Sex, Violence, and the Avant-Garde

Anarchism in Interwar France

By (author) Richard D. Sonn

Paperback - £24.95

Publication date:

15 March 2013

Length of book:

272 pages


Penn State University Press

ISBN-13: 9780271036649

By the end of World War I, the conflict between anarchism and the state had largely been eclipsed by the competing forces of liberalism, fascism, and communism. To combat their slide into irrelevance, French anarchists, especially those called individualists, redirected their attentions from violent revolution and general strikes to ethical issues that focused on personal liberation. Chief among these issues was sexual freedom, sought not only for the sake of pleasure but also to undermine the authoritarian family, bulwark of the patriarchal state. In this revelatory book, Richard Sonn approaches the French anarchist movement during this period from a sociocultural perspective, considering the relationships among anarchism and the artistic avant-garde and surrealism, political violence and terrorism, sexuality and sexual politics, and gender roles. He shows that, contrary to popular belief, anarchism in theory and practice played a significant role in the culture of interwar France.

“In sharp contrast to the anarchists of Spain, French anarchists seem to have disappeared during the interwar period. Or did they? In this compelling book, Richard Sonn examines fascinating, complex cultural themes and takes us into the lives of figures such as André Breton, Robert Desnos, Manuel Devaldès, and Eugène and Jeanne Humbert as they confronted the aftermath of the Russian Revolution, the rise of fascism, continued French depopulation, and the politics of sexuality and of eugenics.”

—John Merriman, Charles Seymour Professor of History, Yale University, author of The Dynamite Club: How a Bombing in Fin-de-Siècle Paris Ignited the Age of Modern Terror and A History of Modern Europe Since the Renaissance