Mapping Prostitution: Sex, Space, Taxonomy in the Fin-de-Siècle French Novel

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Mapping Prostitution: Sex, Space, Taxonomy in the Fin-de-Siècle French Novel

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Title: Mapping Prostitution: Sex, Space, Taxonomy in the Fin-de-Siècle French Novel
Author: Tanner, Jessica Leigh
Citation: Tanner, Jessica Leigh. 2013. Mapping Prostitution: Sex, Space, Taxonomy in the Fin-de-Siècle French Novel. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard University.
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Abstract: This dissertation examines representations of prostitution in male-authored French novels
from the later nineteenth century. It proposes that prostitution has a map, and that realist and naturalist authors appropriate this cartography in the Second Empire and early Third Republic to make sense of a shifting and overhauled Paris perceived to resist mimetic literary inscription. Though always significant in realist and naturalist narrative, space is uniquely complicit in the novel of prostitution due to the contemporary policy of reglementarism, whose primary instrument was the mise en carte: an official registration that subjected prostitutes to moral and hygienic surveillance, but also “put them on the map,” classifying them according to their space of practice (such as the brothel or the boulevard). It is this spatial and conceptual taxonomy, I contend, that makes the
prostitute a fulcrum for authorial mapping – for the assertion of mastery over both the prostitute and the city. The first chapter reads the inscription of the tolerated brothel in novels by Huysmans and Goncourt as the mark of a nostalgic longing for old Paris and a desire for stability in a resistant urban present. Analyzing the representation of the brasserie à femmes in lesser-known works by Tabarant and Barrès, Chapter Two posits that the brasserie prostitute fuels the desires of a generation of aspirational Rastignacs by selling stories alongside beer and sex, adopting a writerly role and troubling authorial mastery of the prostitute and the city. The mobilization of prostitutional metaphors in the Rougon-Macquart is the subject of the third chapter, which argues that Zola deploys
the prostitute’s entropic force to dismantle the Paris of his predecessors, Balzac and Haussmann, and clear the ground for the construction of a proper city. The final chapter demonstrates that fin-de-siècle novelist Charles-Louis Philippe makes use of the clandestinity of street prostitution in order to locate a breed of urban mapping that is not contingent on mastery. By remapping the prostitute, the dissertation proposes a new model for understanding both the nineteenth-century novel of prostitution and the lived and represented experience of a Paris that Zola termed “le mauvais lieu de l’Europe.”
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