Au Naturel: Naturism, Nudism, and Tourism in Twentieth-Century France

Au Naturel: Naturism, Nudism, and Tourism in Twentieth-Century France

by Stephen L. Harp


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Au Naturel: Naturism, Nudism, and Tourism in Twentieth-Century France by Stephen L. Harp

Each year in France approximately 1.5 million people practice naturisme or "naturism," an activity more commonly referred to as "nudism." Because of France's unique tolerance for public nudity, the country also hosts hundreds of thousands of nudists from other European nations, an influx that has contributed to the most extensive infrastructure for nude tourism in the world. In Au Naturel, historian Stephen L. Harp explores how the evolution of European tourism encouraged public nudity in France, connecting this cultural shift with important changes in both individual behaviors and collective understandings of the body, morality, and sexuality.
Harp's study, the first in-depth historical analysis of nudism in France, challenges widespread assumptions that "sexual liberation" freed people from "repression," a process ostensibly reflected in the growing number of people practicing public nudity. Instead, he contends, naturism gained social acceptance because of the bodily control required to participate in it. New social codes emerged governing appropriate nudist behavior, including where one might look, how to avoid sexual excitation, what to wear when cold, and whether even the most modest displays of affection — -including hand-holding and pecks on the cheek — were permissible between couples.
Beginning his study in 1927 — when naturist doctors first advocated nudism in France as part of "air, water, and sun cures" — Harp focuses on the country's three earliest and largest nudist centers: the Île du Levant in the Var, Montalivet in the Gironde, and the Cap d'Agde in Hérault. These places emerged as thriving tourist destinations, Harp shows, because the municipalities — by paradoxically reinterpreting inde-cency as a way to foster European tourism to France — worked to make public nudity more acceptable.
Using the French naturist movement as a lens for examining the evolving notions of the body and sexuality in twentieth-century Europe, Harp reveals how local practices served as agents of national change.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780807155257
Publisher: Louisiana State University Press
Publication date: 05/12/2014
Pages: 328
Product dimensions: 5.90(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.10(d)

About the Author

STEPHEN L. HARP is a professor of history and French at the University of Akron. He is the author of Marketing Michelin: Advertising and Cultural Identity in Twentieth-Century France and Learning to Be Loyal: Primary Schooling as Nation Building in Alsace and Lorraine, 1850—1940.

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments ix

Note on Usage xiii

Introduction: France, the Nudist Paradise 1

1 Defining Interwar Naturism in Theory and Practice: The Drs. Durville 14

2 Advocating Nudism in Word and Deed: Marcel Kienné de Mongeot 50

3 Saving the Île du Levant: International Nudism and Municipal Development 87

4 Managing Postwar Naturisme: Albert Lecocq and Montalivet 126

5 Creating Cap d'Agde: The "Naked City" and Sex Tourism 163

Epilogue 197

Notes 211

Bibliography 259

Index 283

What People are Saying About This

Eric Jennings

"Stephen Harp's Au Naturel provides a fascinating, highly original and lively history of the body, of civil society, of health, of sexuality and well-being in twentieth-century France. Here, the author of Marketing Michelin explores questions of tolerance and tourism, bringing into sharp focus a set of remarkable, indeed memorable practices, people and places. How could a reader forget the dual proponents of hypnosis and nudism, or sites and spaces like Physiopolis, the 'naked city' of Cap d'Agde, the Sparta Club, the double-enclosure system, and the domestic nudarium? Harp shows how naturisme emerged from a logic centered on sun, diet, the outdoors, water and air, only to become charged with references to the ancients and to colonized peoples. Au Naturel reveals commendable multilingual and regional detective work, deep knowledge of French culture, and engrossing transnational comparisons. Harp's ambitious chronology guides the reader from the roaring '20s through the sexual revolution." — Eric T. Jennings, University of Toronto

Rachel Chrastil

"Stephen Harp has written a fascinating history of nudism's unexpected success in twentieth-century France. He examines the many ways that French naturistes thought about and practiced nudism, revealing the history of the 'exposed body' to be separate from, but entwined with, the history of sexuality. With an eye to the local and the transnational, Harp traces nudist tourism from health-conscious retreats to swinger meccas. Harp's prose, like his deeply researched material, is often humorous, never coy, and always interesting." — Rachel Chrastil, author of The Siege of Strasbourg and Organizing for War: France 1870—1914

John Merriman

"Steve Harp is one of the most original American historians of modern France. Here he uncovers the topic of nudism in France and shows why France became the major site for international naturism and how nudism remains part of tourism in France. Harp takes us back to the post—Great War era and the goal of 'strengthening of individual bodies' to the post—World War II emphasis on 'individual consumption.' There are terrific accounts of the rise of Montalivet, Saint-Tropez's Plage de Pamplonne, and the emerging sex-tourism of Cap d'Agde. Au Naturel is nicely conceptualized, resourcefully researched, and presented with insight and good humor." — John Merriman, Charles Seymour Professor of History, Yale University

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