Desiring the Dead
Necrophilia and Nineteenth-Century French Literature

Lisa Downing

Legenda (General Series)


1 June 2003  •  156pp

ISBN: 1-900755-65-3 (paperback)  •  RRP £75, $99, €85


During the nineteenth century, literature shared with the medical and psychological sciences a strategy of examining the most extreme manifestations of human desire. In this groundbreaking study, Lisa Downing rescues necrophilia from the margins of sexuality, relocating it as a symptom and pervasive fantasy of modern subjectivity. Drawing case material from the nineteenth-century French canon, the author brings works by Baudelaire and Rachilde into dialogue with foundational European texts of sexology and psychoanalysis. She reads against the grain of traditional Freudian theories of sexuality, of conventions of nineteenth-century literary scholarship and of feminist critiques of the 'masculine' morbid aesthetic in order to bring to light a model of desire whose problematic nature afflicts existing discourses about sexuality and gender in nineteenth-century France and beyond.

Lisa Downing is Lecturer in French at Queen Mary, University of London. She has published on nineteenth- and twentieth-century literature, gender studies and cinema. She is the author of a forthcoming book on the film director Patrice Leconte.


  • ‘Downing is working outside the scope of any simple discourse of pathology, and perhaps outside the queer undoing of pathology as such. ...this is an impressive first book, striking without being facile, theoretically complex without being unruly, and attentive to literary qualities in the chosen texts while sustaining its thematic argument.’ — Peter Cryle, Modern Language Review 100.2, 2005, 505-6 (full text online)
  • ‘This is a successful, richly structured, and thought-provoking exploration of 'the cultural fantasy of necrophilia'.’ — Carol Rifelj, Nineteenth-Century French Studies 33, n. 1 and 2, Fall-Winter 2004-2005
  • ‘Downing's approach throughout is essentially post-Faucauldian and psychoanalitic. Her style, at once sober and engaging, is a model for academic prose in general. ... The work also indicates a new direction for death studies, and despite its omissions deserves consideration in this regard.’ — Jason Hartford, The Journal of the Midwest Modern Language Association Spring 2004, 119-21

Bibliography entry:

Downing, Lisa, Desiring the Dead: Necrophilia and Nineteenth-Century French Literature (Cambridge: Legenda, 2003)

First footnote reference: 35 Lisa Downing, Desiring the Dead: Necrophilia and Nineteenth-Century French Literature (Cambridge: Legenda, 2003), p. 21.

Subsequent footnote reference: 37 Downing, p. 47.

(To see how these citations were worked out, follow this link.)

Bibliography entry:

Downing, Lisa. 2003. Desiring the Dead: Necrophilia and Nineteenth-Century French Literature (Cambridge: Legenda)

Example citation: ‘A quotation occurring on page 21 of this work’ (Downing 2003: 21).

Example footnote reference: 35 Downing 2003: 21.

(To see how these citations were worked out, follow this link.)

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