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The Reinvention of Obscenity

Sex, Lies, and Tabloids in Early Modern France

The concept of obscenity is an ancient one. But as Joan DeJean suggests, its modern form, the same version that today’s politicians decry and savvy artists exploit, was invented in seventeenth-century France.

The Reinvention of Obscenity casts a fresh light on the mythical link between sexual impropriety and things French. Exploring the complicity between censorship, print culture, and obscenity, DeJean argues that mass market printing and the first modern censorial machinery came into being at the very moment that obscenity was being reinvented—that is, transformed from a minor literary phenomenon into a threat to society. DeJean’s principal case in this study is the career of Moliére, who cannily exploited the new link between indecency and female genitalia to found his career as a print author; the enormous scandal which followed his play L’école des femmes made him the first modern writer to have his sex life dissected in the press.

Keenly alert to parallels with the currency of obscenity in contemporary America, The Reinvention of Obscenity will concern not only scholars of French history, but anyone interested in the intertwined histories of sex, publishing, and censorship.

224 pages | 10 halftones | 6 x 9 | © 2002

Culture Studies

Language and Linguistics: General Language and Linguistics

Literature and Literary Criticism: Romance Languages

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
Introduction: "The Words That Shock So Much at First"
1 Male Practices: Théophile de Viau’s "Sodomite Sonnet"
2 The Heterosexual Turn: L’Ecole des filles or, When (the) Sex Began to Talk
3 Two-Letter Words: Moliére’s L’Ecole des femmes and Obscenity Made Modern
Conclusion: Beyond Obscenity?
Works Cited


Modern Language Association: MLA Scaglione Prize for French and Francophone Studies

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