Queer Lives


Queer Lives

Men's Autobiographies from Nineteenth-Century France

Translated, edited, and with an introduction by William A. Peniston and Nancy Erber

292 pages
8 photographs


January 2008


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eBook (PDF)
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January 2008


$27.95 Add to Cart

About the Book

Eight gay men wrote their autobiographies in French between 1845 and 1905;  some of them reflected on their childhood, adolescence, and adulthood, others provided brief impressions of their loves and desires. A few of them dramatized their lives following contemporary theatrical and fictional models, while others wrote for medical doctors, who used the men's writings as case studies to illustrate their theories on sexual deviance. In some instances the doctors’ extensive interpretations cannot be separated from the men's own stories, but in others the authors speak for themselves.
The remarkable autobiographies in Queer Lives, translated into English for the first time here, give present-day readers a rare glimpse into otherwise shrouded existences. They relate the experiences of a man about town, a cross-dressing entertainer, a troubled adolescent, and two fetishists, among others. The autobiographies will interest a wide audience today at a time when readers are seeking new views on the lives of ordinary men and women from the past, when gay people are looking for the roots of their communities, and when scholars are trying to understand the formation of sexual identities at a crucial moment in the history of modern Europe.

Author Bio

William A. Peniston is the manager of the Newark Museum’s library and archives. He is the author of Pederasts and Others: Urban Culture and Sexual Identity in Nineteenth-Century Paris. Nancy Erber is a professor of linguistics and modern languages at LaGuardia Community College, City University of New York. She is the coeditor of Disorder in the Court: Trials and Sexual Conflict at the Turn of the Century.


“Editors William A. Peniston and Nancy Erber do a good job of situating the original editors of these texts, the doctors who first published them, in the burgeoning and by no means monolithic thought of the era. . . . Peniston and Erber have provided a real service by making these works available to an English-speaking audience. Anyone who has ever struggled to create a personal identity out of his or her feelings and the options provided by society will be fascinated to see how these men undertook the same struggle with little information and less hard science to go on.”—Gay and Lesbian Review

"Reading Queer Lives is to experience vicariously something of the 'frightful sorrows' and 'guilty and delicious joys' that characterised the lives of men in nineteenth-century France. To enter into what Philippe Lejeune called 'the autobiographical pact' with these eight writers makes for a truly interesting and worthwhile encounter."—Elizabeth C. MacKnight, Oxford Journals

"A welcome addition to our understanding of nineteenth-century European sexualities."—Scott E. Gunther, H-France

Table of Contents

Introduction: Queer Lives: Men’s Autobiographies from Nineteenth-Century France

Part I: The Countess: The Dramatization of the Self

Autobiography 1: Arthur W..., “The Countess,” Secret Confessions of a Parisian (1874)

Part II: Doctors and Patients: Autobiographies as Case Studies

Autobiography 2: Anonymous, “Loves,” in Dr. Ambroise Tardieu, A Medical and Legal Study on Assaults against Morality (1867)

Autobiography 3: Anonymous, “Observation I,” in Dr. Jean-Martin Charcot and Dr. Valentin Magnan, Inversion of the Sexual Instinct (1881)

Autobiography 4: Gustave L..., “Autobiographical Notes,” in Dr. Paul Garnier, Madness in Paris (1890)

Autobiography 5: Louis X..., “Autobiographical Notes,” in Dr. Paul Garnier, The Fetishists (1895)

Autobiography 6: Antonio ..., “Letter to My Parents” and “My Autobiography,” in Dr. André Antheaume and Dr. Léon Parrot, A Case of Sexual Inversion (1905)

Autobiography 7: Charles Double, “Mental Hermaphrodite and Other Autobiographical Writings”(1905)

Part III: The Novel of An Invert: Literature, Medicine, and Self Expression

Autobiography 8: Anonymous, The Novel of an Invert (1889, 1896)

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