Consumption, Domesticity & the Female Body in Emile Zola’s Fiction

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An unexpected and surprising discovery of the many ways metaphorical language shaped the discourse of domesticity as depicted in women’s press and in Zola’s oeuvre. This book examines that structuring effect as it evolves in the department store, the bedroom and the kitchen.


“Indeed, this overlap between gender and genre is one of the many ways in which this book will invite future scholars to return to Les Rougon-Macquart with fresh vigor. For, as Hennessy suggests, Zola’s novels themselves both consume the world around them and are ripe for consumption by that same culture…Hennessy brings to bear her masterful knowledge of Zola’s oeuvre in a fluent and creative account of his writing project, which conceives not just of mothers but of women more broadly as both the subjects and objects of consumption in the high age of capitalism… She brings to focus a variety of different fields which speak eloquently to Zola’s fiction, and makes excellent use not only of her expert knowledge of secondary criticism on Zola, but also of other non-literary discourses of the period, such as domestic manuals, aimed precisely at the women who might also have found themselves reading Zola’s novels.”
-Nicholas White,
Chair of the Faculty of Modern and Medieval Languages,
University of Cambridge

“In this book Hennessy provides a detailed analysis of nineteenth century and specially Zola’s apprehension and representation of women. Whilst Zola’s purpose was to write “scientifically” and draw realistic portraits of women as evolving through the industrial revolution, Hennessy throws much light on the complexities of women’s representation both in his novels and in 19th Century feminine magazines.
Hennessy approaches the texts from a literary as well as sociological and psychological stance, which gives her text its unique appeal across several disciplines, making the reading fascinating and surprising in many ways as she allies rigorous research and references to an engaging presentation of Zola’s novels. We immediately feel like reading those novels again, because they have been presented in a new light. In spite of numerous studies having been published on such a popular 19th century writer as Zola, none up to this day have seized so well the richness of Zola’s motifs, their power to convey excess in all its forms: ambition, desire, consumption of things and people.”
-Dr. Micheline van der Beken,
Lecturer, European Languages and Studies
University of Western Australia

Table of Contents

Foreword by Nicholas White
The Domestic Body

Consumption and Desire
Shopping women: from sensible to sensuous
Identities for sale
Shopping as escape
Pathological shoppers
The Language of Domesticity
Home as refuge in La Conquête de Plassans
Domesticity and social status in Pot-bouille
Domestic consumption and identity in Nana and La Curée
Overindulging: Hunger and Desire
Feeding desire
Le ventre de Paris
Starving in les Halles
Food as fetish
The merchants of les Halles
Good Enough to Eat

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