Lucien Descaves on Trial: Naturalism, Sexual Politics and Patriotism in the Third Republic

This article examines the 1890 trial of young Naturalist writer Lucien Descaves, in which he was charged with, and later acquitted for, “injures à l’armée” and “outrages aux bonnes mœurs” following the publication of his antimilitary novel Sous-Offs (1889). I argue that literary style dominates the trial, not least because one of its key figures was an Idealist novelist with a fervent hatred of Naturalism. The article situates the trial in the context of debates about the social function of literature in the Third Republic and, crucially, anxieties about the reading habits of the peuple. I show that the trial offers a privileged lens for understanding the pressure Naturalism was under at this point in the century, insofar as it brings together, and then stages in the form of debate, the many social and cultural flashpoints touched on by the novel and how they might be represented in fiction.

Isabel Maloney
University of Cambridge