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The Emancipation of the Flesh: The Legacy of Romanticism in the Homosexual Rights Movement

  • Robert D. Tobin

…plus d’informations

  • Robert D. Tobin
    Whitman College and Program for the Study of Sexuality, Gender, Health and Human Rights, Columbia University

Corps de l’article

Because of frequent classical references in nineteenth- and twentieth-century texts advocating homosexual rights, historians have stressed the contribution of Classicism to the emergence of modern sexual identities, neglecting the role of Romanticism in the development of the homosexual emancipation movement. Among the Romantically inspired concepts that ground the ideology of homosexual emancipation is the notion of “Bildung,” articulated by Goethe and central to the coming-out story. In addition, Romantic science’s belief in mind-body unity allows for a sexuality covering both psychological and physical traits. Finally, the Romantic rhetoric of emancipation, specifically “the emancipation of the flesh,” helped make possible the homosexual emancipation movement. Among the Romantics, this emancipation of the flesh came in the context of discussions concerning women and Jews, but the homosexual emancipation movement quickly adopted and adapted the vocabulary of these discussions. The study of two literary texts (Schlegel’s Lucinde and Gutzkow’s Wally) and the analysis of two nineteenth-century apologists of same-sex desire (Heinrich Hössli and Karl Heinrich Ulrichs) demonstrate the legacy of Romanticism in the homosexual emancipation movement.

Friedrich Schlegel’s Lucinde

Friedrich Schlegel’s novel Lucinde of 1799, an early statement of Romantic thought on sexual politics, was a manifesto for the emancipation of the flesh. Told primarily from the perspective of Julius, the novel focuses on Lucinde, a freethinking woman Julius wants as his life partner. Despite its sexually provocative nature, the novel’s programmatic and didactic style prevented it from capturing the public’s enthusiasm. As the poet Heinrich Heine observed, “Lucinde is the name of the heroine of the novel and she is a sensual witty woman, or rather a mixture of sensuality and wit. Her failing is precisely that she is not a woman, but a tedious mixture of two abstractions” (5: 63). [1] Whatever its artistic failings, though, the novel aroused the ire of conservative readers; indeed, Schlegel himself disavowed it as he lost his youthful revolutionary verve in later years. Precisely the abstract political message embedded in this early German Romantic text, however, helped ground the homosexual emancipation movement.

Underlying the assumptions of Lucinde is the Goethean conception of “Bildung,” which can be rather inadequately translated as “development” or “education.” Friedrich Schlegel had been one of the first readers to respond publicly and enthusiastically to Goethe’s Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahre (Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship [1795-96]), which is generally considered the first bildungsroman. Schlegel paid homage to Goethe’s work by entitling the central chapter of Lucinde “Lehrjahre der Männlichkeit” ‘Apprenticeship to Manhood.’ On one level at least, Goethe’s idea of Bildung promotes the idea, first, that one is organically and naturally becoming what one is—that one is going through a process of discovering one’s true self—and, second, that one learns to integrate that self into society. Romantic irony certainly undercuts many of these organic ideas of a natural authentic self, but nonetheless Lucinde starts from a belief in Bildung in the sense that its characters need to undergo a learning process in order to shed the beliefs, conventions, and traditions that society has imposed upon them. As these characters demolish the false structures that had organized their life, they reorganize society as well, trying to create a better place for themselves and others.

One of the correlative assumptions of Bildung is the unity of mind and body. One’s development as a person encompasses both physical and mental aspects. Although these issues are not discussed explicitly in Lucinde, they show up implicitly in the extensive discussion of gender, for in this novel the soul is as gendered as the body. This assumption of mind-body unity is an absolute necessity for both of what David Halperin considers the prerequisites to the development of a modern notion of homosexuality: “the invention of homosexuality [. . .] had [. . .] to await the eighteenth-century discovery and definition of sexuality as the total ensemble of physiological and psychological mechanisms governing the individual’s genital functions [. . .] [and] in the second place, the nineteenth-century interpretation of sexuality as a singular ‘instinct’ or ‘drive’” (26). Romantic science, with its efforts at unifying the natural and the creative world, was at home with both of the developments that Halperin mentions and contributed vitally to the evolution of modern notions of sexuality.

The Bildung of the characters in Lucinde concerns primarily gender and sexuality. Lucinde and her lover Julius play games in which they assume behaviours generally associated with the other character’s gender, competing to see whether she is more successful at emulating “the gentle strength of the man” or he at imitating “the attractive submission of the woman” (15). In particular, Lucinde transcends the boundaries of her gender, which allows her to become her mate’s friend as well as lover (12). At the time of its publication, perhaps the novel’s most controversial hope was that women should be desiring agents, rather than desired objects. Julius’s previous lover in the novel was a prostitute who had picked up a young manservant, “a picture-perfect boy whom she had specially seduced when he was fourteen” (55). This woman is willing to act on her sexuality: “If she liked a man, she took him to her sacred chambers; then she seemed to become a completely new person. She went into a beautiful Bacchanalian frenzy. Wild, dissipated and unquenchable, she almost forgot art and fell into an enthralling adoration of manhood” (57). The prostitute’s adoration of manhood makes clear that the text fails in many ways to dislodge masculinity from a privileged position, but it nonetheless programmatically presents strong sexually free women as part of the ideals of Romanticism.

The prostitute’s glorification of masculinity and her seduction of the fourteen-year-old boy also contribute to the novel’s gender-bending agenda in objectifying the male. A variety of beautiful and androgynous men people one of Julius’s dreams, which is described as an “allegory of impudence” (20-21). The narrator comments upon Julius’s own beauty, which transcends gender norms as well: “Julius was handsome in a masculine way, but the masculinity of his figure did not reveal itself in the power of his muscles. Rather, his outline was soft, his limbs full and round, although not excessively so” (73-74). This soft masculinity is vulnerable to the penetrating gaze of objectification.

The novel also glorifies intense male friendship. In his youth, Julius “embraced with hot love and a true frenzy of friendship men who were somewhat like himself” (47). After the death of his lover the prostitute, he throws himself into passionate friendships with young men. He and his band of friends are “drunk on pride and masculinity,” and discourse “primarily about the divinity of masculine friendship, which Julius planned to make the actual business of his life” (59-60). Toward the end of the novel, Julius goes to live with a group of heroic men and asks the rhetorical question: “Can men who want to live together ever be too tender in their behaviour toward one another?” (102). Even if this vocabulary is in some ways a holdover from the rhetoric of intense male friendship common in the eighteenth century, it has become clear at least since the work of George Haggerty that such rhetoric allowed a considerable space for queer readings. As the century drew to a close and the cult of friendship fell out of favour, it became all the more sexually suspect.

Besides the objectified attractive young men, there are a number of other indicators of Greek love in the text. The narrator compares Julius to Ganymede in a way that explicitly alludes to Zeus’s ravishment of the youth (81). Lucinde tells Julius to “put the hyacinths away,” which is suggestive, because—as Louis Crompton has demonstrated (141-42)—hyacinths at this time were used as codes for Greek love, Hyacinth being Apollo’s beloved. There is even a repeated preference expressed for being “warm” as opposed to “hot” or “cold,” which is curious because the term “warm brother” was in fact already being employed in German to describe men who had sex with men (27, 89). [2] In addition, the text makes references to Plato’s Symposium, not surprisingly as Schlegel had written a significant essay on Diotima in 1797. The novel proposes a revision of Diotima’s ladder, however, suggesting that the purpose of love is not merely a striving for the infinite, but also “the sacred enjoyment of the beautiful present” (80). Given that the enjoyment of the beautiful present portrayed in the Symposium would involve men taking carnal pleasure in their male beloveds, it becomes clear why scholars such as Catriona MacLeod and Martha Helfer have put forward queer readings of this novel.

Despite his advocacy of changing the gender order, Schlegel maintains as many gender dichotomies as he overcomes and generally works on the assumption that the masculine and the feminine must come together in order to create a full person. Toward the end of the novel, Julius feels that his relationship with Lucinde has made him able “to work as a man among men, to begin and to carry out a heroic life, and to act for eternity in a brotherly fashion with friends” (87). In short, he plans “to become like the gods” (87). Lucinde’s role in this plan is “to reveal quietly the secret of love as a priestess of joy and in the midst of worthy sons and daughters to dedicate beautiful life to a holy festival” (87). All this is quite patriarchal, of course, and some readings rely on the novel’s masculinist bent to emphasize its queerness. As flawed as the novel’s ideology is, however, Lucinde’s representation of strong female sexuality would prove inspirational in the fight for the emancipation of the flesh. In addition, there is in Lucinde a nascent vision of interpersonal relations that goes beyond the bourgeois family, which Julius considers detestable (49). Together with Lucinde, Julius is hoping to create “a free society, or rather a large family that remains constantly new through its development” (76). This new conception of the family reflecting the Romantic ideals of a different, liberated society contains a seed that will germinate in the form of the homosexual emancipation movement of the late nineteenth century.

Karl Gutzkow’s Wally (1835)

One author who tended this seed was Karl Gutzkow, one of the leading writers of “Young Germany,” the leftist literary movement that followed Romanticism in the 1830s. Gutzkow resurrected Lucinde in a foreword to his 1835 edition of Friedrich Schleiermacher’s Vertraute Briefe über die Lucinde (Confidential Letters on Lucinde), which was the Romantic theologian’s analysis of Schlegel’s novel. The letters on Lucinde had not been included in Schleiermacher’s collected works and Gutzkow wanted to rectify this error, which he attributed to the conservative backlash of the 1820s and 30s against progressive thought. In the foreword, Gutzkow argued that Schlegel’s Lucinde exemplified the emancipation of the flesh, insisting that the reform of sexual relations was as important as any other social reform. He concludes his foreword with a series of fiery declamations: “Don’t be ashamed of passion and don’t regard morality as an institution of the state. Above all, reflect on the methodology of love and sanctify your will by liberating it to free choice” (qtd. in Dischner 161). For Gutzkow, the emancipation of the flesh was central to the liberal and progressive worldview he believed had once characterized Romanticism. This emancipation of the flesh manifested itself most clearly in the sexual emancipation of women, but it was allied with the emancipation of the Jews as well.

Gutzkow clarified many of his views on the emancipation of the flesh in his scandalous novel of 1835, Wally, die Zweiflerin (Wally, The Skeptic), whose main character was generally regarded as a spiritual granddaughter of Lucinde. Wally, the great literary production of “Young Germany,” provoked controversy from the outset. When the novel appeared, the conservative literary critic Wolfgang Menzel declared things had gone far enough. Menzel, by the way, has a significant role in this history, as many of the battles concerning the emancipation of the flesh took place in his journal, the Literatur-Blatt. In his first review of the novel, published in 1835, Menzel announced that, as long as he lived, “disgraces like this [novel] would not desecrate German literature unpunished” (“Drei” 1: 43). [3] The novel’s apparent endorsement of atheism and free love enraged him—and he was not alone. Although the authorities quickly banned Wally, they were not quick enough: the publisher reported that it was virtually sold out by the time the censors arrived (Joeres 19-20). Gutzkow himself spent a month in jail because of the novel and had to submit all of his writings to a special censorship for another eight years, which suggests the actual physical and intellectual consequences that these battles had in nineteenth-century Germany.

A certain brand of Romanticism remains a great inspiration for Gutzkow. He saw himself as writing in the tradition of Byron, Shelley and George Sand (Estermann 1: 94). [4] In the novel Wally, the main character loves Heine above all (Gutzkow 18). In the diary she writes in the novel, Wally quotes two of the most important women of the German Romantic tradition, Rahel Levin Varnhagen von Ense, who ran one of the significant Berlin salons of the Romantic era, and Bettina von Arnim, who was related to or knew everyone who was anyone in the German Romantic movement. Besides these obvious and significant tributes to a politically progressive and feminist Romanticism, the novel demonstrates other Romantic features. Wally glorifies the Middle Ages, enacting a tableaux from the medieval story of Titurel for the man of her life, Caesar. Vignettes that seem to come from Romantic fantastic tales fill Wally, beginning with “crazy Bärbel,” who stares vacantly from the porch of her hotel waiting for her lost lover and ultimately kills herself. Another unnamed woman wanders insanely across the countryside, regretful of her choices in love. There are moments in the novel that are reminiscent of the horrific, the magical, the mad, and the erotic—aspects familiar in Romantic prose. And throughout the text, poetry is said to transcend traditional moral structures: Wally, for instance, “felt that the truly poetic was irresistible, that the poetic was on a higher plane than all laws of morality and tradition” (123-24).

As a Young German, Gutzkow contested the trajectory that late Romanticism had taken in Germany, however. When Wally decides to kiss her Romantic opposite, Caesar, she does so against the backdrop of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony and Schiller’s “An die Freude” (Ode to Joy): Wally lets Caesar kiss her because she believes “that these hot kisses [. . .] were for the millions under the starry firmament” (77). [5] In later editions of the work, Gutzkow made the parody more obvious by putting “under the starry firmament” in quotation marks. [6] The satirical use of what had already become a Romantic cliché shows that Gutzkow and the Young German movement reject the more conservative, irrational, mystical, and popular elements of late Romanticism and see themselves as restoring the progressive political impulses that they believe are crucial to early Romanticism.

As in the case of Lucinde, it is possible to find queer overtones in Wally. Here too there are positive references to Plato’s Symposium, in particular the myth of Aristophanes, which quite clearly invites a consideration of same-sex love (Gutzkow 153-54). But as in the case of Lucinde, the real significance of this novel for subsequent queer appropriation lies in its assertion of women’s rights, especially the right to free love. Like Lucinde, Wally struggles with and attempts to transcend the limits traditionally imposed upon women of her era. She is critical of her age’s model of femininity (72). She decries the “plantlike unconsciousness in which women vegetate” (93) and claims it has prevented her “from thinking anything that it would be worthwhile to think” (95). Love is one arena where she feels that she can “be a person, instead of a woman” (76), which is why sexual freedom is so important for her.

In Gutzkow’s novel, the emancipation of women and of a woman’s sexuality is intimately tied up with the emancipation of the Jews, which had been discussed by intellectuals in Germany since the second half of the eighteenth century and had progressed because of the temporary adoption of the Napoleonic code in large parts of Germany. Jewish women played a significant role in the Romantic movement in Germany as authors and salon hostesses. One such hostess was Rahel Levin von Varnhagen Ense, whom Wally cites by name in her diaries. Schlegel himself lived with and eventually married Dorothea Veit, a Jewish woman who was the author of a number of important Romantic texts.

The third book of Gutzkow’s novel consists of Wally’s diary entries, a great many of which are devoted to Delphine, a Jewish woman who has attracted Caesar’s attention (and who may be based on Veit). For Wally, Delphine’s upbringing as a secular Jew means that she has escaped “the entire indoctrination with Christian ideas” (211). Wally speculates that “Delphine is lucky, for religion will never cause her any anxiety. All she needs to feel the proximity of heaven is a certain vague glimmer of feeling” (212). As a Jew and as a woman, Delphine is portrayed as more natural and—in a good sense—more primitive than a secular man raised in a Christian tradition, who would, according to Wally, naturally be attracted to his opposite: “For Christian men who are adamantly opposed to the catechism the love of a Jewish woman must have a special appeal. They [. . .] revel in the pure, unalloyed, natural femininity, in the sensuous glow of the love which is said to surpass that of a Christian woman’s by far” (213). The Jewish woman’s natural sexual freedom is explicitly reminiscent of the Orient: “her love is completely plant-like in nature, oriental, as though enclosed in the hothouse of a harem that allows everything, every game, every feminine (but passionate and moving) thoughtlessness” (213-14). Obviously, Gutzkow is helping to lay down the foundation for the feminization and orientalization of the Jew that scholars such as Sander Gilman and Daniel Boyarin have studied in depth. In addition, one must suspect some element of critique in the description of the Jewish woman’s “plant-like” “thoughtlessness,” given that Wally had objected to precisely those attributes in traditional depictions of women. Here, however, the important point is the freedom that is attributed to the Jewish woman at this critical juncture in German history, an attribution that Liliane Weissberg has discussed in her foreword to Hannah Arendt’s biography of Rahel Varnhagen.

The sexual freedom associated with Jewish women is not free to flower in Germany, as Wally notes: “Admittedly, a marriage between a Jewess and a Christian cannot be entered into in our country, but it may be in other countries; of course this is a marriage without Christian or Jewish priests; it is a purely civil marriage before the law, an act of social agreement” (214-15). The law that allowed such a purely civil arrangement was the Napoleonic law, which is why Caesar will be leaving Germany: “Caesar will live in countries where French Law rules. He is happy to marry without the church” (234).

This defence of Jewishness, critique of Christianity and preference for French law aroused as much controversy in Germany of the 1830s as the call for the sexual freedom of women. Critics of the novel quickly resorted to anti-Semitic slurs. Menzel ominously concludes one of his polemics against Young Germany with the threat that their writing will derail the project of the emancipation of the Jews: “I would like to know how the Jews imagine it works in their favour in the somewhat delicate question of their emancipation to have such literary lackeys, as one hears everywhere that the so-called Young Germany is really Young Palestine” (“Unmoralische” 1: 64). [7] Proponents of Jewish Emancipation, such as Gabriel Riesser, who was to become the first Jewish judge in Germany, and Jakob Weil, a leader of the Frankfurt synagogue, disputed the allegation, denying that authors such as Heine who had renounced their Jewish faith should still be counted as Jews. [8] The mobilization of anti-Semitism to counter calls for sexual emancipation would have deep implications for the emergence of the homosexual rights movement, which would frequently be compared to or identified with the movement for the emancipation of Jews.

Heinrich Hössli’s Eros (1836-38)

We can now leave behind the adventurous hermeneutics of queering obscure German Romantic and post-Romantic novels and move to nineteenth-century books that were quite consciously written about same-sex desire. One of the first of such texts written in German or any language is Heinrich Hössli’s Eros, a two-volume apology for Greek love and compendium of passages from world literature celebrating the love between men. The first volume was published in Glarus, Switzerland in 1836, and the second in St. Gallen, Switzerland, in 1838. After reading the first volume, authorities in Glarus forbade the publication of the second volume. A reprinted second edition gave a non-existent place of publication: “Münster in der Schweiz.” At first glance, Hössli seems like a bizarre anomaly in the history of sexuality. He was, of all things, a milliner, a dealer in fabrics and a maker of fashionable ladies’ hats in a small town in Switzerland, who—decades before the homosexual emancipation movement began even in its most nascent form—took it upon himself to put together hundreds of pages defending the rights of men who love other men. Hössli himself claimed that he became interested in the subject when he read about the execution of Francois Desgouttes, who had killed his lover Daniel Hemmerer (Hössli, Eros, 1: xvi). Hössli understood the murder to be a crime of a passion that deserved respect. In the two major interpretations of his work—Ferdinand Karsch’s study from 1903 and Manfred Herzer’s essay from 1996—Hössli’s story has been taken more or less at face value. But Hössli is more understandable historically if we take into account the calls for the emancipation of the flesh, the emancipation of women, and the emancipation of Jews that were being made in the 1830s in the German-speaking world and that were styled as legacies of early Romanticism’s commitment to sexual revolution.

It is worth making a few observations on Hössli’s relationship to Romanticism. The first is his obvious belief in the power of literature to reveal truth and change the world, which is apparent from his nearly exclusive reliance on literary and philosophical texts to prove his points. For Hössli, because literary texts provide evidence worth using in arguments on social policy, transmitting this evidence furthers the reformation of society. Such a belief in the power of poetry would characterize many members of the homosexual emancipation movement as it developed in Germany. Many of these literary passages are from the Classical Greek tradition, but just as many are Persian and Turkish sources, such as the famous fourteenth-century Persian poet Hafiz. Like the Romantics, who were entranced with the possibilities of otherness that they found in the Orient, Hössli has great hopes that he can find in the East a more open-minded approach to sexuality.

Moreover, Hössli relies heavily on a Goethean notion of Bildung for his understanding of the self. This is a point that has been argued effectively by Hans Krah, one of the few scholars to focus on Hössli’s understanding of same-sex desire (212). Repeatedly, the classical notion of Bildung emerges in Hössli: that an individual is born with a specific identity and with certain sexual desires, and that it is the mission of the individual to discover his identity, to become more and more true to himself, and then to integrate himself into society. Hössli rises to heights of eloquence unusual for him when he declares: “perfection for a single individual consists of being and becoming oneself in the continuum of one’s existence” (1: 79). This notion of becoming one’s self is at the base of any modern sense of “coming out,” which requires peeling away the heterosexist beliefs with which one is imbued in one’s childhood and finding the real self underneath all the detritus of society’s beliefs about sexuality. This view of coming out is a legacy of Romantic thinking, much like the notion of a sexual drive that affects our minds and bodies.

The first volume of Hössli’s Eros was printed one year after Gutzkow’s Wally appeared in 1835. The attacks and defences of Wally took place in the following years, as Hössli was completing and publishing his study of male-male desire. As mentioned earlier, Wolfgang Menzel had spearheaded the polemics against Wally in his literary review, the Literatur-Blatt. It is clear that Hössli was reading the Literatur-Blatt because he cites the periodical repeatedly in his book Eros. Although Hössli does not mention Gutzkow or the controversy around Wally, he does notice a variety of passages in the Literatur-Blatt that have to do with issues of sexual emancipation. Perhaps because of the willingness of the Literatur-Blatt to discuss these issues, Hössli attributes a certain degree of liberality to Menzel. Strikingly, Menzel, who attacked Gutzkow’s texts from a conservative perspective, often stands in for progressive ideas in Hössli’s texts. Looking at Hössli’s citations of the Literatur-Blatt, we can see how the Romantic legacy of the emancipations of the flesh, of women, and of Jews coloured his worldview.

Hössli begins his book with an epigraph that he attributes to an 1834 review that appeared in the Literatur-Blatt of Gotthilf Heinrich von Schubert’s book, Die Geschichte der Seele (The History of the Soul), a seminal text in Romantic science. [9] It is intriguing that this passage comes from a review of a book by Schubert, who was a student of the Romantic philosopher Schelling. As the author of Ansichten von der Nachtseite der Naturwissenschaften (Perspectives on the Dark Side of the Natural Sciences [1808]), Schubert is considered one of the most influential Romantic scientists, who are worthy of further research in order to determine the origins of the concept of sexual drive. Hössli definitely embraces an all-encompassing notion of sexuality, citing another text from 1835, this time an article by J.H. Schmid in a medical journal, in which Schmid asserts that “the concept of sexuality is no longer derived exclusively from the sexual organs, but rather from the entire organism” (qtd. in Hössli, Eros, 1: 302). It is also clear that, in accepting this notion of sexuality, Hössli is endorsing the unity of mind and body.

The passage from the review of Schubert makes an appropriate epigraph for Hössli’s book because it asserts that a rabbinical doctrine suggests that there might be men with female souls who prefer men to women. (It also allows for women with male souls who therefore prefer women.) This is an early, albeit awkward, statement of the belief in gender inversion that would become central for many members of the homosexual emancipation movement—that is to say, that same-sex desire can be explained by the notion of a female soul in a male body or a male soul in a female body. By looking at Hössli’s assertion in the light of emancipatory Romantic texts such as Lucinde and Wally, one sees that the claim for female sexual agency is an important prerequisite for the claim that men who love men have female souls in their male bodies. Although he does not specifically address the issue, Hössli assumes the emancipation of women when he cites this passage from the Literatur-Blatt. It is also striking that this assertion comes from the mouth of a Rabbi, moving the discussion of same-sex desire toward a discussion of Jewishness, just as Gutzkow’s Wally had conflated discussions of the emancipation of women with discussions of the emancipation of the Jews. Elsewhere in his book, Hössli graphically describes medieval pogroms against the Jews as he makes an explicit comparison between Jews and men who love men. The attribution of the belief in the possibility of a transmigration of gender to rabbinical doctrine further demonstrates the Orientalism that characterizes both Schlegel and Gutzkow.

The other passage in Hössli’s text that indicates he was following the discussions of sexual emancipation in Menzel’s Literatur-Blatt is his reference to a review of a play by Sigismund Wiese called Die Freunde (The Friends), published in a collection of Wiese’s writings called Drei Dramen (Three Dramas). Hössli found the play laudable in its portrayal of a noble, yet eroticized male friendship. Anticipating the sceptics, Hössli concedes, “I can already predict that people will incorrectly claim that another spirit rules Wiese’s drama than the Greek-erotic one. But,” he continues, “if my idea about the play is inaccurate why does Menzel’s Literatur-Blatt say ‘in many places the author and the actors of this play would be stoned’” because of its erotic insinuations (2: 328)? Hössli is not exaggerating: the play’s review, which appeared on 19 September 1836 in the Literatur-Blatt, claimed that “Die Freunde is a drama that in Holland and England could not be performed, without the author’s and the actors’ risking their healthy limbs. The two friends speak exactly like two lovers and awake even in the most tolerant reader a feeling of disgust” (qtd. in Krah 186). Although an analysis of Wiese takes us too far afield, it is clear from these remarks that Hössli does not come up with his conceptualization of sexuality all by himself in some Swiss village while he decks out the local women fashionably. He closely follows the debates about sexuality in Germany’s bourgeois press, precisely at the time when the emancipation of the flesh, which is explicitly presented as a legacy of Romanticism, is being discussed in that same press. These debates come out of a tradition that had first called for the liberation of women’s sexuality and then demanded the emancipation of the Jews.

Karl Heinrich Ulrichs

This radical reformist tradition influenced by the Romantics was to continue as the homosexual emancipation movement developed. Karl Heinrich Ulrichs, for instance, who coined the term urning to describe men who loved other men, extended the work of Hössli, whose texts he read in 1866 (2: “Memnon” 128). [10] The scope and daring of Ulrichs’s demands and activities are such that one is often tempted to think that there must be a typographical error and that he lived in the 1900s rather than the 1800s. But in fact it was 1867, not 1967, when he came out as an urning to a professional organization of 500 lawyers in Munich and demanded equal rights for his fellow Uranians. Born in 1825, Ulrichs was a child when Young Germany was making waves. As a student, he became politically active in the revolutions of 1848 and tapped into that revolutionary rhetoric that went back to the early Romantics. He called himself an “insurgent” who “demanded the recognition of urning love” (1: “Vindex” 2).

Emerging from the revolutionary tradition of 1848, Ulrichs clearly links the emancipation of the urnings with that of women and Jews, which suggests that the rhetoric of the emancipation of the flesh continues in his writings. He is one of the most consistent and thorough exponents of the notion that urnings possess a female soul in their otherwise male bodies, which takes for granted the possibility of female sexual agency. At one point, he clarifies that an urning is not so much like a woman as like “a so-called emancipated woman” (1: “Formatrix” 23). The ultimate point of his comparison seems a bit odd today because his argument is that both urnings and emancipated women are feminine beings who have adopted a masculine exterior in order to survive in today’s society (1: “Formatrix” 23), but he nonetheless links the emancipation of urnings to that of women. Similarly, Ulrichs makes frequent comparisons between Jews and urnings. Like Hössli, he explicitly compares the persecution of Jews with the persecution of urnings (2: “Gladius Furens” 18). He calls upon urnings to defend the rights of Jews as fellow sufferers of oppression (4: “Prometheus” 9). This linkage of the emancipation of urnings to that of women and Jews would become a hallmark of the liberal wing of the homosexual rights movement for over a century and has its origins in the constellation of ideas, intellectual movements, and social forces in Germany at the beginning of the nineteenth century.

To conclude, one of the most significant results of this line of inquiry is the importance of early efforts to obtain rights for women, particularly in the realm of personal erotic and sexual desire, in establishing a precedent for the homosexual rights movement. It helps ground an enduring link between the women’s rights and gay rights movements. In addition, the specific constellation of events in the German-speaking realm in the early nineteenth century meant that questions about the emancipation and assimilation of Jews became intimately connected to issues of women’s rights. This lay the groundwork for the comparison between homosexuals and Jews that was to have a significant impact on the understanding of homosexual identity throughout much of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Overall, this particular approach underscores the liberal political self-consciousness of the early homosexual rights movement more vividly than has been the case in most post-Foucauldian histories of sexuality. In addition, studying the Romantic roots of the homosexual emancipation movement brings out the progressive streak of German Romanticism, which often gets lost in a miasma of irrational mysticism and seemingly apolitical aestheticism.

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