CFP: Clubs and Dissidence

CFP: Clubs and Dissidence

An international conference organized jointly by SFEVE and CLIMAS 17th and 18th January 2014
Université Michel de montaigne Bordeaux 3

Stemming from the various learned societies established from the seventeenth century onwards, gentlemen’s clubs came into being in London during the eighteenth century and became most noticeable and influential throughout Britain and its Empire in the last decades of the nineteenth century. Such institutions have manifestly contributed to the definition of a specific british masculine identity, since no true gentleman, as the phrase coined by Samuel Johnson indicates, could be deemed “unclubbable”. Furthermore, because of their very exclusive nature, gentlemen’s clubs embodied and perpetuated defining and normative notions of English society at the time, such as the emphasis on rank, masculinity and an all-powerful patriarchy.

Nevertheless, the aim of this conference is to determine to what extent gentlemen’s clubs may harbour dissidence, by examining the ambivalence, the underlying tensions which can be observed in the context of both conventional and unorthodox forms of gentlemen’s clubs.

Indeed, as an exclusive and therefore somewhat confidential space, clubs allow their members to temporarily do away with the constraints and proscriptions inherent to victorian society. Through clubs, men can escape the world of domesticity and its stifling conventions so as to enjoy guilty pleasures among which are gambling, excessive drinking or homosexual relationships. Thus, clubs may be considered as separate, intermediate spaces, in which social and moral norms are both defined and infringed. Such spaces may also foster political and social dissidence, as they can be turned into concealed, unofficial centres of power, channelling the influence of an unidentified social elite.

In addition, dissidence can be observed outside the club, however still in relation with it: the renown of the best-known gentlemen’s clubs gave rise to various imitations, such as women’s clubs and clubs established in the confines of the Empire, whose existence often implied a questioning of the notions of gender, race and rank.

Conclusively, clubs and the diverse types of dissidence they may be associated with have been widely illustrated in Victorian and Edwardian literature, with numerous subversive literary counterparts to the London gentlemen’s clubs which have constituted a national specificity, such as Stevenson’s “Suicide Club” or P. G. Wodehouse’s “Drones Club”.

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