The construction of scientific knowledge regarding female 'sexual inversion': Italian and British sexology compared, c. 1870-1920
This thesis uses medical and psychiatric records to explore how physicians analysed `female sexual inversion' in Italy and Britain, c. 1870 to 1920. It investigates why sexology emerged when it did and considers the role national, political and cultural debates played in shaping sexological research. I argue that sexology both upheld and challenged national cultural norms and sought to address various broader problems that shadowed social and political debate in these societies. For Italy, detailed case histories of female inverts are presented. In Britain, however, female homosexuality was observed within other medical concerns because physicians were reluctant to study sexual inversion until at least the late 1890s. In each national context close attention is paid to `typical' locations of female homosexuality, for example asylums, brothels and schools, and to particular figures and relationships; the `tribade-prostitute', the 'fiamma', and the so-called nymphomaniac. Italian and British sexologists had different approaches to the study of these women-only environments, in which female homosexuality was supposedly widespread. By comparing the debates around female sexual inversion it is possible to chart important and illuminating differences of language, status and politics. I will highlight the proliferation of these studies in Italy and the relatively marginal status of British sexologists. Moreover, in Italy criminal anthropology was critical in shaping sexological studies, while in Britain, political motivations linked to laws against `sodomy' were crucial. In the central chapters, the works of Cesare Lombroso and Pasquale Penta in Italy, and Henry Havelock Ellis and William Blair Bell in Britain, are crucial. Alongside texts explicitly discussing `female sexual inversion' as a psychiatric disease, the thesis also examines other medical concerns related to female sexuality. Questions of sexuality and homosexuality were important to wider discussions about women's role in society, female education, prostitution, and broader debates about progress, civilisation and national well-being.
- Theses