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Boundaries of Acceptability

Flaubert, Maupassant, Cézanne, and Cassatt


Sharon P. Johnson

Boundaries of Acceptability: Flaubert, Maupassant, Cézanne, and Cassatt uses an interdisciplinary approach to analyze competing representations of female bourgeois protagonists in selected novels and paintings of the second half of nineteenth-century France. Sharon P. Johnson argues that the works of Flaubert, Maupassant, Cézanne, and Cassatt contribute to the redefinition of social and sexual norms, either by presenting oppositional values that shock the public or by presenting alternative values and roles for women. By manipulating the depiction of «feminine spaces,» painterly conventions, and traditional narrative form, these works challenge dominant society’s commonplace norms of «proper» behaviors and social roles. Such challenges thus attack bourgeois society by problematizing its boundaries of acceptability, boundaries that serve to make definitions clear and to strengthen bourgeois ideology. This study provides a new framework for feminist studies by analyzing how artistic works that have no overt intention of furthering women’s causes do so by using female subjects in controversial ways to attack bourgeois social structures. Dr. Johnson offers fresh interpretations of the works she studies by examining them within the framework of nineteenth-century codes and contemporary women studies’ questions.