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French Ecocriticism

From the Early Modern Period to the Twenty-First Century


Edited By Daniel A. Finch-Race and Stephanie Posthumus

This book expounds fruitful ways of analysing matters of ecology, environments, nature, and the non-human world in a broad spectrum of material in French. Scholars from Canada, France, Great Britain, Spain, and the United States examine the work of writers and thinkers including Michel de Montaigne, Victor Hugo, Émile Zola, Arthur Rimbaud, Marguerite Yourcenar, Gilbert Simondon, Michel Serres, Michel Houellebecq, and Éric Chevillard. The diverse approaches in the volume signal a common desire to bring together form and content, politics and aesthetics, theory and practice, under the aegis of the environmental humanities.

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Fauves in the Faubourg: Animal Aesthetics in Émile Zola’s Thérèse Raquin (Claire Nettleton)


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Claire Nettleton

Fauves in the Faubourg: Animal Aesthetics in Émile Zola’s Thérèse Raquin

Abstract: In the second preface to Thérèse Raquin (1867), Émile Zola expresses his novelistic mission to observe the ‘beastly’ characters of Thérèse and Laurent, and to ‘chercher en eux la bête’. While this section of the preface is traditionally read as a degradation of the characters as subhuman, I inquire whether presenting Thérèse and Laurent as animals could be the basis of an empowering and revolutionary non-anthropocentric aesthetic. On one hand, Zola’s deterministic and singular view of animals reduces behaviour to the primal drives of bestial lust and bloodthirsty wrath. On the other, this set of supposedly negative characteristics shocks traditional artistic sensibilities and humanist claims to superiority over other creatures. In this regard, Zola’s Naturalism, which considers characters’ milieu, heredity and animal instincts, brings together contemporary scholarly concerns that redirect our focus beyond a uniquely human experience. In my analysis of Thérèse Raquin, I integrate the work of Michel Serres, who expands our approach to literary criticism by shifting our attention beyond human-centred readings of texts, and the work of Gilles Deleuze, who affirms animals as a creative rupture from the status quo. I argue that Zola creates a radical aesthetic that erodes the thin façade of civilisation by focussing on non-human forces lingering alongside and within mankind, yet the limitations of the time period mean...

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