Debauchery and Enlightenment in Eighteenth-Century France

October 31, 2019 - 4:30pm to 6:00pm

Lecture by Lisa Jane Graham, The Frank A. Kafker Professor of History at Haverford College, Pennsylvania. Hosted by the Early Modern Worlds Initiative, in conjunction with FRIT.


Eighteenth-century France was renowned for having a high society and a philosophical movement that celebrated the pursuit of pleasure.  Underneath this surface hedonism, however, one finds ambivalence about the capacity of human beings to regulate their desires without the traditional constraints of scarcity and sin.  Unlike the stable and rational category of happiness, pleasure threatened to derail liberal models of self and society.  I argue that this anxiety about pleasure coalesced in the category of debauchery.  I will explore the meaning and scope of debauchery through a combination of police archives, medical tracts, fairytales, and political pamphlets.  This attention to debauchery explains the impact of pornography in discrediting the monarchy and the importance of moral discipline in the French Revolution. 

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Location and Address

Humanities Center, 602 Cathedral of Learning