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Libertines and the Law. Subversive Authors and Criminal Justice in Early Seventeenth-Century France

Adam Horsley

HORSLEY Adam, Libertines and the Law. Subversive Authors and Criminal Justice in Early Seventeenth-Century France, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2021.
ISBN : 9780197267004

Following the assassination of Henri IV in 1610, the political turbulence of Louis XIII’s early reign led to renewed efforts to police the book trade. Yet this period also witnessed a golden age of so-called ’libertine’ literature, including a plethora of sexually explicit and irreverent poetry as well as works of free-thinking that cast doubt on the dogma of Church and State. As France moved closer towards absolutism, a number of unorthodox writers were forced to defend themselves before the law courts.

Libertines and the Law examines the notorious trials of three subversive authors. The Italian naturalist philosopher Giulio Cesare Vanini was brutally executed for blasphemy by the Parlement de Toulouse in 1619. The Jewish convert Jean Fontanier was burned at the stake two years later in Paris for authoring a text refuting Christian teaching. Finally, the trial of the infamous poet Théophile de Viau for irreligion, obscenity, and poetic descriptions of homosexuality proved to be a landmark in French literary and social history, despite the poet eventually escaping the death penalty in 1625. These trials are contextualised with a conceptual history of libertinism, as well as an exploration of literary censorship and the mechanics of the criminal justice system in early modern France. Drawing from rarely explored archival sources, newly discovered evidence, and legal manuals, Libertines and the Law provides new insights into the censorship of French literature and thought from the perspectives of both the defendants and the magistrates. Through a diverse corpus including poetry, philosophical texts, religious polemics, Jewish teachings, and private memoirs, it sheds new light on this crucial period in literary, legal, and intellectual history.

Table des matières

List of illustrations
List of abbreviations
2:The Law
3:Hiding in Plain Sight : The Trial of Giulio Cesare Vanini (1618-19)
4:Authorial and Confessional Identity : The Trial of Jean Fontanier (1621)
5:A Last Stand : The Trial of Théophile de Viau (1623-25)
Glossary of legal terms

Adam Horsley is currently a British Academy Postdoctoral Research Fellow in French at the University of Exeter. He studied for his PhD at the University of Nottingham, one year of which was spent in Paris whilst teaching at the Université de Paris VII Denis Diderot. He subsequently taught at Nottingham for three years as an Honorary Visiting Research Fellow. He is the author of a number of studies on seventeenth-century French libertine literature, criminal history and material bibliography.