AKA, FRENCH PEOPLE TOTALLY WROTE ABOUT QUEER STUFF IN THE EARLY 19TH CENTURY
Do you know how long
I have been looking for a copy of Fragoletta
by Henri de Latouche?If the library records are to be believed, my college library has an original SIGNED edition from 1829.
Just sitting there in the stacks.
Why am I looking for Fragoletta? Well, the short answer is that it kicked off the French Romantic craze for sometimes-exploitative, always-flamboyant queer lit from the 1830s onward.
The long answer is that it's the tipping point between the 1820s Romantics' obsession with impossible/unspeakable/thwarted love (being hopelessly entangled in the Custine-Duras-Olivier scandal) and the 1830s Romantics' obsession with lesbians and androgynes. There's an almost genealogical progression to it. Chateaubriand kicks off the impossible/unspeakable love theme with his creepy incestuous overtones toward his dead sister. He strings along the Duchesse de Duras, who is madly in love with him and sick of being jerked around, and who goes on to write a series of novellas about impossible love--not just star-crossed, but societally impossible for reasons of social class or racial difference. (Somewhere along the line Stendhal gets in on the action and writes Armance, where the male lead has a never-divulged secret that prevents him from marrying Armance, and Word of God has it that the secret is impotence, which was Not Discussed In Polite Society.) Mme de Duras attempts to marry off her daughter to the Marquis de Custine, who inexplicably refuses even though he likes the girl and everything is favorable to the marriage. Mme de Duras is more puzzled than infuriated by the refusal of her daughter, and tries to figure out why Custine would do such a thing, which ends in her writing a roman à clef
, Olivier ou le secret. Much like Armance, it is the tale of a perfect match that is prevented only by an unspeakable secret, and the secret is implied to be either incest or male impotence, but neither one fits perfectly. Olivier is never published. It is read only to a select circle of friends in her salon. A couple years later, Custine is found in a ditch beaten half to death by a group of soldiers, who had found out he had a rendez-vous with a strapping young officer, so his
secret is out. (Like everyone else in this tale, he goes on to write a screwed up 1820s Romantic novel, whose plot is mostly made up of sublimated Gay Issues--and Family Issues brought on by him having good cause to believe he was Chateaubriand's illegitimate son. I TOLD you there was a genealogical progression here.)
Meanwhile, Olivier remains unpublished (and will remain unpublished until the late 20th century), giving rise to all sorts of lewd speculation about what it could be about. Enter Henri de Latouche, who decides to play a practical joke on his friend the Duchesse de Duras. He writes a scandalous novel about an androgyne and publishes it under the title of Olivier ou le secret, in exactly the same format as her previous novels. Mme de Duras is unamused and gets him to knock it off, but it's too late, people are publishing fake Oliviers all over the place, often with scandalous content. As for Latouche, he reworks his a bit, changes the title to Fragoletta, and publishes it under his own name.
Instant hit! Balzac rips it off in two early novellas about androgynes, entitled Seraphita and Sarrasine, then admits it was an influence on The Girl with the Golden Eyes. Gautier cites it as an influence for Mademoiselle de Maupin. Two or three years after its publication, a young Aurore Dupin comes to Paris and causes scandal by dressing as a man and publishing pseudonymously under the name George Sand, then sleeps with a few Romantic poets, then causes further scandal through her ambiguous relationship with Marie Dorval. A lesbian pornographic novel, Gamiani ou deux nuits d'excès, appears anonymously, attributed to Sand's former boy-toy Musset and purportedly about her. Androgynes! Cross-dressers! Lesbians! And good heavens, could all this have anything to do with the prison marriages and the unspeakable third sex that are sneaking their way into the healthy novelistic fascination with crime?
I've read most of the screwed up sublimated 1820s novels. I've read most of the flamboyantly queer 1830s novels. But Fragoletta, the turning point between the two, is nearly impossible to find in print. I've wanted like burning
to obtain a copy for several years now.
And Smith has an autographed original edition just sitting on the library shelves? JAKL;JASFSJKL;ASD
[Dieu] entend ta voix, ô fille des hommes! aussi bien que celle des constellations; car rien n'est petit pour celui devant lequel rien n'est grand.
- George Sand, Les sept cordes de la lyre