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Au Naturel

Naturism, Nudism, and Tourism in Twentieth-Century France

Stephen L. Harp

Publication Year: 2014

Each year in France approximately 1.5 million people practice naturisme or "naturism," an activity more commonly referred to as "nudism." Because of France's unique tolerance for public nudity, the country also hosts hundreds of thousands of nudists from other European nations, an influx that has contributed to the most extensive infrastructure for nude tourism in the world. In Au Naturel, historian Stephen L. Harp explores how the evolution of European tourism encouraged public nudity in France, connecting this cultural shift with important changes in both individual behaviors and collective understandings of the body, morality, and sexuality.

Harp's study, the first in-depth historical analysis of nudism in France, challenges widespread assumptions that "sexual liberation" freed people from "repression," a process ostensibly reflected in the growing number of people practicing public nudity. Instead, he contends, naturism gained social acceptance because of the bodily control required to participate in it. New social codes emerged governing appropriate nudist behavior, including where one might look, how to avoid sexual excitation, what to wear when cold, and whether even the most modest displays of affection -- -including hand-holding and pecks on the cheek -- were permissible between couples.

Beginning his study in 1927 -- when naturist doctors first advocated nudism in France as part of "air, water, and sun cures" -- Harp focuses on the country's three earliest and largest nudist centers: the �le du Levant in the Var, Montalivet in the Gironde, and the Cap d'Agde in H�rault. These places emerged as thriving tourist destinations, Harp shows, because the municipalities -- by paradoxically reinterpreting inde-cency as a way to foster European tourism to France -- worked to make public nudity more acceptable.

Using the French naturist movement as a lens for examining the evolving notions of the body and sexuality in twentieth-century Europe, Harp reveals how local practices served as agents of national change.

Published by: Louisiana State University Press

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. vii-viii


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pp. ix-xii

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Note on Usage

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pp. xiii-xvi

I should note that the book’s title is not an error in English, though it could seem so in French. Like English-speaking tourists who marvel at the creative use of English words in France, native speakers of French who don’t speak English won’t have the foggiest notion of what au naturel is supposed to mean in this context....

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Introduction: France, the Nudist Paradise

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pp. 1-13

Rolf Roland introduced the German guide Nudism in France (Freie Körper Kultur in Frankreich) in 1963. Relying heavily on tropes well established by the time of its publication, Roland described the appeal of nudism in France and suggested, both implicitly and explicitly, many of its dynamics: ...

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1. Defining Interwar Naturism in Theory and Practice: The Drs. Durville

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pp. 14-49

Two brothers and doctors, Gaston and André Durville, justified their approach to naturism and nudism in 1929: “Isn’t it preferable to recruit five hundred thousand moderate naturists in France who really practice, and who . . . will progressively get a taste for sport in the open air, than to attract five or six...

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2. Advocating Nudism in Word and Deed: Marcel Kienné de Mongeot

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pp. 50-86

In 1933, at a “banquet of concord” to tamp down their rivalry, Gaston Durville justified the calculated caution of the Durvilles’ approach to nudism but also admitted the conceptual clarity of Marcel Kienné de Mongeot’s advocacy of complete nudism as well as his “courage.” After 1929, when the Durvilles beat...

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3. Saving the Île du Levant: International Nudism and Municipal Development

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pp. 87-124

In the 15 October 1952 edition of La France, journalist Henry-Marie Vidal reported that “the delights of Héliopolis, like [Al] Capone, are now known throughout the world. In the summer that just ended, 30,000 nudists peopled the island [of Levant] that was once so quiet. They spoke all languages, and particularly German. . . . Economists confirm that the Île du Levant, where...

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4. Managing Postwar Naturisme: Albert Lecocq and Montalivet

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pp. 125-162

When her husband Albert died suddenly in 1969 of complications from anesthesia for minor surgery, Christiane Lecocq received hundreds of letters and telegrams from around the world expressing sympathy for her loss; more than 10,000 people signed the livre d’or [guest book] at the funeral home.1 Perhaps most astonishingly, well-wishers were not seeking access to power but expressing...

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5. Creating Cap d’Agde: The “Naked City” and Sex Tourism

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pp. 163-196

In the summer of 1975, Pierre Morganti, the mayor of Ogliastro, a village near the Corsican city of Bastia, mobilized several anti-nudist militants to slather blue paint on the exposed bodies of fifteen nudists (presumably so that once police arrived they had proof that nudists had violated Article 330). “They are invading us,” claimed the Corsican.1 In the wake of this widely reported incident...

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pp. 197-210

The year 1974 was a turning point for nudism in postwar France. That year, delegates to the International Naturist Federation, representing some twentyeight countries, redefined naturisme: “[Le naturisme] is a lifestyle in harmony with nature, characterized by the practice of collective nudity, which has as its goal to foster respect for oneself, respect for others, and respect for the...


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pp. 211-258


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pp. 259-282


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pp. 283-293

Image Plates

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pp. 294-309

E-ISBN-13: 9780807155264
E-ISBN-10: 0807155268
Print-ISBN-13: 9780807155257

Page Count: 328
Illustrations: 25 halftones, 4 maps
Publication Year: 2014