Thursday: McClive on Measuring Masculinity in Early Modern France

1.00 pm Thursday 13 March, at the Medical History Seminar in Queen’s Room D:

Dr Cathy McClive (University of Durham) will speak on ‘Secret Bodies: Measuring Masculinity in Early Modern France’.

‘Women’s Secrets’ have long been the focus of gender and medical history for the late medieval and early modern periods at the expense of investigation into male corporeality. Indeed, it is only very recently that scholars have begun to turn their attention to masculinity, and to explore the impact of changing ideas of civility and sociability on ideals of manliness. Such interest remains for the most part largely Anglo-centric and, as both Kathleen Long and Katharine Crawford have recently pointed out; little work has been done on masculinity in early modern France. Moreover, investigations into the male body have for the most part presented it as a fixed, stable, but ‘little-defined norm’ against which the leaky, grotesque, mysterious and deceptive female body was mapped. The result of this is the imposition of a single, dominant interpretation of masculinity against which the imperfect female was measured. But was the male body really so much more straightforward and transparent than its female counterpart? Did it really hold no secrets of its own?

This is a paper about the secrets of the male body, about deceptive surfaces and secret interiors, about thresholds, boundaries, orifices and secretions. It is about the practices of bodily secrecy and public methods of disclosure through medical investigations and court cases. This paper investigates the judicial unravelling of the secret male body through a close reading of three cases of alleged hermaphroditism in early modern France. It argues that bodies, and particularly the male body do not cease to be a locus of secrets in the eighteenth century despite shifts in ideas about sexual difference and that the penis could prove as elusive and secretive as the uterus.


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  1. Ted Vallance has just put up on his blog a note about an EARLY MODERN VIRTUAL RESEARCH GROUP SEMINAR that has been meeting on-line for the last year and a half. There are details of its participants and discussions available via the link he has provided. I am sure we shall see more such ventures in the very near future.

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