The pursuit of the sublime in post Romantic France
My thesis takes the notion of the sublime out of its usual Romantic context to look at
what it can reveal about post-Romantic France. This is a period of rapid capitalist and
urban development, often described as the age of the prosaic - an age of cliche,
platitude and banality.
It is also, however, a period in which Romantic aspirations survive: this is
often accepted by critics in terms of literary projects, but less so in terms of broader
social developments. I will use the notion of the sublime to trace the presence of these
aspirations in post-Romantic discourses - across the supposed divide between
literature and society.
The first section of the thesis is a theoretical introduction to the notion of the
sublime in Western philosophy, with a particular focus on its appropriation in France.
It includes three chapters, the first of which looks at Longinus and Boileau, the
second, Kant and Hegel, and the third, modem and postmodern theoretical
perspectives. The aim of this section is both to frame the problems and questions that
the sublime poses for French culture and literature, and present the critical concepts
that I will bring to bear on readings of specific texts in the second part of the thesis.
The second section contains chapters 4 to 7 of the thesis. In chapter 4, I look at
how Flaubert parodies rhetorical over-inflation in Madame Bovary and strips it away
in 'Un Coeur simple'. Chapter 5 focuses on the sublime in Zola's Au Bonheur des
dames, a text that shows how capitalist discourse makes use of the imagery of the
Romantic sublime. In chapter 6, I move on to the sublime in working-class discourses,
especially revolutionary oratory and performance, before bringing the thesis to a close
in chapter 7 with an examination of the metaphysical underpinnings of some of the
major artistic developments in the period.