Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Graduate Group

Romance Languages

First Advisor

Andrea R. Goulet

Second Advisor

Maurice A. Samuels


This dissertation explores the role of fashion and fashion journal discourse in some of the most widely read French novels of the nineteenth century: Gustave Flaubert's Madame Bovary (1857), �mile Zola's La Curée (1871), and Edmond de Goncourt's Chérie (1884). As access to popular styles and fashion magazines became increasingly democratized over the course of the nineteenth century, Second Empire Paris, with its new public parks, cafés, and amusements, became the locus of an unprecedentedly visual culture. Though fashion has often been considered a feminine frivolity in scholarly circles, I argue for its importance in the Second Empire as economic engine, powerful political tool, and visual signifier of social status. The rising significance of fashion in nineteenth-century French cultural life is paralleled by an increased interest in la mode in male-authored realist and naturalist texts. In the decline and dissolution of their respective heroines, I explore how Flaubert, Zola, and Goncourt thematize and problematize the kind of gaze that fashion elicits. Using theorists like Jean Baudrillard, Laura Mulvey, and Anne Higonnet, I examine how Flaubert, Zola, and Goncourt use tropes of vision to show that their protagonists' fixed focus on fashion blinds them to their exploitation by that very pursuit. I argue that Flaubert and Zola both use the discourse of fashion to expose the futility of the fantasy of social ascension and sexual liberty present in Emma and Renée. I also show how Goncourt uses female documents--letters, diaries, and fashion journals--in Chérie to construct, and ultimately to undercut, his stated aim of scientifically depicting the peripeteia of French girl- and young womanhood. As the moral degradation of Emma, Renée, and Chérie is manifest in their increasingly elaborate ensembles, their common obsession with fashion, in one way or another, precipitates their downfalls and eventual deaths. The respective ruins of Emma, Renée, and Chérie represent the authors' critique not only of unbridled feminine consumption, but also of the political and cultural forces driving their protagonists' desires.