Date of Award

Spring 5-17-2010

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Graduate Group

Romance Languages

First Advisor

Dr. Gerald J. Prince

Second Advisor

Dr. Lydie Moudileno

Third Advisor

Dr. Philippe Met

Abstract

This dissertation draws attention to an ever-growing corpus of critically successful French writers who have offered innovative and often subversive explorations of reproductive experiences. It examines narratives centrally concerned with the autodiegetic narrator’s perception of the female reproductive body during pregnancy, abortion, miscarriage, sterility, and menopause as well as when confronted with human reproductive cloning. I refer to these narratives as ‘hysterographies,’ at once encompassing the word’s etymological roots (writings of the womb) and its biotechnical definition (a means of visualizing the uterus developed by French researchers Sicard and Forestier in 1921). In a first section, I chart the nature of the changing legislation, trends, biotechnological innovations and subsequent shifts in French birth culture within the ‘new era of reproduction’ that is the twentieth century and that, I contend, has inspired these authors. By revealing how writers like Redonnet, Darrieussecq, Ernaux, Laurens, and Houellebecq make use of this previously underexplored literary space, this study then uncovers the diverse fictional manifestations of this body that engage with the twentieth century’s dramatic changes in birthing culture and the social, legal, and medical management of the female body, while revealing French women, modern medicine, and society’s conflicting perceptions of it. These textual explorations, I argue, reflect on the female reproductive body and stimulate meditation on fiction’s own creation, (re)production, repetitions, and impending sterility as it stretches generic, linguistic, and societal boundaries, reviving old literary topoï and introducing new ones.