Professor wins Wylie prize for French cultural studies

brianmartinAssociate Professor of French and Comparative Literature Brian Martin has been awarded the 2010-11 Laurence Wylie Prize in French Cultural Studies. Martin was awarded the Wylie Prize for his book, Napoleonic Friendship: Military Fraternity, Intimacy, and Sexuality in Nineteenth-Century France, the first book-length study on the origin of queer soldiers in modern France.

The Wylie prize was created in 1995 in memory of Harvard professor of French civilization, Laurence Wylie. Awarded biennially, the prize recognizes “the best book in French social or cultural studies,” according to NYU’s department of French. Nominated books must deal with French society or culture during any historical period. Fiction and literary criticism are excluded, and authors must reside in North America. A prize committee of four scholars from NYU, Harvard, Duke and Tufts ultimately chose Martin’s book from 65 contenders.

“It’s a great honor and I’m very humbled, especially when I think of all those eminent scholars and books that have won the Wylie Prize before me,” Martin said. “I am grateful to Allan Bérubé, to my colleagues in romance languages who all read my book manuscript and gave me valuable feedback and to the students in my course ‘French 202: War and Resistance: Two Centuries of War Literature in France, 1804-2004’ who have helped me rethink my work on military history and literature in France during the past several years at Williams.” Martin is currently doing research on France in Québec, and plans to be back at Williams in September.

Martin graduated magna cum laude from Harvard in 1993 and was a Fulbright Scholar at the University of Stockholm. He earned his M.A. in comparative literature from UCLA in 1996 and his Ph.D in Romance languages from Harvard in 2003. He has taught at UCLA, Harvard and the École Normale Supérieure in France and became a member of the Williams faculty in 2004. Martin’s teaching and scholarship focus broadly on gender and sexuality in France and on Nordic masculinities from Scandinavia to Québec.

Napoleonic Friendship is a study of male intimacy in the French military from the time of Napoleon to the World War I. Martin asserts Napoleon’s radical reforms in his meritocratic military created new conditions conducive to physical and emotional intimacy between soldiers. Napoleonic Friendship argues the French Revolution’s emphasis on military fraternity led to an unprecedented sense of camaraderie in Napoleon’s armies; hardships of war and a homosocial military life often led to intimate friendships and for some, mutual affection, homoerotic desire and lifelong commitments.

Martin will attend the Wylie prize ceremony, postponed by Hurricane Sandy to March 27, 2013 at NYU’s Institute of French Studies. The event will be free and open to the public. Martin will give a lecture titled “Queer Napoleon: from Napoleonic Friendship to Gays in the Military.” Martin considered titling his book Queer Napoleon, stating, “this provocative title would have helped to gain even more attention, and perhaps helped sales.” However, he wanted to make clear that Napoleon himself was not queer. “We know from many sources that Napoleon desired and had intimate and emotional relationships with women.” Rather, Martin suggests Napoleon created a different atmosphere that over the “very long period” of the nineteenth century led to an “entire subculture of homosexual soldiers” in the French army by the beginning of the 20th Century.

As explained in his prologue, Martin’s experiences growing up as a gay man in a military family, protesting at Harvard and in Washington and seeing “President Clinton try and President Obama succeed in ending the discrimination of queer soldiers in the U.S. military” inspired and influenced his writing. Martin expressed optimism for gay rights in the present and future, citing the repeal of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy and Obama’s references to the Stonewall Riots and the struggle for gay marriage equality in his inaugural address. “This would be absolutely unthinkable when I was a kid and even when I was in college,” Martin said. “I wish my brother Kevin, who died of AIDS in 1991, had lived to see this.”

Napoleonic Friendship began as Martin’s doctoral dissertation at Harvard. He then revised and expanded the work for several years. He says his time at Williams, particularly teaching a course on war literature in France, helped him “rethink many of [his] assumptions for the book.” Napoleonic Friendship is based on extensive archival research in France, including Napoleonic military memoirs and French military fiction, “from the memoirs of Napoleonic soldiers, to novels on 19th-century French soldiers by Balzac, Hugo, Stendhal, Maupassant and Zola, as well as the legacy of this among homosexual soldiers in 20th century France, like those described by Marcel Proust during the First World War.” Martin particularly enjoyed his research in France for the book, discovering works people had potentially never read or thought about.