Bad Subjects


Bad Subjects

Libertine Lives in the French Atlantic, 1619–1814

Jennifer J. Davis

France Overseas: Studies in Empire and Decolonization Series

370 pages
4 photographs, 2 illustrations, 7 maps, index


July 2023


$65.00 Add to Cart
eBook (EPUB)
Ebook purchases delivered via Leaf e-Reader

July 2023


$65.00 Add to Cart
eBook (PDF)
Ebook purchases delivered via Leaf e-Reader

July 2023


$65.00 Add to Cart

About the Book

In a lively account that spans continents, Jennifer J. Davis considers what it meant to be called a libertine in early modern France and its colonies. Libertinage was a polysemous term in early modern Europe and the Atlantic World, generally translated as “debauchery” or “licentiousness” in English. Davis assesses the changing fortunes of the quasi-criminal category of libertinage in the French Atlantic, based on hundreds of cases drawn from the police and judicial archives of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century France and its Atlantic colonies alongside the literature inspired by those proceedings.

The libertine life was not merely a subject for fiction nor a topos against which to play out potential revolutions. It was a charge authorities imposed on a startlingly wide array of behaviors, including gambling, selling alcohol to Native Americans, and secret marriages. Once invoked by family and state authorities, the charge proved nearly impossible for the accused to contest, for a libertine need not have committed any crimes to be perceived as disregarding authority and thereby threatening families and social institutions. The research in Bad Subjects provides a framework for analysis of libertinage as a set of anti-authoritarian practices and discourses that circulated among the peoples of France and the Atlantic World, ultimately providing a compelling blueprint for alternative social and economic order in the Revolutionary period.

Author Bio

Jennifer J. Davis is an associate professor of early modern European history in the Department of History and an affiliate member of the Department of Women’s and Gender Studies at the University of Oklahoma. She is the author of Defining Culinary Authority: The Transformation of Cooking in France, 1650–1830, and presently serves as an editor for the Journal of Women’s History.


“A documented and strikingly original investigation of the shifting category of libertines which, far from being exclusively associated with nonstandard or abusive sexual practices, has for several centuries also been associated with the stigmatization of personal, individualist relationships to the law.”—Anne Verjus, director of research at École Normale Supérieure de Lyon in France

“A lively, ambitious, and provocative book. Bad Subjects raises a host of important questions through a wide geographic and long chronological exploration of libertinism as a plastic concept appropriated in many regions. In centering sexuality as a key subject for imperial politics writ large and small, Davis offers an innovative addition to our understanding of the first French empire.”—Julie Hardwick, author of Sex in an Old Regime City: Young Workers and Intimacy in France, 1660–1789

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
Introduction: “Bad Subjects” in the French Atlantic World
Chapter 1: “Among the Savages”: The Viau Affair, 1619-1626
Chapter 2: Locating the Libertines of New France, 1632-1765
Chapter 3: A Colonial Liberty?: Sex and Race in the Louisiana Colony, 1698-1768
Chapter 4: Libertines and S*v*ges: Explaining France’s Defeat in the Seven Years’ War, 1754-1773
Chapter 5: A ‘Race of Libertines’: Gender, Family and the Law in France, 1684-1789
Chapter 6: Redeeming Libertines: The Désirade Experiment, 1762-1768
Chapter 7: Racializing Libertines: Sex and the Law of Slavery in the French Antilles, 1763-1789
Chapter 8: Aristocrats and Libertines: Disputing Liberties in the Age of Revolutions, 1784-1804
Epilogue: The Law and the Libertine, 1814

Also of Interest