The archives of sexuality

This collection of sources allows us to understand the relationships, experiences, violence, words of sex from the Middle Ages to the present day. Between prohibition and repression, traces of sexuality surface everywhere.

The rich work of Fanny Bugnon and Pierre Fourni, Forbidden Sex, is not a new history of sexuality, but a collection of sources, which has the appearance of an exhibition catalog. Except that there has never been an exhibition under this title!

It is true, however, that Pierre Fourni had, a few years earlier, in 2016, published a work-catalogue by the same publisher (LIconoclaste) following an exhibition at the National Archives, Presumed Guilty, on trials against women, to which Fanny Bugnon had contributed. Even if Forbidden Sex has not been the subject of an exhibition, the two books have in common that they are ordered around a presentation of archives, from a gender perspective.

A confrontation with raw archives

The objective of the work is in fact, about questions of sexuality, confront the reader with the raw material of the archives, the daily bread of history (p. 6). The authors have therefore looked through immense masses of archives, coming from a sample of eight French departments, of which they present a selection.

Over a period of more than six centuries, XIVe century until around 1930, there are 70 extracts which are reproduced in contemporary French (after having been translated, if necessary, from Latin or Loccitan), referenced and commented on. Around twenty of these sources had been previously identified and published by other authors, but around fifty are truly unpublished. Fanny Bugnon, lecturer on contemporary history, and Pierre Fourni, Chartist, general curator of heritage, are part of this historiographical movement which seeks the concrete traces of sexuality, to make them known and analyze them.

At the same time, the work includes a text organized chronologically and thematically, which provides a guiding thread for the evolution of archive content and sexuality itself. In this section, around a hundred other sources are cited, briefly commented on and referenced at the bottom of the page, among which sixty were found by the authors of the work, and forty have already been published.

Finally, the work includes a rich iconography of 130 pages, 19 of which are engravings (several of which come from the Hell of the BNF) and 111 facsimiles of the reproduced archives, which give a striking insight into their materiality and the difficulty of approaching them. The work is therefore composite.

Side with the demon

Traces of sexuality are everywhereit is said in the introduction, and this is what makes this type of sources so difficult to identify (especially since there is no Hell in the archives centers!). We have works of theology and penitentials, sources known for a long time. Many documents come from courts of justice, police stations, their equivalents of the Ancien Régime: investigations, depositions, interrogations, reports, complaints, letters of denunciation from neighbors, but also petitions to the king to obtain letters of remission, it is –to say grace, after a rape.

Demonological traits flourished during periods of witch hunting (beginning of the XVIIe century) and cleverly gloss the characteristics of the side with the demon. The development and censorship of erotic and pornographic books and the surveillance of walls by the police are at peaks in the XVIIIe century, which is reflected in countless trials of authors and publishers, and a great abundance of police reports on sodomites, prostitutes and their clients. The brothel mistresses themselves make profiles on the famous clients and the gallant women (actresses, dancers, singers) who frequent their establishments.

Marketing in Vende

Then the correspondence (with doctors, directors of conscience, including the famous Father Viollet, or between spouses), the diaries, the autobiographies take off in the contemporary era, showing how sexuality becomes an object of discussion and introspection, by confronting to new knowledge in the field. Tissot's famous work on lonanism (1760), books of advice intended for young husbands XIXe century (like The Little Bible of Young Lice of 1885), colonial eroticism according to Doctor Jacobus (Love in the colonies1893), whose work was found in Hell of the National Library, the ethnographic observations of Dr Baudouin on horse-trading in Vende (1906) brings sexuality into the domain of knowledge, just as much as medical work or the psychopathology of sexuality.

Furthermore, the XIXe century is a century where a doctrine and expertise on sexual violence is developed, particularly with regard to minors. The idea of ​​psychological suffering of the victims emerges with difficulty. Erotic postcards democratize pornography. Finally, the theme of contraception and abortion, present since the Middle Ages through references to herbal beverages, and which is found in the XVIIIe century in libertine novels (Philosophical dissertation1748), became politicized XIXe and at XXe century, without ceasing to have its place in judicial sources.

Gender and words

From the initial corpus of several thousand files, the authors made a selection. what an end? In justice or police sources, the depositions and transcribed interrogations are marked by the judicial or religious categories of the men who interrogate and who impose their vocabulary (for example to know carnally).

Fanny Bugnon and Pierre Fourni set out to find the voices of the people interviewed. Favored are testimonies where words, experiences, physical realities appear, where people's emotions come to the surface, and where relationships of domination and gender can be read. We learn that for centuries, be naked, it's actually being in a shirt. And that, since the Middle Ages, we have seen a difference between cries of pleasure and cries of protest. There are many words to say it: kiss, adjoin, ride, to work, have his companyetc.

The authors' commentary focuses on gender relations and forms of argument. A petition to the king in 1369 from a lord imprisoned in Chtelet gives voice to two points of view on the rape committed: the desperate resistance of a young apprentice seamstress, supported by her boss, who invokes the presence of the neighbors, and the violent indifference of a lord who returns visits repeatedly and tries to buy her and her boss with gifts (which they refuse) for whatever its crumb.

They also highlight the limits of archives for knowledge of sexuality. The absence, in the archives, of the domestic and marital world means that we know little about this world. Furthermore, studying requests for forgiveness from the king in cases of rape inevitably privileges the point of view of men. Finally, in conjunction with the book publisher, the authors define an attitude ethical with regard to sources: do not cite sources containing violence against children, do not cite the names of people involved in cases of sexual violence after the second half of the XIXe century, do not hold back perversions judges too violent.

What story of sexuality?

The work is not intended to be a historical synthesis of sexuality. While rightly implying that changes in sexuality are not linear, the authors implicitly offer a grand narrative about sexuality, suggested by the title which uses the terms prohibition and repression.

In the introduction, they place themselves under the aegis of two mentors, Arlette Farge, a major user of police archives from the XVIIIe century, and Michel Foucault, author ofHistory of sexuality. The desire to knowqualified for great toolboxeven if, we are told, he exploited the archives so little. Moreover, Michel Foucault was not subsequently included.

However, his critique of the repressive hypothesis, the idea that of sex in power, the relationship is not one of repression and, since the end of XVIe century, the putting into discourse of sex, far from undergoing a process of restriction, was on the contrary subjected to a system of increasing incentives, always seems heuristic to us. The history of sexuality is also that of the techniques and instances of its construction, linked to its expression in discourse. And this discourse has a connection with power and the evolution of gender relations.

The whole is organized into three main parts, or three periods. The long Middle Ages, including here the Renaissance, would be characterized by a form of naive sensuality and a patriarchal code of honor; classic age (here, mid-XVIe XVIIIe century) would be a time of repression; THE XIXe and the first XXe century would initiate a new sexual order, based on the control of reproductive life and the development of a domain of intimacy.

We can give a slightly different story by focusing on the ways in which knowledge of sexuality is constructed. In the Middle Ages confession dominated, within the framework of a management of sexuality by moral theology, in a world where marital or personal intimacy had not yet emerged. classical age, surveillance of the walls, censorship and even repression are not XVIIIe century a century of decline or regression, but one of diversification and complexity of the scenarios of sexuality and, already, of freer access for women to the public space, to which Arlette Farge has well testified.

Minority experiences

In the work, the deposition of a servant in 1761, at the instigation of her master, against her libertine mistress who shows herself bare thighs with her lover (p. 269), who herself says she has a lot of temperament and who will end his life in the convent, contrasts with the diary up to the marriage of a bourgeois in the 1780s, a small provincial libertine, who keeps a cold account of his touching and flirting with women he meets.

The anti-masturbatory obsession, which is born XVIIIe century and develops in the following centuries, has less effect of combating the habit which does not encourage to know itself from it, which already appears in a letter sent by the knight of Belfontaine Tissot in 1772. Relative inertia of the systems of surveillance of the walls during of XXe century (for example with regard to homosexuality) does not prevent a politicization and diversification of minority experiences, and their growing social acceptance by the majority.

Ultimately, the archives of the past not only lead us down the path of representations and norms of sexuality and the forms of its repression, but give us access to words, gestures, experience and the subjectification of sexuality. The authors' gender perspective guides their quest for sources, which provide more insight than just the judicial or religious categories. Their sharp interpretations make concrete the effects of domination, but also the resistance and initiatives of women.

Over the centuries, the scenarios of sexuality become more complex, nourished by all its presentation in discourse and internalized, as shown, towards the end of the book, a joyful war correspondence in 1916 between husband and wife, full of metaphors. , anticipations and erotic evocations. In short, spouses now know how to make love on paper!