Through the keyhole

A history of sex, space and public modesty in modern France

By Marcela Iacub

Translated by Vinay Swamy

Through the keyhole


  • Paperback
  • eBook

Book Information

  • Format: Hardcover
  • ISBN: 978-1-7849-9151-7
  • Pages: 248
  • Publisher: Manchester University Press
  • Price: £80.00
  • Published Date: April 2016
  • BIC Category: HISTORY / General, HISTORY / Social History, France, Humanities / Social & cultural history, Modern History, History, Social & cultural history


In 1857, a group of young people who had participated in an orgy in a private mansion was sentenced for contempt of public decency (outrage public à la pudeur) because a voyeur was able to watch them through a keyhole. For Marcela Iacub, the crux of such cases hinges on where the public ends and the private begins, and what one can reveal, and what one ought to hide.

Today, the term pudeur has disappeared from the French penal code to be replaced by Sex. But, far from being an epic story of hard-won freedom, Iacub demonstrates that the transformation techniques used by the State in the last two centuries have rendered sexuality into a spectacle and have conditioned our spaces, our clothes, our comportment and even some of our mental illnesses. In so doing, Iacub offers us a politico-legal history of the gaze.


Translator's foreword
Part I: Constructing and abolishing the wall of modesty
1. The construction of the wall of modesty
2. The conquest of private space by public space
3. The invention of interior publicity
Part II: The visual liberation of public spaces
4. The wars of the chaste nude
5. The publicity of unchaste sexuality
Part III: The politics of spaces in the era of Sex
6. the new criminal law on sexuality
7. The scenography of Sex
8. Perverts and the dissolute
Works cited


Marcela Iacub is Director of Research at CNRS, Paris, France

Vinay Swamy is Associate Professor of French and Francophone Studies at Vassar College, New York, USA

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