This is an impressive and meticulously researched historical study of the intersections of sexuality and politics during the Restoration, a period ‘oddly suspended’, in Andrew Counter’s phrase (p. 4), between the Ancien Régime and an unknown future. The period has long had an image problem: popular with right-wing historians, it is often seen in literary terms as the antechamber of the high Romanticism and realism of the July Monarchy. Counter reconstructs the literary and political ecology of the period, focusing on the areas in which sexual and political questions collide to form ‘textual “hotspots”’ (p. 18). Whilst he often suggests links between his sources and contemporary debates (for example, Lee Edelman’s ‘reproductive futurism’ (p. 79), gay marriage, and sexual liberation), and draws productively on a theoretical toolkit mined from the history of sexuality and queer theory, Counter is careful to avoid shoehorning intricate historical debates into present-centred categories. Much of the study is concerned with a sensitive reconstruction of vanished perspectives, and the elucidation of the sometimes fiendish communicative complexity of his source material. A key organizing principle of the study is Eve Sedgwick’s notion of ‘unrationalised coexistence’ (see p. 5), which Counter adapts to describe the co-existence of conflicting attitudes within the same period. His analyses range across the narrative of marital impediment, the Restoration equivalent of the subsequent bourgeois adultery plot; the politics of reproduction and the bourgeois family; la littérature galante, a titillating but not quite pornographic genre; the querelle d’Olivier surrounding Claire de Duras’s Olivier, contextualized in relation to the public shaming of the Marquis de Custine; a sex murder, by the priest Mingrat, which became enmeshed in anti-clerical controversy; Charles Nodier and Charles Fourier’s pre-occupation with incest as an example of the historically contingent nature of sexual practices; and pamphlets of 1830 that slandered the sexuality of the dethroned Charles X. Interweaving diverse texts and genres in this way, Counter succeeds in conveying the polyphonic quality of Restoration understandings of sex and love, as well as the frequency with which they were caught up in acrimonious ideological disputes. The study analyses a wide corpus of narrative fiction, most of which is barely read today; insightfully elucidates the Restoration’s ‘tortured aesthetics of avoidance’ (p. 20) associated with ellipsis, allusion, and innuendo (and resultant hypertrophy of interpretation in those intent upon reading between the lines); and conveys a strong sense of the gossipy, close-knit nature of the Restoration’s cultural élite. There are potentially controversial omissions, including a decision not to analyse Stendhal’s De l’amour (1822), the most influential theory of love produced during the Restoration and surely relevant to Counter’s discussion of the historical contingency of love; and no direct discussion of sentimentalism, although, as William M. Reddy shows in The Navigation of Feeling: A Framework for the History of Emotions (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001), this movement had important socio-political implications. Finally, relatively little space is devoted to the subjective experiences of lusting, longing, and pining, despite some poignant evocations of the intractable difficulties of desire for writers of all political persuasions. Such caveats aside, this thoughtful study will significantly enrich understandings of both this period and the wider literary culture of nineteenth-century France. © The Author 2017. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the Society for French Studies. All rights reserved. For Permissions, please email: firstname.lastname@example.org
French Studies – Oxford University Press
Published: Jan 1, 2018
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