French Cultural Studies FCS 292 H1S Love, Sex and Desire in French Literature and Cinema Course Instructor: Marie-Anne Visoi University of Toronto
Émile Zola“Nana” 1880
“A murmur spread through the house like a rising wind. A few people clapped and every opera-glass was focused on Venus. Gradually Nana had asserted her domination over the audience and now she held every man at her mercy. She was like an animal on heat whose ruttishness had permeated the whole theatre. Her slightest movement aroused lust; a jerk of her little finger was sexy.”
Historical and Socio-Cultural Context19th Century France • Second Empire • powerful middle class • economic progress • carefree attitude: “joie de vivre”
Paris before La Belle Époque (Beautiful Era) (between late 19th century and World War I) • cafés and cabarets • workshops and art galleries • concert halls and salons
New Art FormsImpressionism Edouard Manet, Le Déjeuner sur l'Herbe (The Picnic)
Music Operettas Jacques Offenbach Operettas: “Orpheus in the Underworld” http://gallery.sjsu.edu/paris/music/operetta.html “La belle Hélène”
Architecture Art Nouveau
exhibitions (the World Fair of 1867) • fashion trends • the age of “courtisans” and sexual hypocrisy
Naturalism and the “scientific novel” Zola tried to employ in his novels scientific principles: • observation of 19th century French society • collection of information • analysis and interpretation of documents and other material
Rougon-Macquart cycle, 1871-1893 The two branches of the family are the Rougons, shopkeepers and petty bourgeois, and the Macquarts, smugglers and alcoholics.
Zola wrote to his publisher in 1868: “The Rougon-Macquart - the group, the family, whom I propose to study - has as its prime characteristic the overflow of appetite, the broad upthrust of our age, which flings itself into enjoyments.”
“Physiologically the members of this family are the slow working-out of accidents to the blood and nervous system which occur in a race after a first organic lesion, according to the environment determining in each of individuals of this race sentiments, desires, passions, all the natural and instinctive human manifestations whose products take on the conventional names of virtues and vices.”
Characters Zola’s novel insists on the importance of heredity and environment in determining character (H. Taine). His characters are clearly illustrating aspects of the 19th century French society.
Main characters (Nana, Count Muffat, Satin) • Representative types of a certain social group: • the actor • the noble • the bourgeois • the “courtisane”
Characters and Settings Zola attributes much of his characters behaviour to the surroundings; he bases his work on real-life observations and creates character types that betray his perceptions of the world around him.
detailed, well-researched settings urban scenes group scenes: crowd at the Variétés, concerts, dinner parties, restaurant scenes Settings
The opening scene in “Nana” “…the opening scene of the novel provides the reader with important insight into Nana’s Character. We are introduced to the protagonist not by her presence, but by her absence and the excitement that builds in anticipation of her arrival on scene for a musical show of which she is the star.” Deborah B. Beyer
Male and Female Roles • In “Nana”, Zolaundermines traditional notions of male and female roles through his characterization of his protagonist. • The reader becomes a “voyeur” by gaining access to the private world of a 19th century French courtesan.
Homoeroticism One of the main themes in the novel “Nana” is homoeroticism (deriving pleasure from observing and touching one’s own body) as a source of sexual empowerment. As with Manet’s Olympia, Nana’s self-containment is evident in her abandonment in front of the mirror.
Love and Sexual Pleasurein the Novel When Nana is unable to find satisfaction in male companionship, she turns to women as a possible source of pleasure. A link is established between lesbianism and vice… “Satin fut son vice” (Satin was her vice).
“Gender-blending” in “Nana” Nana embodies both male and female characteristics. Her affairs with men and women, her cross-dressing and homo-eroticism, serve to empower her.
Topics for Class Discussion • Is there a link between Zola’s naturalism and the presentation of love, sex and desire in the novel? • Does the presence of the “ironic narrator” undermine traditional notions of male and female roles? (see Glossary of Literary Terms, Course Guide, Part 6)
Literary Commentary • Discuss the general “mood” of the novel. Identify comical and satirical elements which are used to guide your views of love in Zola’s novel. • Comment on the use of specific images: simile, metaphor, personification in the portrayal of characters.
“the only business of naturalism is to be natural, and therefore, instead of saying of Nana that it contains a great deal of filth, we should simply say of it that it contains a great deal of nature.” Henry James