Herculine Barbin: Being the Recently Discovered Memoirs of a Nineteenth-century French Hermaphrodite

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Herculine Barbin: Being the Recently Discovered Memoirs of a Nineteenth-century French Hermaphrodite
Herculine Barbin book cover.png
Cover of Herculine Barbin: Being the Recently Discovered Memoirs of a Nineteenth-century French Hermaphrodite
Author Herculine Barbin and Michel Foucault
Translator Richard McDougall
Country France
Language English, French
Publisher Pantheon Books
Publication date
June 12, 1980
Pages 199 (Pantheon Books paperback)
ISBN ISBN 0-394-73862-4
ISBN 978-0-394-73862-8
OCLC 5800446
616.69400924

Herculine Barbin: Being the Recently Discovered Memoirs of a Nineteenth-century French Hermaphrodite is a 1980 English-language translation of Herculine Barbin's nineteenth-century memoirs, which were originally written in French. The book contains an introduction by Michel Foucault, which only appears in the English-language translation of the memoirs.[1] Foucault discovered Barbin's memoirs during his research about hermaphroditism for The History of Sexuality.[2]

Herculine Barbin was born in 1838 as a female. Unlawfully in love with another woman,[3] she was forced to transform into a male in 1860 because of a judge's orders.[4] After the sex transformation, Barbin's name was changed, and Barbin was referred as either Camille or Abel.[5] In 1868, Barbin committed suicide due to her inability to make the transition from female to male.[4]

Foucault explained in his introduction that the objective of social institutions was to restrict "the free choice of indeterminate individuals".[6] He noted that the legal efforts in the 1860s and 1870s to control gender identity occurred despite centuries of comparative acceptance of hermaphroditism.[7] During the Middle Ages, Foucault wrote, hermaphrodites were viewed as people who had an amalgamation of masculine and feminine traits. When they reached adulthood, hermaphrodites in the Middle Ages were allowed to decide whether they wanted to be male or female.[8] However, this procedure was abandoned in later times, when scientists decided that each person only had one real gender. When a person demonstrated the physical or mental traits of the opposite sex, such aberrations were deemed random or inconsequential.[8] Scholars Elizabeth A. Meese and Alice Parker noted that the memoir's lessons are applicable to the contemporary world in that the lack of a clear gender identity transgresses the truth.[9]

The collection of memoirs inspired Jeffrey Eugenides to write Middlesex. Believing that the memoir evaded discussion about intersex individuals' anatomy and emotions, Eugenides concluded that he would "write the story that I wasn't getting from the memoir".[10]

Commemoration[edit]

The birthday of Herculine Barbin is marked in Intersex Day of Remembrance on 8 November.

References[edit]

  1. ^ Wilson 1996, p. 52
  2. ^ Brown, Frederick (1980-10-09). "The Heroic Hermaphrodite". The New York Review of Books. Archived from the original on 2010-05-07. Retrieved 2010-05-07. 
  3. ^ Meese & Parker 1989, p. 5
  4. ^ a b Daileader & Whalen 2010, p. 264
  5. ^ van den Wijngaard 1997, p. 3
  6. ^ Barbin & Foucault 1980, p. viii
  7. ^ Hart 1989, p. 279
  8. ^ a b Oksala 2005, pp. 115–116
  9. ^ Meese & Parker 1989, p. 6
  10. ^ Goldstein, Bill (2003-01-01). "A Novelist Goes Far Afield but Winds Up Back Home Again". The New York Times. Archived from the original on 2010-02-21. Retrieved 2010-02-01. 

Bibliography[edit]