This project provides an analysis of the folding screen as a literary agent and signifier which reflects the cultural happenings of the eighteenth century with specific emphasis on new ideas about queerness which arise in France during the eighteenth century. I will focus primarily on the Marquis de Sade’s (1740-1814) Justine, ou Les Malheurs de la vertu (1791) (as well as La Nouvelle Justine, 1797) and John Cleland’s (1709-1789) Le Fille de Joie (translated 1751) with reference to Jean-Louis Fougeret de Monbron’s (1706-1760) Margot la Ravaudeuse (1753), Sade’s Philosophie dans le boudoir Jean-François de Bastide’s (1724-1798) La Petite Maison (1763). The central arguments of this paper are three-fold: first, that the folding screen functions within the narrative of the erotic novel as a means of obscuring boundaries and, ultimately, forcing the reader to confront their own morality. In addition to this, the screen also serves as a signifier of the limitations and capabilities of the novel form in expressing complete truth and influencing the reader. Second, I propose that, through the use of first-person perspective and the folding-screen motif, the reader/viewer is implicated in the acts of sodomy that occur, and are either made more susceptible to the philosophical defenses of homosexuality or made to question the condemnations of homosexuality present in these texts. Third, and finally, I find that the male authors of these novels, in writing first person narratives through the voice of a young girl, are performing what I call an authorial masquerade which necessarily plays with questions of gender and gender expression that are key in eighteenth-century discourse. Notably, in performing this “masquerade” the author is also bringing up questions about sexuality, considering this is the male author writing about a female character having sex with a male character (or in some cases, being attracted to a “homosexual” character).
Dr. Rajani Sudan
Dr. Thomas DiPiero
Art History/Criticism/Conservation, Art, Architecture, Humanities, Language and Literature, Romance
Number of Pages
Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 4.0 License
Delony, Katherine, "Scenes of Screens, Scenes of Sodomy: The Role and Impact of the Folding Screen in Eighteenth-Century French Erotic Novels" (2022). English Undergraduate Distinction Projects. 3.
European Languages and Societies Commons, Fiber, Textile, and Weaving Arts Commons, French and Francophone Literature Commons, Furniture Design Commons, History of Gender Commons, Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Studies Commons, Theory and Criticism Commons