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The Variable Body in History

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Edited By Chris Mounsey and Stan Booth

The essays in this book explore the different ways the body has been experienced and interpreted in history, from the medieval to the modern period. Challenging the negative perceptions that the term ‘disability’ suggests, the essays together present a mosaic of literary representations of bodies and accounts of real lives lived in their particularity and peculiarity. The book does not attempt to be exhaustive, but rather it celebrates the fact that it is not. By presenting a group of individual cases from different periods in history, the collection demonstrates that any overarching way of describing bodies, or unifying description of the experience of the myriad ways of being in a body, is reductive and unhelpful. The variability of each body in its context is our subject.
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Constructing La Goulue: The Queer, the Criminal and the Cancan

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ABSTRACT

Using textual analysis and oft-overlooked materials documenting the rise, reinventions and eventual decline of the performer La Goulue (Louise Weber), I aim to shed new light on a celebrity simultaneously marketed as the embodiment of Paris and criticized for her sexual, spatial and social alterity; and how the moralizing of the fin-de-siècle has left an enduring legacy of scandal-mongering and interwoven presumptions around sexuality, crime and performance not only in relation to La Goulue but more broadly.

Introduction

In 1963, Armand Lanoux suggested, provocatively, ‘Le quadrille, comme la Goulue, était né du pave’ [The quadrille, like La Goulue, was born on the street],1 putting into words a legend famously embodied by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec’s paintings of the Moulin Rouge. Over the course of five decades, Louise Weber (better known as La Goulue, ‘The Glutton’) was a fixture of popular entertainment in Paris, as a dancer, animal-tamer, and celebrity who was active between the 1880s and the 1920s. The stage name that she took when she made her debut as a paid dancer at the age of sixteen was one she kept all her life. With it came a reputation as a cheeky, fiery, and distinctively working-class performer who was identified on one hand as embodying modern Paris through her gouaille (street patter) and ← 229 | 230 → her status as a star dancer of the cancan. On the other she was the embodiment of the city’s unsavoury side – its roughness and...

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