Studies in French and Francophone Culture
Part 5 Performance, Adaptation and Subjectivity 177
Part 5 Performance, Adaptation and Subjectivity Ruth Morris Madame Bovary: A Catastrophist Reading of Adaptation Adaptation, a key term in Darwin’s Origin of Species (1859), has been vari- ously read as a pivotal theme in contemporary literature. However, what has often been overlooked is a consideration of the literary impact or oth- erwise that evolutionary or transformist ideas had in France.1 Transform- ist thinkers such as Jean-Baptiste Lamarck and Geof froy Saint-Hilaire either preceded Darwin, or were met with a hostile reception in France by inf luential scientific savants such as Georges Cuvier.2 This paper will read a French literary text published before Darwin’s book, Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary (1857), as engaging with cata- strophist notions of adaptation, or more accurately non-adaptation. Flau- bert was writing Madame Bovary in a France which was scientifically very dif ferent from 1860s England. The French palaeontologist Georges Cuvier formulated the catastrophist model as a means of explaining the origins of the world. In this model, the world is divided into very discrete time periods which are punctuated by vast catastrophes – or, in Cuverian terminology, ‘revolutions’ – that have eradicated life. His principal work Discours sur les revolutions de la surface du globe brought together his theory and was first 1 To avoid any anachronisms, I shall be using the term ‘transformism’ rather than ‘evolution’. In the nineteenth century, ‘evolution’ primarily referred to the process of development from an embryo to an adult rather than the connotations of ancestry and descent which it has today....
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