Pretty Ugly: The Poetics and Politics of Ugliness in Nineteenth-Century French Literature
CitationLiu, Tuo. 2018. Pretty Ugly: The Poetics and Politics of Ugliness in Nineteenth-Century French Literature. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard University, Graduate School of Arts & Sciences.
AbstractNineteenth-century French literature saw a proliferation of “ugly” protagonists whose subjective experience provided the main narrative thread of the texts. Writers such as George Sand, Victor Hugo, and Émile Zola reevaluated ugliness in aesthetic terms, while also unravelling the complex ideological constructions of the “laid,” contingent as they are on social and sociopolitical norms. In this manner, these narratives often denaturalize ugliness and politicize the plight of the “ugly” individual. These writers’ attempts to integrate ugliness into the social and the textual fabric are, however, not entirely disinterested: the ugly body could also be a blank slate upon which the writer her/himself projected phantasms about desire, the individual’s relationship to the social body, and the very act of creation itself. My dissertation probes these ambivalent, and often contradictory articulations of ugliness in Eugénie Foa’s La laide, Zénaïde Fleuriot’s Sans beauté, Juliette Lamber’s Laide, George Sand’s Consuelo and La Comtesse de Rudolstadt, Victor Hugo’s L’Homme qui rit and a selection of Zolian works. I show that in spite of a desire to value the ugly as a distinct aesthetic and political category, the texts often rely on a transformation into beauty as the way of achieving the integration of the ugly body. While they fail to entirely undo the beauty/ugliness dichotomy where ugliness is devalued, they propose an optimistic belief in the perfectibility of the human condition. In coming to terms with this ugliness that by definition transgresses norms, these writers establish their own authorial mastery of this “unruly” material.
Citable link to this pagehttp://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:HUL.InstRepos:41127154
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