Herculine Barbin

Geertje Mak

in Doubting Sex

Published by Manchester University Press

Published in print December 2011 | ISBN: 9780719086908
Published online July 2012 | e-ISBN: 9781781702628 | DOI:
Herculine Barbin

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  • Modern History (1700 to 1945)


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This chapter explains the historical notion of the self in relation to Herculine Barbin's autobiographic text. It specifically investigates the memoirs of Barbin in order to elaborate on the problem of the (absence of) the sexed self. The content of Barbin's writing might not have linked sex to a modern sense of self, but its form certainly opened a passageway to a more personalized understanding of sex. Barbin considered his feelings as a young man for young women to be natural. It shows Barbin's moral doubts because he felt himself to betray her environment, and moral disruption of all his previous social relations tormented his conscience. It is concluded that sex is a social, economic and moral position in Barbin's autobiographic writing. Barbin's text created the first truly ‘humanitarian narrative’ about the troubles of an ambiguous sex.

Keywords: Herculine Barbin; sexed self; sex; autobiographic text; memoirs; moral doubts; humanitarian narrative; conscience

Chapter.  12220 words. 

Subjects: Modern History (1700 to 1945)

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