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Imagination, Mimesis and Style: Nineteenth-Century French Travel Narratives, Realism and Photography

  • Author(s): Lee, Michelle Chang-Hsien
  • Advisor(s): Behdad, Ali
  • et al.
Abstract

Analyzing French literature, travel photography and writing from the 1830s to 1860s, this dissertation, entitled Imagination, Mimesis, and Style: Nineteenth-Century French Realism, Travel Narratives and Photography, examines how Orientalism directly influenced the early realist and modernist works of Honoré de Balzac, Gustave Flaubert, Maxime Du Camp, and Charles Baudelaire. This dissertation underscores how the development of nineteenth-century realism and modernism is greatly indebted to French transcultural contact and overseas history and challenges the literary historical notion that realism and modernism were nationally bound genres. In the chapters that follow, considering the foreign or exotic beyond its role as providing ornamental diversity and diversion in European texts—and as actually participating in the development of form—this dissertation, in its methodology, departs from a nationalist understanding of nineteenth-century artistic and literary development. Responding to a current lacuna in recent research that privileges how Romanticism contributed to orientalist imagery, this study will show how what have been considered orientalist modes of approaching the world in travel documentation functioned not merely as an “other” to realistic and modern modes of representation, but rather that the construction of these modern forms of literary and visual representation was instrumental in making “realism” realist and “modernism” modern. The first two chapters focus on how Orientalism played a central role in Balzac’s and Flaubert’s first successful novels, La Peau de chagrin and Madame Bovary, respectively, while the third chapter concerns how Maxime Du Camp employed romantic travel tropes to realistically portray the Orient. If the first three chapters show how Orientalism informed realism, then the fourth chapter turns to the modernism of Baudelaire’s travel poetry in order to elaborate how post-romantic cultural expressions in France grappled with the same questions of representation and reference as posed by Orientalism in the nineteenth century.

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