Alison Moore – Morbid Love in Late Nineteenth-Century France: Between Decadence and Degeneration


Event Date: 6 November 2017

Dreyfus Room
28 Russell Square,
Birkbeck, University of London
London WC1B 5DQ

The Birkbeck Institute for Social Research and Birkbeck Gender & Sexuality (BiGS) present:

Morbid Love in Late Nineteenth-Century France: Between Decadence and Degeneration

Across a broad range of late nineteenth-century French medical texts that described the newly denoted sexual pathologies of frigidity, inversion, fetishism, nymphomania, sadism and masochism, one finds a term being used for which no current equivalent exists. This term is l’amour morbide – morbid love. Its use was initially as common in respectable medical texts as it later became in erotic fictional writings. In some cases, it appeared to refer to a particular sexual pathology, albeit one which troubled the very notion of perversion as aberrant or abnormal. This paper considers the role that l’amour morbide played in the sorting of medical terminology for describing sexual perversions in late nineteenth-century France, and examines what its relationship was to degenerationist thought. Engaging with Ian Hackings notion of “transient mental illnesses” produced by unique cultural ecologies, it is proposed that morbid love occupied the space between decadent culture of the fin-de-siècle France on the one hand, and on the other hand, degenerationist frames adopted by French doctors in the context of international medical and psychiatric conversations.

Alison Moore, Western Sydney University, is an intellectual and conceptual historian of nineteenth and twentieth-century sexuality, psychiatry and medicine of Europe, as well as a scholar of historiography and historical theory. She researches and teaches at Western Sydney University, Australia. She is author of Sexual Myths of Modernity: Sadism, masochism and historical teleology (2015), editor of Sexing Political Culture in the History of France (2012) and author with Peter Cryle of Frigidity, An Intellectual History (2011).

Introduction by Dr Tanya Serisier (Birkbeck):

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