Myths of empire, evil, and the body in Zola's Rougon-Macquart

Wong, Kit Yee (2018) Myths of empire, evil, and the body in Zola's Rougon-Macquart. Doctoral thesis, Birkbeck, University of London.

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This thesis examines how Zola’s use of myth in his Rougon-Macquart elucidates the immorality of Napoleon III’s Second Empire (1852–70). Focusing on seven novels, it uncovers the political and economic corruption which originates from the moral degeneration of the political body and the bourgeoisie. Using myth as a critical tool, Zola demonstrates that the immorality becomes so extreme that a state of evil has been reached. The corruption is figured as material evil which traverses the Empire in various forms, always denoting death and degeneracy. Zola invokes the myth of original sin — Christianity’s definition of evil — but rejects its metaphysical nature by naturalising it as the fêlure. The secular fêlure provides Zola with a meaningful way of expressing corruption in the modern age because it lies within the human world. Expressed as illness and as a material presence, the fêlure, for Zola, must overturn Christianity’s metaphysical original sin as the paradigm for human morality. Redemption, or the resolution of evil, is similarly a humanist concept for Zola, and represents the triumph of life over death, and secular justice and hope for the individual and the nation. Chapter 1 compares Zola’s La Débâcle (1892) with Max Nordau’s Degeneration (1892) which linked the body, society, and morality, so that Zola portrays immorality as an illness and natural evil emanating from the emperor’s political body. In chapter 2, the degeneracy of the Empire becomes a spatial concept. The ‘underground’ of modern Paris becomes the space of the fêlure which stigmatises the poor. Chapter 3 examines the devastating effects of economic excess in which bourgeois women visibly suffer from degenerative illness and natural evil. Redemption occurs in chapter 4 when the Rougon-Macquart family fêlure dissipates through naturalist means, a seam of evil which transmutes into an illness that can be cured.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Additional Information: This thesis is not currently available for public use.
Copyright Holders: The copyright of this thesis rests with the author, who asserts his/her right to be known as such according to the Copyright Designs and Patents Act 1988. No dealing with the thesis contrary to the copyright or moral rights of the author is permitted.
School/Department: School of Arts > European Cultures & Languages
Depositing User: ORBIT Editor
Date Deposited: 11 May 2018 12:59
Last Modified: 11 May 2018 12:59

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