Darmon, Pierre 1939-

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DARMON, Pierre 1939-


Born 1939.


Agent—c/o Author Mail, Editions Fayard, Librairie Arthème Fayard, 75, rue des Saints-pères, 75279 Paris Cedex 06, France.


Director of research at the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique.


Le Mythe de la procréation à l'âge baroque, J.-J. Pauvert (Paris, France), 1977.

Le Tribunal de l'impuissance: Virilité et conjugales dans l'ancienne France, Editions du Seuil (Paris, France), 1979, translation from the French by Paul Keegan published as Trial by Impotence: Virility and Marriage in Pre-Revolutionary France, Hogarth Press (London, England), 1985, and as Damning the Innocent: A History of the Persecution of the Impotent in Pre-Revolutionary France, Viking (New York, NY), 1986.

Gabrielle Perreau, femme adultère: Roman, B. Grasset (Paris, France), 1981.

Mythologie de la femme dans l'ancienne France: XVIe-XVIIIe Siècle, Editions du Seuil (Paris, France), 1983.

La Veuve sanglante: Roman, Grasset (Paris, France), 1985.

La Longue traque de la variole: Les Pionniers de la médecine préventive, Librairie Académique Perrin (Paris, France), 1986.

L'Apprenti libertin: Roman, B. Grasset (Paris, France), 1987.

La Malle à Gouffé: Le Guet-apens de la Madeline: Récit, Denoël (Paris, France), 1988.

La Vie quotidienne du médecin parisien en 1900, Hachette (Paris, France), 1988.

Médecins et assassin à la Belle Epoque: La Médicalisation du crime, Editions du Seuil (Paris, France), 1989.

La Variole, les nobles et les princes: La Petite mortelle de Louis XV: 1774, Editions Complexe (Brussels, Belgium), 1989.

La Rumeur de Rodez: Histoire d'un procès truquè, A. Michel (Paris, France), 1991.

Les Cellules folles: L'Homme face au cancer, de l'antiquité à nos jours, Plon (Paris, France), 1993.

Landru, Plon (Paris, France), 1994.

Pasteur, Fayard (Paris, France), 1995.

Marguerite Steinheil, ingénue criminelle?, Perrin (Paris, France), 1996.

Le Monde du cinéma sous l'Occupation, Stock (Paris, France), 1997.

L'Homme et les microbes: XVIIe-XXe siecle, Fayard (Paris, France), 1999.

Vivre à Paris pendant la Grande Guerre, Fayard (Paris, France), 2002.


Pierre Darmon is a French historian and author of books on the history of medicine, sexuality, and criminal anthropology. One of his earliest and most widely reviewed books is Le Tribunal de l'impuissance: Vrilité et conjugales dans l'ancienne France, which has been published in English as Trial by Impotence: Virility and Marriage in Pre-Revolutionary France and as Damning the Innocent: AHistory of the Persecution of the Impotent in Pre-Revolutionary France. The book presents the often shocking details of impotency trials that took place in France during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Before the French Revolution, divorce proceedings were controlled by the Catholic Church, which allowed little recourse to unhappy couples unless one of the partners was unable to fulfill their reproductive duties. The need to determine if a man or woman was sexually dysfunctional led to increasingly dramatic and embarrassing investigations. Three types of evidence could be called for, beginning with a physical examination of the genitals. Men might also be asked to prove that they could sustain an erection and ejaculate in front of the court's representatives, or a couple might even be required to have intercourse with medical or legal witnesses present. These proceedings were most often imposed on wealthy aristocrats because of the financial claims of inheritance, and such cases became highly publicized affairs. Darmon also comments on the phallocentric, voyeuristic, misogynist tendencies of the French court and church that developed these practices.

Reviewers were interested in the social and historical issues in the book, as well as Darmon's style and purpose in presenting this material. In the London Review of Books, Peter Burke described the work as containing "a good deal of curious information, together with a number of memorable anecdotes—some comic, some tragic, and some nauseating." Burke suggested, "If a study of impotence trials aspires to be more than a piece of historical voyeurism itself," then Darmon needed to put the trials into context, to better explain why something so horrifying could happen. Critic Peter Laslett voiced similar sentiments in the Times Literary Supplement, where he wrote, "This is an uncomfortable little book, often informative, insightful and suggestive in its reflections, but difficult to read.…It is rather difficult not to suspect that the motive of the writer and his publishers was to some extent lubricious, to play upon that lasciviousness in the readership which the author rightly condemns in the ecclesiastical lawyers."

Writing in the New York Times Book Review, Lawrence Stone also questioned Darmon's purpose in writing the book, which he called "a sexual tempest in a teacup, justified neither by the irrelevant theoretical apparatus of conspiracy and persecution of the innocent in which it is imbedded, nor by the intrinsic importance of the theme at the time.… This book is not scholarly in its research, or sensible in its theoretical model, or titillating or funny in its documentation." According to Washington Post Book World reviewer Joseph McLellan, the study was a "curious, mildly prurient little work of pop scholarship." McLellan remarked that Darmon "blends historic research with rhetorical outbursts against judges, lawyers and doctors who have been dead for two or three centuries. He often seems personally involved."

More positive reviews included comments in Punch by Richard Boston, who said, "Though Darmon's book has its comic moments, the general picture it paints is horrific.…It makes you understand why the great Voltaire said he wanted to strangle the last aristocrat with the guts of the last priest." A Kirkus Reviews writer credited Darmon with showing "passion and a sense of humor" and concluded, "His wit doesn't dull the serious message: that society's obsession with private sexual lives is a form of pornography that remains with us today."

Darmon's L'Homme et les microbes: XVIIe-XXe siecle is a history of germs divided into three parts. First, the author considers the prehistory of microbiology which began in 1674 with the discovery of microbes. But the invention of the microscope did not immediately impact scientific study, and spontaneous generation remained a popular disease theory through the early nineteenth century. Next, Darmon details how Louis Pasteur and his associates demonstrated the microbial causes of disease and gave substantial aid to the poultry, silk, beer, and wine industries. A third section charts the public health campaigns to fight infection that were begun between 1880 and 1920.

This story of germs was considered an interesting if somewhat unbalanced account by reviewers. In the American Historical Review, William H. McNeil remarked that the "lively book … departs from ordinary academic patterns of history writing." While he noted that Darmon "seeks to modify Pasteur's legend by giving due credit to his assistants," McNeil advised that "nationalistic blinkers are normal among historians, but Darmon's book is a conspicuous example of the genre." Colin Heywood, a critic for the English Historical Review, noted that Pasteur was allowed to overshadow the work of other scientists. Heywood concluded, however, that L'Homme et les microbes was "a rattling good read" and "an immense work of scholarship, based on wide reading in early scientific journals."

In Vivre à Paris pendant la Grande Guerre, Darmon takes a multifaceted look at life in Paris during World War I, a period when the city underwent dramatic changes in lifestyle, freedoms, attitudes, and health. For example, censorship and bureaucratic tangles grew, illegal drugs and scams proliferated. French professors proved that Germans smelled and sweated more than others, and German nomenclature was discouraged; accordingly, German shepherd dogs became Alsatians. Poor water conditions encouraged an unhealthy dependence on beer and wine, amid many other disease problems. According to Times Literary Supplement critic Eugen Weber, the book amounts to "a workmanlike version of hors d'oeuvres variés: a little of this, a little of that, to whet our appetite, not sate it."



American Historical Review, February, 2000, William H. McNeil, review of L'Homme et les microbes: XVIIe-XXe siecle, pp. 297-298.

English Historical Review, February, 2001, Colin Heywood, review of L'Homme et les microbes, p. 259.

Kirkus Reviews, January 1, 1986, review of Damning the Innocent: A History of the Persecution of the Impotent in Pre-Revolutionary France, p. 30.

London Review of Books March 6, 1986, Peter Burke, review of Trial by Impotence: Virility and Marriage in Pre-Revolutionary France, pp. 12-13; October 5, 1995, Arthur Goldhammer, review of Pasteur, pp. 26-27.

New Statesman, April 19, 1985, Alan Brien, review of Trial by Impotence, p. 35.

New York Review of Books, October 9, 1986, Robert Darnton, review of Damning the Innocent, pp. 15-16.

New York Times Book Review, March 3, 1986, Lawrence Stone, review of Damning the Innocent, p. 41.

Punch, April 3, 1985, Richard Boston, review of Trial by Impotence, pp. 83-84.

Times Literary Supplement June 29, 1985, Peter Laslett, review of Trial by Impotence, p. 728; January 31, 2003, Eugen Weber, review of Vivre à Paris pendant la Grande Guerre, p. 26.

Washington Post Book World, April 13, 1986, Joseph McLellan, review of Damning the Innocent, p. 8.*

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Darmon, Pierre 1939-

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