disorder in the Nineteenth Century

Police surveillance of same-sex activity continued throughout the revolutionary period and after. Three Parisian police chiefs of the nineteenth century wrote memoirs that betray an obsession with the suspected links between criminality and sexual deviancy. The first, Louis Canler, entered the police force in the 1820s and ended his career as head of the Service de Sûreté (detective division) in 1849. He was particularly exercised by the relationship between what he called "anti-physicals" and blackmail. The second, Félix Carlier, head of the Brigade Mondaine (i.e., the vice squad) between 1860 and 1870, titled his memoirs "The Two Prostitutions." He worried especially about the "monstrous" social pairings in which "pederasts" became involved. The third, Gustave Macé, head of the Sûreté from 1879, was the most alarmist: "It is from the pederasts that the most skillful and audacious criminals come.... They practice indiscriminately swindling, theft, and murder; but blackmail is their favorite weapon."

Detailed information about the policing of same-sex relations during the nineteenth century is patchy. Carlier wrote that between 1860 and 1870 the Paris police dealt with 6,342 cases of "pederasts." According to the archives of the Paris Prefecture, over 1,800 individuals were investigated for same-sex activities between 1873 and 1879. Although the law was silent about same-sex activity, the police could act against it by using a series of clauses in the Penal Code relating to sexual assault (article 331), incitement to debauchery (334), and public indecency (330):

1. Article 331: the Code of 1810 had only punished "attentat à la pudeur" (sexual assault) if accompanied by violence, but in April 1832 a new article was introduced penalizing "sexual assault without violence" if carried out against a child under the age of eleven (age thirteen after 1862). This was a measure designed to protect children, in effect introducing an age of sexual majority. It was frequently invoked in cases involving men and girls but less in those between men and boys.

2. Article 334: the law relating to "incitement of youths to debauchery" (where a "youth" was defined as someone under twenty-one) essentially targeted prostitution. This meant that it could not in theory be used to penalize sexual relations for one's own pleasure as opposed to procuring sex for third parties. In fact, by means of ingenious jurisprudential interpretation, the courts did try to extend the reach of this law as a way of recriminalizing homosexuality by the back door, but these rulings were consistently overturned by France's Appeal Court (Cour de Cassation).

3. Article 330: most cases of same-sex activity were prosecuted under the public indecency law, which prescribed a prison term of between three and twelve months (raised in 1863 to six months to two years) and a fine. Indecency was interpreted to cover any kind of lewd act, solicitation, and exhibitionism. During the century the courts took increasingly broad interpretations of what constituted "public." It was sufficient to commit the act in a place to which a third party might have access even if no one else was present (which covered urinals), and in 1881 the Cour de Cassation ruled that a private space could be considered public if it was thought that others might have seen something "owing to a lack of precautions taken by the perpetrator." Another judgment ruled that an offense had occurred when it was not seen but heard by "inarticulate sounds escaping from someone's mouth"—as in the case of two inmates of a prison cell convicted in 1888 of indecency because their act had been heard. Sometimes the courts did overturn cases brought by excessively zealous policemen, but one historian who has studied Paris in the 1870s (when full records survive) found a conviction rate of 93 percent, including even individuals arrested in their homes.

Nonetheless, the police felt hamstrung by the lack of legislation against same-sex activity. Canler wrote "perhaps there is a lacuna to fill in our Penal Code," while Macé complained that because the code had nothing against these crimes that "go beyond the limits of common sense and human nature ... the police have no power against these repulsive creatures." Carlier felt "disarmed" and wished that France had a specific antisodomy law like Germany's. In his view it was only because of the "incessant struggle" of the police that "pederasty has never been too brazen in France ... remaining a shameful and hidden passion, fleeing the daylight."

The police viewed this "incessant struggle" as a Sisyphean task as they patrolled the public spaces of Paris where men sought sex with each other. At the beginning of the century they concentrated especially on the Palais Royal, a site of sexual encounters and prostitution since before the Revolution. It acquired a new lease of life after the construction at its south end of the Galerie d'Orléans, one of the many commercial passages (enclosed galleries with glass roofs) built in Paris during the 1820s. These became places for ambling, shopping—and cruising. Beginning in the 1860s the passages began losing their appeal—they accounted for only 2 percent of arrests in the 1870s—owing to the massive urban changes of the Second Empire when fashionable Paris moved to the boulevards created by the Baron Haussmann. This period provided new opportunities for sexual encounters between men in the public urinals (vespasiennes) that had started to appear in the 1830s but had become ubiquitous by the 1860s. Carlier ruefully described police attempts to suppress sex in the urinals near the central market at Les Halles:

When the pederasts had adopted this as a meeting place, they drilled little holes in the partitions that allowed those in neighboring stalls to commit acts of public indecency. Each day the town builders blocked up the holes; each evening they were drilled again. The administration took a heroic decision, replacing the partitions with sheets of reinforced metal. On the first evening there was a mood of despair. Those who frequented the place came out with devastated faces.... Fifteen days later the metal had been drilled through, the holes were there again, and the band of anti-physicals came more numerous than ever.

The police were simultaneously fascinated and repelled by this world, struggling to understand it while seeking to destroy it. Canler and Carlier invented complicated taxonomies for the varieties of individuals they encountered, adapting categories they already employed for female prostitutes.

In the second half of the century, police efforts to interpret the world of same-sex desire were seconded by the writings of medical experts who were brought in to verify that suspects had committed the acts of which they were accused. The leading expert in this field was Dr. Ambroise Tardieu, whose Étude médico-légale sur les attentats aux moeurs (first published in 1857) demonstrated how to detect the physical signs of pederasty. Tardieu claimed that the penises of active pederasts were deformed, either small like the penises of a dog or large in the form of a corkscrew. As for passive pederasts, they had excessively large bottoms and what he famously described as an "infundibular" (funnel-shaped) anus. Fellatio resulted in short teeth and thick lips. Tardieu's book went into numerous editions and was cited even into the twentieth century. By then, however, his writings were losing credibility—which did not necessarily work to the advantage of the accused. A police report in 1942 trying to establish if homosexual acts had occurred between two men—one of whom claimed it was simply coincidence that the other had lowered his trousers to relieve himself as he approached him from behind to ask for a light—noted that "half a century ago, a whole series of signs were regarded according to Tardieu as revealing the inveterate pederast," but this was no longer certain: the "anus of the most honest appearance can belong to a male prostitute of the worst variety."

Even during his lifetime Tardieu's claims to detect the physical signs of pederasty were challenged by the German forensic physician Johann Casper. This was not the only difference between them. Tardieu was interested in unmasking pederasts because of the socially disruptive consequences of their actions, but unconcerned to understand why they acted as they did. Casper, on the other hand, was becoming interested in the etiology of their behavior, suggesting that it might be inborn, and this idea gradually began to gain ground in France. In fact, even in the first half of the nineteenth century many observers voiced an intuition that "pederasts" shared a distinct nature. The idea of a "third sex" can be found in the novels of Balzac, and it is sometimes present in the observations of the police. Canler, for example, believed that in some cases this "unnatural tendency" was an "innate taste." This interpretation only became dominant from the 1870s, and in the medical literature "inverts"—and later "homosexuals"—replaced "pederasts."

One can cite various milestones in this burgeoning medical literature: an article in 1869 by the German physician Karl Westphal on what he called "contrary sexual feeling" (this was the article that Foucault famously used to date the birth of the "modern homosexual"); an article in 1882 by two French neurologists, Jean Charcot and Valentin Magnan, on what they termed the "inversion of the genital sense"; and the book Psychopathia sexualis by the Austrian psychiatrist Richard von Krafft-Ebing, published in 1886. Such was the interest in this subject that Alexandre Lacassagne, professor of legal medicine at the University of Lyons, founded in 1885 a publishing series devoted to studying sexual perversions. Instead of identifying criminals for the police, these doctors now proposed cures for what was perceived as more an illness than a crime. They distinguished between "perversion," which was considered to be congenital, and "perversity," which was acquired and therefore morally reprehensible.

French Variations

As this summary list of medical writings demonstrates, the dominant experts in the field were French or German (even if the word "inversion" was invented by the Italian Arrigo Tamassia in 1878). Although French and German writers shared much in common, their approaches were affected by the different national contexts. The newly united Germany in 1871 had incorporated into its penal code a paragraph (175) criminalizing same-sex relations. In reaction to this, Germany saw the emergence of what can be seen as the first homosexual rights organization in Europe. The pioneer was the lawyer Karl Heinrich Ulrichs (1825–95), who, having become convinced that his attraction to his own sex was innate, produced a series of brochures from 1864 arguing this case and advocating the decriminalization of same-sex relations. Ulrichs believed that men attracted to their own sex were the product of a "migration" of women's souls to men's bodies (and the condition therefore natural because representing an attraction of male and female elements). To describe these people he coined the term "Urnings," from a passage in Plato's Symposium. He preferred this term to the word "homosexuality," invented in 1869 by the Hungarian journalist Karoly Maria Kertbeny, who was arguing at the same time to decriminalize same-sex relations in Austria-Hungary. Ulrichs's writings were one inspiration for Dr. Magnus Hirschfeld, founder in 1897 of the Scientific and Humanitarian Committee, which petitioned the Reichstag to repeal paragraph 175 while carrying out research to develop a better understanding of what Hirschfeld called the "third sex."


Excerpted from LIVING IN ARCADIA by Julian Jackson Copyright © 2009 by The University of Chicago. Excerpted by permission of The University of Chicago Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Julian Jackson is professor of modern French history at Queen Mary, University of London. He is the author of many books, including France: The Dark Years, 1940–1944; The Fall of France: The Nazi Invasion, 1940; and De Gaulle.

Customer Reviews

Average Review:

Write a Review

and post it to your social network


Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See all customer reviews >