“J’ai menti à la science”: Female Sexual Pleasure and the Limits of Medicine in Dubut de Laforest

Jean-Louis Dubut de Laforest’s novel Mademoiselle Tantale (1884) is the story of a young woman’s sexual impotence and the medical community’s failure to find a remedy for her inability to experience orgasm. Reprinted in 1897 as part of a larger, heavily footnoted compilation of the author’s works entitled Pathologie sociale, Dubut’s study of female pleasure draws on various scientific texts and case studies on female sexual pathology that he frequently references in the paratext of novel. This unique compilation offers the nineteenth-century scholar a glimpse into the complicated, often contradictory intersection of medicine and literature that frames much of Dubut’s fiction. While collaboration between fiction writers and scientists was not uncommon at the fin de siècle, Dubut’s novel about female pleasure is exceptional in that it brings its heroine directly into contact with science and its shortcomings, revealing the author’s anxiety about male discursive authority—in both fiction and medicine—and the impenetrability of female sexual experience