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«The Return of the Repressed»: Uncovering Family Secrets in Zola’s Fiction

An Interpretation of Selected Novels


Rita Oghia-Codsi

This book analyses one of the many levels of complexity not readily apparent to the reader of Zola’s fiction: the question of the author’s family secrets. The novels addressed here present a variety of sub-textual issues highlighting Zola’s sexual insecurity and anxiety. Their analysis reveals a mystery related to female sexuality that pervades the narratives of Thérèse Raquin and La Fortune des Rougon, and that is silently transmitted in Madeleine Férat, La Faute de l’Abbé Mouret, La Bête humaine, La Curée, Nana, Le Docteur Pascal and Vérité.
The novels are explored from the standpoint of psychoanalytical criticism, a tool particularly appropriate for examining Zola’s language and illuminating the recurrent theme of «the Return of the repressed». Four psychoanalytical theories are adopted: Nicolas Abraham’s and Maria Toroks’ theories of psychic development (presenting the concept of the phantom) and Sigmund Freud’s and Jacques Lacan’s theories of infantile sexuality.
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Chapter 4: Prostitution and Nineteenth-Century ‘Female Discourse’ in La Curée and Nana


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Prostitution and Nineteenth-Century ‘Female Discourse’ in La Curée and Nana

In this chapter, I show that the mystery relates, in La Curée and Nana, to female sexual transgression, which principally affects the narrator: the depiction of Renée’s and Nana’s (sexual) behaviour stages the return of a dispossessed femininity which haunts the novels under consideration. This analysis relates it to fantasy of the unconscious.

This chapter is divided into two parts. The first part considers the role played by prostitution and links nineteenth-century hygienist and medical discourses on female sexuality to the representation of Nana, in Nana, and Renée in La Curée respectively. It is necessary to look at the issue of prostitution as it is linked to the novels’ themes, in that prostitution is evident in Nana and implied in La Curée. This part demonstrates that medical and hygienist discourses on the topic of prostitution affected principally a Second Empire, as well as a Third Republic, masculine society, but offered nineteenth-century novelists, poets and artists an opportunity to represent it as evil and decadent. It argues that this form of narrative structure, in relation to female prostitution, is used by Zola to conceal a weakness and a fear of women’s sexual power. The second part questions the novelist’s investigative methods and his empirical observations of his society’s ills, and argues that although La Curée and Nana draw attention to a debauched...

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