In the late 1880s, a dashing young Italian aristocrat confesses his life story to the famous novelist Émile Zola. In his revealing text, he frankly describes his seduction as a teenager by one of his father’s (male) friends, his first love affair with a sergeant in his military regiment, and his “extraordinary” personality. Judging it too controversial, Zola gives it to a young doctor, Georges Saint-Paul, who publishes a censored version in 1896 in a medical study on sexual perversion. A few months later, the Italian finds this medical treatise in a bookstore and is shocked to discover that the doctor censored and distorted the most daring parts of his text in order to support his own theories. He protests by writing a long, unapologetic, and even more daring letter to the doctor, defending his right to lead his own life.
Based on the newly discovered manuscript of the letter to the doctor, along with some additional resources, this edition is the first complete, unexpurgated version in English of this very famous gay autobiography. It brings to light the uniquely nineteenth-century experience of a privileged young man, forthrightly expressing his desires and defending his right to pleasure. Two analytical essays–one by Michael Rosenfeld on the relationship between Zola, Saint-Paul, and the Italian “invert,” and the other by Clive Thomson on the doctor’s career–provide further context to this remarkable voice from the past.
The Italian Invert
is a rare autobiography in which a gay man frankly describes his desires, loves and life at the end of the nineteenth century. Written in French and previously published in censored versions only, recently discovered manuscripts allow readers to discover for the first time in English the complete story of this dashing young Italian aristocrat who dared to defend his right to sexual pleasure. It will appeal to anyone interested in the history of homosexuality, queer identities, or gender diversity. As an original source for the study of autobiographical texts as historical documents, it will serve undergraduate or graduate students in history and literature, in both French and Italian studies. Researchers in Jewish studies will be interested in the author’s revelations about his Jewish mother and her family. It is also an important addition to existing publications for historians of medicine, psychology, and sexology.