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  • Pederasts and Others: Urban Culture and Sexual Identity in Nineteenth Century Paris
  • Barry H. Bergen
Pederasts and Others: Urban Culture and Sexual Identity in Nineteenth Century Paris. By William A. Peniston (New York, London, Oxford: The Haworth Press, 2004. xi plus 258 pp. $24.95).

In Pederasts and Others, William Peniston has written the most detailed and revelatory exploration to date of the lives of lower class men who had sex with other men in nineteenth-century Paris. This study combines the virtue of breaking important new ground based on painstaking archival research with thorough attention to existing literature and debates, and to comparable studies in other European countries. For perhaps the first time we have a detailed look at the world of homosexual men from these classes based on police and court records. Out of the notes of police surveillance and court prosecution, Peniston teases the stories of their networks of friendships and loves, their encounters in public places, their forays into male prostitution, meetings in bars and bathhouses and public urinals, and a complex social network. Peniston has given us a portrait of a homosexual subculture in late nineteenth-century Paris. Even if the extent to which these men identified themselves as part of a subculture cannot be determined, the existence of their relationships with one another has now been clearly and incontrovertibly documented. Pederasts and Others opens essential new insights into the social and sexual history of mid-nineteenth Parisian men, particularly those we would call homosexual.

The heart of Peniston's research lies in a ledger kept by the Parisian police from 1873 to 1879 containing the names, addresses, ages and occupations of men who had or might have had sex with men, alongside the details of their arrest, the activities they were accused of, and the penalty they received. The existence of this ledger was based on a hypocritical irony of nineteenth-century French history. While France was a leader in removing sodomy laws in the 1790s during the Revolution, the police never stopped treating men who had sex with [End Page 798] other men as morally and criminally suspect. In the politically uncertain 1870s, following the disastrous Franco-Prussian War and the Paris Commune and before the consolidation of the parliamentary power of the Third Republic, police surveillance, harassment, arrest and conviction of men who had sex with men, most frequently charged with some variation of "public violations of morals," continued apace. We owe this particular ledger (and one of course wants to know if there are others) to Gustave Macé, whose title was "Chef du Service des Moeurs," roughly Chief of the Morals Bureau, and his special brigade of eight morals police assigned to the surveillance of the male homosexual subculture. It contains the names of 1818 individuals, of whom Peniston has analyzed 779 involved in 330 cases. He divides his study into three sections: the first, "The Forces of Authority," concerns the police, prosecutors, judges and doctors who either watched and arrested these men, condemned them in most cases to fines or imprisonment or both, or provided the changing medical models which justified their punishment. The second section, "The Subculture," examines the social, economic, and regional background of the men in the ledger, followed by an analysis of their sexual activity, their social networks, and their place in the geography of the city. The final section, "Case Studies," uses three different cases to illuminate different aspects of the subculture: one which implicates an aristocrat on the margins of these working-men's networks; one which shows the remarkable breadth of those networks, encompassing friendships, sex, and love, employment and sometimes prostitution; and one which uses a love affair gone bad to show how those networks could involve enduring relationships and jealousies, touch families and acquaintances, be known to colleagues and concierges, and even lead to murder.

It is difficult to summarize briefly the findings of this very rich study, and the many important questions it either answers or raises about men who had sex with men in nineteenth-century Paris. Among the essential data that should be noted is that these men were mostly young, with 60 percent under age...


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