Nourriture et épistémocritique : l'anorexie chez Flaubert, Zola et Huysmans

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This Research Master thesis investigates discourses of food in three 19th-century French novels. Therefore, it takes the field theory of the French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu as a starting point. In the period 1800-1900, an autonomous French gastronomic field arose as a result of the search for a national identity. Among other types of discourses that contributed to the construction of the field, such as culinary journalism and political thinking, realist novels are regarded as important sources and contributors. Especially in the second part of the 19th-century, however, it is shown that the euphoric and optimistic registrations of culinary practices in fiction are juxtaposed with another, dysphoric side of eating: the rejection of food becomes an object of study in the medical world and is related to the emergence of different psychiatric illnesses, such as hysteria, melancholia and anorexia nervosa. Three realist-naturalistic novels of the French writers Gustave Flaubert, Émile Zola and Joris-Karl Huysmans will serve as case studies, in order to research to what extent the dysphoric discourse of food is associated to anorexia nervosa. This thesis adopts an epistemocritic research method. Epistemocriticism assumes that literature often uses scientific elements in its texts to legitimize itself as a science and to create “reliable” story worlds. The scientific elements are “transplanted” in literature and therefore, they are submitted to processes of encoding. In this thesis, the encoding process of gastronomic and medical science is analysed in the literary texts of Flaubert, Zola and Huysmans.
Faculteit der Letteren