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Author ORCID Identifier


Open Access Dissertation

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Program

Comparative Literature

Year Degree Awarded


Month Degree Awarded


First Advisor

Catherine Portuges

Second Advisor

Kathryn Lachman

Third Advisor

William Moebius

Fourth Advisor

Luke Bouvier

Subject Categories

Comparative Literature | Film and Media Studies | French and Francophone Literature | Other Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies


This dissertation explores the ways in which questions of gender, space and mobility intersect in a selection of fin-de-siècle French novels and 1960s French New Wave films in an effort to discern how the representational interplay of these three elements gives allegorical form to the sociopolitical anxieties of the times in which the works were produced. Using the Paris Commune of 1871 and the protests of May ’68 as anchoring points for the two periodizations underlying my inquiry, I examine how women in the novels of Emile Zola (Au Bonheur des Dames, Nana) and Villiers de L’Isle-Adam (L’Ève future) and the films of Jean-Luc Godard (2 ou 3 choses que je sais d’elle), Agnès Varda (Cléo de 5 à 7) and Alain Resnais (Je t’aime, je t’aime) are subject to a complex representational framework which alternately figures, transfigures and disfigures them to embody surrounding anxieties. We encounter female characters in the works of Zola and Villiers who inhabit the extremes of this continuum, conjuring the images of two antithetical women-myths central to the mythology of the burgeoning Third Republic: Marianne (the mother-nation) and the pétroleuse (the revolutionary force of its destruction). Yet others, particularly the female protagonists of the films I analyze, elude such Manichean, ideologically charged representations, offering instead a more nuanced—indeed, ultimately indeterminate—and self-realized model of woman. In addition to exploring how these female protagonists subversively navigate between public and domestic space, and how they delimit, transgress and even embody milieux, I identify a parallel trend of male protagonists retreating, retiring, looking back: a reactionary mode with classist resonances that is coded as a kind of revolt against the shocks of modernity, a solitary form of (in)activism that anticipates/recalls the alienated dreamers of modernism, from Proust to Kafka, and bespeaks a broader crisis of masculinity. I conclude by a consideration of how these tropes and representational strategies have continued to be deployed in French films well beyond the ’68 era as elements of the tumultuous, alienating sociopolitical climate depicted by Zola, Godard et al have persisted to this day.