Raffalovich, Marc-André 1864–1934

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Raffalovich, Marc-André

Born into a Russian Jewish family on September 11, 1864, and raised in Paris, Marc-André Raffalovich moved to London in 1882, planning to attend Oxford but instead becoming an English writer and socialite as well as a contributor to the growing science of sexology. Raffalovich wrote five books of poetry and two novels as well as several plays, some coauthored with John Gray (1866–1934), whom he met in 1892. Because Gray was a literary protégé and perhaps a lover of Oscar Wilde (1845–1900), Raffalovich is known more for his connection to Gray and Wilde than for his literary and sexological work. At the end of the nineteenth century, however, Raffalovich was not only an English poet of some note but also one of the most prolific contributors to French studies of homosexuality.

His first collection of poetry, Cyril and Lionel and Other Poems (1884), was followed by four more volumes of vaguely homoerotic verse. Although his work may seem typical of the Uranian—a term adopted by homoerotic writers of late-nineteenth-century England to denote homosexual but more specifically, pederastic, love—writers of the 1880s and 1890s, Raffalovich demonstrates a surprising and subversive inventiveness. The most sensuous of his books, Tuberose and Meadowsweet (1885), includes the image of the decadent orchid of late Victorian writing and references to a love seen by others as shame, but it also cleverly revises the language of flowers, a traditional nineteenth-century discourse of heterosexual courtship. Raffalovich and Gray's play The Blackmailers (1894) toys with melodramatic associations of homosexuality and blackmail by tracing the growing relationship between a blackmailer and the young man he seduces into a life of crime.

It was as a contributor to French journals of sexual science, however, that Raffalovich played a role in the developing understanding of homosexual identity. In 1895 Raffalovich published two essays, "L'Affaire Oscar Wilde," a vituperative commentary on Wilde as a corruptor of youth, and "L'Uranisme: Inversion Sexuelle Congénitale," a study of sexual inversion. Both were incorporated into the larger study Uranisme et Unisexualité (1896), which was published in a series of criminological studies. In 1897 Raffalovich became the editor of the "Annals of Unisexuality" in the journal of criminal anthropology Archives d'Anthropologie Criminelle, and he contributed to the journal until at least 1905.

In 1896, following Gray's example, Raffalovich converted to Catholicism, and after Gray finished his studies for the priesthood, Raffalovich moved to Edinburgh, Scotland, to live near his beloved friend. Raffalovich died there on February 14, 1934, followed in June by Gray.

In Uranisme et Unisexualité, Raffalovich argues that homosexuality is both congenital and natural. He specifically rejects the sexological model of sexual and gender inversion: the female soul in a male body. He insists that congenital homosexuals are not effeminate or cross-gendered inverts and proposes the term unisexuality to denote sexual attraction to someone of the same sex, a conceptualization closer to modern understandings of homosexual identity.

Raffalovich also offers a remarkable portrait of the psychosexual development and awakening self-awareness of the homosexual child. He argues that most unisexuals are born that way, and he retraces the fantasy life and erotic imagination of the gay child. In an attempt to map the physiological sensibilities of inversion, he suggests that there is a precocious association of pleasure with the smell of the male body.

Although Raffalovich argues for the normality of homosexual identity—neither a sin nor a crime nor a disease—he draws a distinction between orientation and behavior similar to that established in 1997 by the Catholic Church, which found orientation morally neutral but proscribed sexual behavior (Roden 2002). Raffalovich proposed a sublime form of homosexual identity, an emotional, spiritual, and nongenital relationship of the type some biographers insist he had with Gray, a relationship in which they were devoted to Christ and to each other.

In opposition to this figure of a spiritualized homosexual friendship, Raffalovich constructs Wilde as the figure of the criminal pervert, guilty of practicing sodomy and seducing youth. Both Gray and Raffalovich were haunted by their association with Wilde, terrified of being connected to the scandal of the Wilde trials, and the fact that Wilde was also a social and perhaps romantic rival colors Raffalovich's attack.

Because of his hyperbolic vilification of Wilde and his construction of superior and inferior forms of homosexual identity, modern readers may find "little in Raffalovich's argument that recommends itself to modern gay politics" (Hanson 1997, p. 321). However, in the ontext of late-nineteenth-century criminological and medical studies of homosexuality Raffalovich's work seems "radically prohomosexual" (Rosario 1997, p. 97), even "a radical text for its time" (Roden 2002, p. 182).

see also Homosexuality, Male, History of; Masculinity: I. Overview.


D'Arch Smith, Timothy. 1970. Love in Earnest: Some Notes on the Lives and Writings of English "Uranian" Poets from 1889 to 1930. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.

Hanson, Ellis. 1997. Decadence and Catholicism. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Madden, Ed. 1997. "Say It with Flowers: The Poetry of Marc-André Raffalovich." College Literature 24(1): 11-27.

Roden, Fredrick S. 2002. Same-Sex Desire in Victorian Religious Culture. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Rosario, Vernon A. 1997. The Erotic Imagination: French Histories of Perversity. New York: Oxford University Press.

                                                    Ed Madden