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Title: La Vérité est au fond du verre : glazing over crises in French literature and culture, 1870-1889
Author: Scott, Hannah
Awarding Body: University of Bristol
Current Institution: University of Bristol
Date of Award: 2013
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During the annee terrible (1870-71), the sight and the sound of shattering glass became a daily reality, as the Prussian bombardment and the Commune fires wreaked havoc upon the Paris population. The French capital had been flooded with glass during Haussmannisation as a symbol of France's modernity, but now glass became inextricable from personal and national trauma. This thesis explores the distressing freight of meaning which was gained by glass during the crisis years of 1870-71, and its manifestations in Emile Zola's Au Bonheur des Dames (1883), Guy de Maupassant's Contes et nouvelles (those published 1870-89), and loris-Karl Huysmans's A Rebours (1884). This study begins with a cultural-historical study of the destruction and representations of glass during the Tenible Year; despite the ephemeral qualities of glass, it came to harbour distressing memories - and furthermore, in a time of Naturalism and Impressionism, describing and painting the city without incorporating these memories became impossible. I then explore three different literary reactions to the burden of traumatic symbolism acquired by glass. First, I discuss how Zola's Au Bonheur des Dames stages a conflict between the counterpoised glassworlds of the visual and the aural. The resolution of this conflict creates a utopian, phalanstery-based society in which glass and literature are instrumental in moving beyond the traumatic past. Maupassant's Contes et nouvelles take an antithetical approach. They force the contemporaneous reader to acknowledge the traumatic memories associated with glass, before finally triggering a moment of catharsis. This thesis goes on to demonstrate how elements of both Zolian utopia and Maupassantian dystopia feed into J.-K. Huysmans's often parodic A Rebours, and how Huysmans uses glass to divorce bourgeois aesthetics from the literary, and from Decadent values in patiicular. Although these three authors differ considerably in their specific treatments of glass, I argue that their works reveal a deeper need to move beyond the physical world of bourgeois culture at the end of the nineteenth century; their strategies of subversion and transformation trace a trajectory towards Art Nouveau and other artistic elaborations of glass in the early twentieth century.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available