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  • Living in Arcadia: Homosexuality, Politics, and Morality in France from the Liberation to AIDS
  • Susan B. Whitney
Living in Arcadia: Homosexuality, Politics, and Morality in France from the Liberation to AIDS. By Julian Jackson. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2009. Pp. 336. $40.00 (cloth).

Historians in France have been slower to make homosexuality a field of study than their English-speaking counterparts. As a result, large gaps remain in our knowledge of key aspects of the homosexual experience and the construction of modern homosexual identities. With this impressive study of Arcadie, the only homosexual organization in France for almost all of the 1950s and 1960s, the British historian Julian Jackson brings both the organization and these understudied decades to the historical record.

Jackson offers a thoroughly researched, fluently written, and cogently argued history of Arcadie and its complex founder and only head, André Baudry. Arcadie began in Paris in 1954 as Arcadie, Revue littéraire et scientifique and added three years later a private club where homosexuals could gather and dance in safety. Drawing on a wide range of sources, Jackson follows the organization from its beginnings in the repressive 1950s to its final years in the very different 1970s and early 1980s. In six main chapters, Jackson analyzes Arcadie’s diverse articles (including its forays into homosexual history); uncovers the organization’s membership (which was overwhelmingly male and heavily professional and eventually included Catholic priests and bishops); probes the complicated (and evolving) meanings Arcadie held for its members; and delineates Baudry’s vision of homosexuality, which he laid out during regular evening lectures that many likened to sermons. Jackson demonstrates how Baudry’s vision of homosexuality, which emphasized respectability, deplored effeminacy, and combined sex with a kind of spiritual communion, was influenced by his Jesuit upbringing and Catholic models of male community. [End Page 171]

Baudry’s vision and style of activism were derided by a generation of activists who came of age in the late 1960s and early 1970s, and the book’s main aim is to correct the caricatured view of Arcadie and its founder that later activists have created. To rethink Arcadie, Jackson situates the organization fully within its various historical moments, skillfully moving the narrative back and forth between political, legal, cultural, and social developments and the organization’s own struggles. As have other historians, Jackson points out that France’s image as a country of tolerance and liberation masked a more complicated and repressive reality. The France into which Arcadie was born featured a law outlawing all same-sex sexual acts involving young men and women under the age of twenty-one, a closely enforced Parisian ban on dancing between men, an obsessive emphasis on boosting the birthrate and promoting the family, and widespread concern over protecting the young. Arcadie was prohibited from being sold to minors (1954) or publicly displayed (1955), while Baudry himself was convicted on morals charges (1956). In these circumstances, Jackson argues convincingly, simply keeping the organization alive was an achievement, and Arcadie’s positions and actions were not only understandable but often admirable.

Jackson’s revisionist reading of Arcadie’s history is neither restricted to France nor one-dimensional. Adopting a transnational approach, Jackson connects Arcadie and its ideology to developments in the United States and elsewhere in Europe, arguing that the organization’s approach is only comprehensible when put in the context of the West’s “homophile moment” in the 1950s and early 1960s. For Jackson, Arcadie was part of a “homophile international” whose organizations cooperated and shared a common vision of homosexuality and a firm belief that homosexuals were entitled to the same respect and rights as other individuals. Once the sexual and political landscapes changed so dramatically across the West in the 1970s, Arcadie struggled to adapt. The organization advocated for legal change, organized conferences featuring speakers such as Michel Foucault, and urged its members to come out Arcadian-style, which involved speaking publicly about their sexuality but refraining from joining street demonstrations. The portrait that emerges is of an organization evolving on certain issues, including effeminacy and childhood sexuality, but refusing to budge on others, including the injunction to remain politically neutral...


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pp. 171-173
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