Remaking the male body: masculinity and the uses of physical culture in interwar and Vichy France,
Oxford, GB, Oxford University Press, 257pp.
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Remaking the male body treats interwar physical culture as a set of popular practices and as a field of ideas. Its central subject is the imagined failure of French manhood mapped out in this realm by physical culturist ‘experts’, often physicians. Their diagnosis of intertwined crises in masculine virility and national vitality was surprisingly widely shared across popular and political culture. And the vision of physical exercise and national strength that underpinned it was a hygienist and sometimes overtly eugenicist one, suggesting the persistence of fin-de-siècle pre-occupations with biological degeneration and regeneration well beyond the First World War. Joan Tumblety traces these patterns of thinking about the male body across a seemingly disparate set of voices, all of whom argued that the physical training of men offered a salve to France’s real and imagined woes. By interrogating a range of sources, from get-fit manuals and the popular press, to the mobilising campaigns of popular politics on left and right and official debates about physical education, this book delineates the way male physical culture was imagined as an instrument of social hygiene and provided a locus for political struggle. Understanding the influence of these concerns on French culture in the interwar years ultimately illuminates the origins of Vichy’s project for masculine renewal after the military defeat of 1940.
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