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Zola's Woman as Unnatural Animal

Parrat, Noemie Isabelle (2004) Zola's Woman as Unnatural Animal. Doctoral Dissertation, University of Pittsburgh.

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    Abstract

    The purpose of this dissertation is to show how certain female characters in Zola question the received notion about the human-animal border and the related distinction between the male and the female. The novels I examine are Madeleine Férat, La Faute de l'abbé Mouret, La Curée, Nana, and Travail. The renewal of interest in contemporary French philosophy on human-animal relations serves as a framework for a reevaluation of the naturalist author, and my analysis of animal metaphors proposes a refinement of the status of the human in Zola. I show how female characters constantly move between the human and the animal to the point of ending either in an ambiguous human-animal in-between or in a transcendence of such a limit. In order to establish a context for Zola's work, I analyze different aspects of the human-animal discourse in 19th century culture, from the legendary theory of impregnation to androgyny and from sexual inversion to the myth of the femme fatale in both literature and in the arts. Gilles Deleuze's and Félix Guattari's notion of becoming-animal, which inscribes animal instincts within a positive discourse, is my main critical reference. I also refer to Alain Badiou's ethics of truth, which describes the relation of ethics to subjectivity, in my discussion of the subjective status of humans seen as animals. This dissertation underscores oppositions inherent in the human animal, such as Nature versus society. As the title suggests, I posit an oxymoron in viewing woman as an unnatural animal, as an animal in conflict with its human nature or as a human in conflict with its animal side. The human-animal border is not only more frequently subverted but also more complex in female characters than in their male counterpart in Zola's novels, thus illustrating that the human-animal status of women characters poses a real problem while its male counterpart is less puzzling. Maybe unwittingly, Zola's women profoundly upset 19th century definitions of both humanity and femininity, to a degree that almost contradicts Zola's own avowed positions in this matter.


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    Item Type: University of Pittsburgh ETD
    ETD Committee:
    ETD Committee TypeCommittee MemberEmail
    Committee ChairMecchia, Giuseppinamecchia@pitt.edu
    Committee MemberRussell, Danielrussell@pitt.edu
    Committee MemberClarke, Ericeclare@pitt.edu
    Committee MemberWatts, Philipwatts@pitt.edu
    Committee MemberCitton, Yvescitton@pitt.edu
    Title: Zola's Woman as Unnatural Animal
    Status: Unpublished
    Abstract: The purpose of this dissertation is to show how certain female characters in Zola question the received notion about the human-animal border and the related distinction between the male and the female. The novels I examine are Madeleine Férat, La Faute de l'abbé Mouret, La Curée, Nana, and Travail. The renewal of interest in contemporary French philosophy on human-animal relations serves as a framework for a reevaluation of the naturalist author, and my analysis of animal metaphors proposes a refinement of the status of the human in Zola. I show how female characters constantly move between the human and the animal to the point of ending either in an ambiguous human-animal in-between or in a transcendence of such a limit. In order to establish a context for Zola's work, I analyze different aspects of the human-animal discourse in 19th century culture, from the legendary theory of impregnation to androgyny and from sexual inversion to the myth of the femme fatale in both literature and in the arts. Gilles Deleuze's and Félix Guattari's notion of becoming-animal, which inscribes animal instincts within a positive discourse, is my main critical reference. I also refer to Alain Badiou's ethics of truth, which describes the relation of ethics to subjectivity, in my discussion of the subjective status of humans seen as animals. This dissertation underscores oppositions inherent in the human animal, such as Nature versus society. As the title suggests, I posit an oxymoron in viewing woman as an unnatural animal, as an animal in conflict with its human nature or as a human in conflict with its animal side. The human-animal border is not only more frequently subverted but also more complex in female characters than in their male counterpart in Zola's novels, thus illustrating that the human-animal status of women characters poses a real problem while its male counterpart is less puzzling. Maybe unwittingly, Zola's women profoundly upset 19th century definitions of both humanity and femininity, to a degree that almost contradicts Zola's own avowed positions in this matter.
    Date: 25 June 2004
    Date Type: Completion
    Defense Date: 09 January 2004
    Approval Date: 25 June 2004
    Submission Date: 13 April 2004
    Access Restriction: No restriction; The work is available for access worldwide immediately.
    Patent pending: No
    Institution: University of Pittsburgh
    Thesis Type: Doctoral Dissertation
    Refereed: Yes
    Degree: PhD - Doctor of Philosophy
    URN: etd-04132004-112642
    Uncontrolled Keywords: Alain Badiou; androgyny; animal; animality; becoming-animal; Emile Zola; feminism; femme fatale; Gabriel Tarde; Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari; homosexuality; woman; women
    Schools and Programs: Faculty of Arts and Sciences > French
    Date Deposited: 10 Nov 2011 14:36
    Last Modified: 01 May 2012 16:14
    Other ID: http://etd.library.pitt.edu/ETD/available/etd-04132004-112642/, etd-04132004-112642

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