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Deviance C

Deviance C Deviance Week 12 - Sexual Deviants

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  1. Please reply to this thread with your comments on an article/book you have read for this week's seminar. 

  2. On behalf of Sophie White: 

    K. O'Donnell and M. O'Rourke (eds), Queer Masculinities, 1550-1800: Siting Same Sex Desire in the Early Modern World (Basingstoke, 2006) - Helmut Puff, A State of Sin: Switzerland and the Early Modern Imaginary

    Switzerland underwent a cultural change in their perception as sexual deviants in the 18th century. Moreover, that a new perspective on male sexuality could be unearthed by less of a focus on England and Italy. Throughout time nations have adopted shifting associations conceived and maintained in the collective international imagination with a particular branch of sexual deviance, Italy and sodomy, France and bestiality. These national stereotypes were used to form insults which often shared their names with that for religious deviance such as ‘heretic’. Switzerland was in the medieval period considered to be strongly associated with bestiality due to the rural nature of the people and their unconventional loosely structured political system. However, this conception shifted in the 18th century when Switzerland became associated instead with the beauty of its natural countryside and therefore spiritual peace and purity and the idea of the peasantry turned instead to represent the noble peasant.

  3. L. Fradenburg and C. Freccero, (eds.), Premodren Sexualities, (Routledge, 1996)

    This edited collection attempts to bring together theoretical discussions on premodern sexuality, while emphasising problems in historical interpretations of early textualisations of sexuality. The collection is primarily interested in sexuality, sexual practices, identities and communities in the early modern period, and seeks to explore these themes through queer theory and work on the history of sexuality. Historiographically, the collection aims at solving a key question, which regards whether cultures of premodern Europe emphasised sexual acts rather than identities in their understanding of the body. In other words, did Early Modern European society really take the presumed ethico-judicial form of permitted vs prohibited acts of the Church, or was society more characterised by a number of grey areas? This in turn would suggest a much more relaxed actual state of affairs. As such, Fradenburg and Freccero present that sex has a history which is subject to change and as much a part of an ever evolving history as all other historical processes. Premodern sexualities, it is presented here, are not only intimately related to how we consider sexuality now, but study of sexuality can enable a better understanding of the ethical structures at stake in historical thinking.

    The collection is essentially based upon the belief that modernity and premodernity are mutually constructed, and therefore aims to provide use to students of modern as well as premodern sexuality and erotic practices. The book self appreciates problems with reference to distinguishing between premodern understanding of sodomy and homosexuality. Moreover, it introduces the question of what works of fiction are at work in conventional periodisation and understanding of sexuality. Further, it suggests imprecision of the term 'sexuality' with respect to gender: does the premodern fascination with the 'secrets' of the woman's body too easily efface the erotic practices of women? What of hermaphrodites and criminality? All are encompassed in a skillful conclusion which argues that 'the past may not be present, but it is sometimes in the present'. As such, through looking at the ways in which historicisms are currently questioning sexuality, and vice versa, they 'will work to affirm the pleasures of mortal creatures'.

  4. K. Crawford, European Sexualities, 1400-1800 (Cambridge, 2007)

    Crawford attempts a large-scale review of sexuality within Europe over a 400-year period, devoting chapters to all of the main issues that were touched upon within the lecture; the role of the Church, the history of masturbation and the debate over the nature of early modern homosexuality, to name but three. One chapter, devoted to 'Deviancy', primarily deals with the history of homosexuality and whether people truly considered themselves to be homosexuals, discovering a complex layer of deviancy within European society, one that relies on what is nowadays considered natural urges, but also one that required the ability to find other 'deviants' to indulge in, leading to individuals such as 'Mother Clap' appearing. Crawford also examines gender relationships through all of the examples of sexual deviancy encountered in this book, concluding that sex and sexual relationships were as much about oppression and control than desire and arousal. Overall, the book considers the historiographical arguments very well; the aforementioned example of gender is considered within the more modern feminist prism and the older attitudes, and the shifts over time are well-documented and analysed. Furthermore, a wealth of primary  documents are used to examine the claims from secondary sources, ensuring that the arguments are rarely, if ever, distant or alien to the reader. 

    Criticism of the book can be found in the fact that a source that attempts to be intended for easy consumption by undergraduate and non-specialist readers can often be buried in complex language, meaning that the points made are often blurred and lack their full impact. As well as this, the characterisation of women with regards to sexuality is one that gives no opportunity for agency or control on their behalf, despite the examples of many remarkable women within this sphre, examples that are largely ignored. It may be that the author considers these examples unreliable or not characterising the day-to-day life of women, but the lack of engagement with what the author presumably considers to be outliers means that the book lacks a comprehensive review of an important topic, and one that the author often examines.

  5. J.A. Brundage, Law, Sex and Christian Society in Medieval Europe (Chicago, 1987)

    Brundage discusses how every human society attempts to control sexual behavior, since sex represents a rich source of conflicts that can disrupt orderly social processes. As the title suggests, he makes repeated links between the control of human sexuality and the importance of this with regard to maintaining law and order in European society. There was a great correlation between sexuality and the way that society worked to control it. He also discusses how many ideas about sexual deviance were not Christian in origin but adopted by Christians in Medieval Europe.  He says that human sexuality was seen as a overly powerful and explosive force and this is why courts worked to regulate it as they could not allow members of the society complete sexual freedom. Laws about sexual morality had existed as early as the mid-sixth century, after they originated as doctrine. However, authorities moved with more urgency after c. 1350 and this increased further during the Reformation. He sees Western Christendom as having been more restrictive with regard to sensual pleasure than most other human societies, and says that Western Christians have commonly associated sensuality with sin, guilt, and fear of damnation. Christian morality has created sexual sin on a massive scale and this is why it had to be regulated. He makes a convincing argument concerning the relationship between law and sex in christian society as well as discussing why this relationship was seen as neccesary. It was increasing regulated throughout medieval and early modern Europe.


  6. J.A. Brundage, Law, Sex and Christian Society in Medieval Europe (Chicago, 1987)

    On behalf of Sian Gilbert: 

    N. Davidson, ‘Theology, Nature and the Law: Sexual Sin and Sexual Crime in Italy from the Fourteenth to the Seventeenth Century’, in T. Dean and K. Lowe (eds), Crime, Society and the Law in Renaissance Italy (Cambridge, 1993):

    Nicholas Davidson begins with explaining that the Italian Renaissance references sex in its texts to a huge degree. For example, even prostitution, troilism, lesbianism and anal intercourse are reported. Necrophilia, incest and bestiality are also discussed. Male homosexuality is alluded to very commonly by many authors, such as Beccadelli, Parabosco and Francesco Berni. Male humanists not only wrote about these practices but experimented with them too.
    He argues this implies Renaissance Italy tolerated and even encouraged forms of behaviour that were prosecuted elsewhere. Not everyone within Italy approved – Matteo Villani described how moral standards had slipped in Italy since the Black Death. A pamphlet in London complained how the fashion of men kissing was brought over from Italy.
    In the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries some attempts to regulate these activities were made, followed by efforts to monitor morality more strictly during the Counter-Reformation. Catholic views on sex in this period were due to the writings of Thomas Aquinas, who argued all things had been created by God for a specific purpose (hence, procreation).
    The problem with his methods of analysing how Italians established sexual crime and sin and their reactions towards such deeds, which he acknowledges, is that the terms for such acts often varied. It is not easy to know which activity the sources are referring to. He has to rely on legal and judicial records for much of their information. While they inform us a great deal, obviously they were only concentrated mainly on practices that were condemned and the decision to label these as unlawful were made by the men who monopolised power in church and state, whose priorities did not match the opinion of the whole community.
    Therefore, he argues to interpret sources fully one must begin with an examination of the attitudes amongst the elite. The governments’ ambition was containment, rather than annihilation.​

  7. On behalf of Hannah:

    M. Ingram, ‘Child Sexual Abuse in Early Modern England’ in M.J. Braddick and J. Walter (eds), Negotiating Power in Early Modern Society: Order, Hierarchy and Subordination in Britain and Ireland (Cambridge, 2001), pp. 63-84.

    By using judicial records, Martin Ingram argues that children (girls under twelve years of age) were sexually abused in the early modern period, despite historians paying little attention to, and when it is considered, understating, this aspect of sexual deviancy. Although he acknowledges that cases were by no means frequent, Ingram claims that child abuse cases were a significant proportion of general rape cases taken to court at this time. Where cases were tried in court he maintains that society ‘ took the sexual abuse of children seriously and certainly dealt hardly with convicted offenders.’ While Martin Ingram does not generalise throughout the main body of the essay, showing that each case differed, for example in sentencing, abuser, reaction of the victim, his concluding comments do not seem to strictly follow/match this, perhaps being too over-assertive for the evidence he provided. He also does not really answer whether contemporaries recognised it to be a serious problem, which he claims he will do in his introduction. However, the chapter provides a good coverage of key areas for the topic, providing a starting point for historiography of this area.

  8. Naphy, William, Sex Crimes: From Renaissance to Enlightenment (Gloucestershire, 2002)

    Chapter 5 – Sodomites and male sexual deviance

    Naphy begins by asserting that cases of ‘unnatural sex’ were far less common than acts of ‘illegal sex’, such as adultery, rape and prostitution. The category of unnatural sex here seems to refer to almost anything outside of procreative sex within the institution of marriage. However, in this chapter, Naphy deals largely with cases of sexual interaction between two men, and the varying reactions of society to this form of supposedly deviant behaviour.

    In his exploration of male sexual deviance, Naphy considers various case studies, before coming to a number of conclusions about the most important features of these cases, particularly in regards to the reactions of the courts to such behaviour. He comes to several conclusions:

    - Deviant sexual behaviour between two men could continue for a long time before coming to the attention of the courts.
    - Courts struggled to decide on an ‘age of accountability’ for those involved in such behaviour.
    - Courts did not have a conception of a ‘stereotypical sodomite’.
    - Courts did not generally believe that ‘sodomitical’ acts were one-off events, and so were interested in the sexual history of the participants when deciding how they should be punished.

    However, Naphy does suggest that attitudes to male sexual deviants began to change during the eighteenth century; a stereotype about how ‘sodomites’ may appear and act began to develop, and men who had sex with other men were increasingly seen as only attracted to that gender.

  9. Davidson, N. 'Theology, Nature and the Law' In: Dean, T. and Lowe, K. J. P. (1994) eds., Crime, society and the law in Renaissance Italy. Ch.5, pp.74-98

    • Davidson writes that Italian literature in the renaissance abounded with references to sex, and many texts openly discussed practices considered deviant. Moreover, he argues that it is likely that some of these writers engaged in these practices. Foreign writers assumed that sexual variance was commonplace in Italy, as is exemplified by pamphlets like ‘Satan's Harvest Home’ (London, 1749), which described Italy as the ‘mother and nurse of sodomy’. It is important to remember, he argues, that the main source for historians is court records, which may reflect the views of a small elite, but not necessarily popular opinion.
    • The importance of Aquinas: he posits in summa theologica that all things have a purpose (divinely inspired). The purpose of genitalia is to reproduce, and to use them in any other way is to thus reject divine will. He also wrote about marriage, which for him signified the union of Christ and church. Adultery undermines this symbolic monogamy. Later on, some Catholic writers, like Bartolomeo Fumi, begin to argue for the naturalness of sexual desire, and accept its presence within a marriage. These ideas were reinforced by the ‘scientific corroboration’ of Vesalius, who argued that sexual desire was given by god to encourage people to propagate.
    • Approaches to abortion become more lenient in the 16th century, based on the Medieval idea that it is only murder after the foetus has a soul (a concept which is widened). Martin de Azpilcueta argues in favour of early abortions in cases where the mother’s life is at risk. The punishment of sodomy and homosexuality was unrelenting, and death was prescribed in such cases throughout the period, though the sentence was not always carried out in practice and often account was taken of who took the ‘active’ and ‘passive’ roles.
    • Economics also played an important role: defloration of an unmarried woman put wealth at risk by threatening her eligibility to marry, adultery could make inheritance troublesome. In terms of prostitution, Davidson argues that its de facto legalisation in some cities was based on the fact that men were marrying later, and the belief that they needed a focus for their sexual energies other than respectable women. Notions of sexual immortality were, therefore, concerned with both worldly and religious matters
    • Davidson concludes that secular authorities in renaissance Italy were not convinced that they could abolish sexual immorality, though this did not preclude legislation (perhaps as a response to the perceived divine punishment of the Black Death). He also notes that enforcement did not increase proportionately with severity. ‘The government’s ambition was clearly containment, rather than annihilation’.