Geographies of Exile and the Making of French Nationhood in the Nineteenth Century

Thumbnail Image
Degree type
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Graduate group
Romance Languages
French Revolution
English Language and Literature
Modern Languages
Grant number
Copyright date
Related resources

This dissertation analyzes space, geography, and political discourse in the exilic works of Napoleon I, Victor Hugo, Louise Michel, Alfred Dreyfus, and Èmile Zola to show how, through their constructions of island space and the Revolutionary legacy, their outcast voices paradoxically shaped the development of mainstream Frenchness. Chapter 1 analyzes Napoleon’s exile to Saint Helena (1815-1821) through close readings of the Mémorial de Sainte-Hèlène (1823); here, the Emperor emphasized his exilic island and martyrdom to re-construct his imperial legacy as a republican gesture. Chapter 2 discusses Hugo’s exile to Guernsey (1856-1870); Hugo interpreted the Revolution as a conflict between good and evil, and his novel Les Travailleurs de la Mer (1866) evokes the island as a site where that antinomy can be transcended to begin propagating French values around the globe. Chapter 3 examines Michel’s works, especially her Kanak stories composed in exile in New Caledonia (1873-1880). Directly inspired by her exilic environment, Michel related political revolution with geological and human evolution to challenge the French authority on universalism. Finally, Chapters 4 and 5 examine the Dreyfus Affair’s effects on French nationhood through, respectively, Dreyfus’s memoirs from Devil’s Island (1894-1899) and Zola’s novel Fécondité, written during his exile in England (1898-1899). For Dreyfus, laïcité was meant to unite the nation against tyranny while, for Zola, a religion based on birth and soil would strengthen France and make possible a new French biopolitics. My narrative demonstrates the importance of the 1789 Revolution to French identity while highlighting how its ideological paradoxes continue to shape ideas of Frenchess today. While most scholarship on exile focuses on twentieth- and twenty-first-century migratory experiences, this dissertation shows that exile is equally a nineteenth-century phenomenon, intricately tied to the development of the modern nation and its identity politics. Drawing on literary spatial theory, the political theories of (for example) Kantorowicz, Anderson, and Arendt, and especially the notion of the “body politic,” this project offers new readings of literary and historical texts within their exilic contexts, and looks for the roots of contemporary French republicanism in the theocratic monarchical tradition of pre-Revolutionary France.

Andrea Goulet
Date of degree
Date Range for Data Collection (Start Date)
Date Range for Data Collection (End Date)
Digital Object Identifier
Series name and number
Volume number
Issue number
Publisher DOI
Journal Issue
Recommended citation