Frigidity pp 132-160 | Cite as

The Wedding Night

  • Peter Cryle
  • Alison Moore
Part of the Genders and Sexualities in History book series (GSX)


A favoured story of the French nineteenth century, retold in a range of genres from the literary to the medical, was that of the incompetent husband. In the early days of his marriage, so the story goes, especially on the occasion of the wedding night, the husband acted in such a maladroit and ill-considered way that his wife’s subsequent behaviour suffered drastic effects. Yet while the story was retold with great regularity over the course of the century, its significance came to be transformed. This chapter will attempt to trace that transformation, and demonstrate its import for the history of frigidity. The first thing to note is that the story of the incompetent husband did not initially have a place within the field of moral-and-physical medicine in which female impotence and frigidity were elaborated as topics. It was, so to speak, captured and reframed by that field, coming eventually to play an edifying role within it. For much of the nineteenth century, the husband’s incompetence typically took the form of a lack of guile. By his failure to perceive what was going on in his wife’s mind, by his failure to manipulate her effectively, he was likely to provoke her to deception and infidelity. During the last decades of the century, however, husbandly incompetence was conceived and recounted rather differently. It became a failure to induct the wife into womanhood, a failure to manage her sexuality that gave rise to pathologies such as frigidity.


Advice Manual Medical Text Medical Writing Conjugal Relation Conjugal Love 
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Copyright information

© Peter Cryle and Alison Moore 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Peter Cryle
    • 1
  • Alison Moore
    • 2
  1. 1.University of QueenslandAustralia
  2. 2.Cultural Studies GroupUniversity of Technology SydneyAustralia

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