Document Type

Honors Project


Advisors: Professor Ryan Murphy, Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies and Professor Juliette M Rogers, French and Francophone Studies


Homosexuality is, popularly imagined, a twentieth-century phenomenon wherein medicine created homosexual identity and society worked to stigmatize it. Yet the proto-homosexual role can be traced to several notable historical figures before the rise of medicine at the end of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth century, especially through literature, and this is most apparent in France, which had been the first country to decriminalize same-sex relations in private after the adoption of the Napoleonic Code. But how do we understand same-sex desire and homosexuality before the homosexual existed as such while respecting the oftentimes-unclear nuances of human sexuality? In this paper, I argue that in the case of the Marquis de Custine and the literature that his unconventional life inspired, ambiguity or secrecy does not indicate impotence or homosexuality, and that attempts to decode and demystify these secrets by nineteenth-century and contemporary analysts alike reflects an anxiety towards sexual ambiguity, as well as changing notions of gender representation. Finding comfort and accepting this sexual ambiguity, then, mark the practice of reading queerly.



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