Mother Figure in Emile Zola's Le Rougon-Macquart

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This book analyzes the role of the mother figure in Emile Zola’s twenty-novel series Les Rougon-Macquart. Zola’s texts demonstrate a continual preoccupation with women as they become mothers, specifically, how their status as reproductive and sexual beings creates a conflict that cannot be reconciled. The author employs theories of determinism and naturalism to shape the mother figure, relying on tainted heredity to place her in situations in which she is bound to fail, either as a mother or as a woman. Motherhood in Les Rougon-Macquart entails an alienation of the woman as she loses her autonomy and her voice. The ideal mother portrayed in the series is a woman who will sacrifice her sexuality and even herself to fit the mold established by Zola. This work will appeal to Zola scholars as well as to scholars of nineteenth-century fiction and women’s studies.


“ ... Dr. Susie Hennessy’s ground-breaking study of maternal figures in Zola’s Rougon-Macquart reveals the extent to which the author’s overt goal of depicting reality is often accompanied, in his novels, by narration that casts doubt upon maternal behavior. This topic is surprisingly fresh for Zola studies; although his personal views and fictional representation of women have been widely debated, few scholars have focused specifically on the mothers of the Rougon-Macquart family, for whom the ‘founder of the entire family’ is a single mother ... One of the greatest pleasures of Dr. Hennessy’s fascinating study of maternal figures in the Rougon-Macquart series is the complexity she exposes in Zola’s struggling yet silent mothers, figures who generate and defy Second Empire society from within.” – (from the Preface) Professor Elizabeth Emery, Montclair State University

“ ... The need for this study seems particularly compelling, since the hereditary flaw (mental illness), which this original mother passes on in various forms to her children, actively manifests itself when she first becomes a mother. Moreover, Zola thought at one time that mental illness was inherited mainly from mothers ... this book is very welcome in that it provides us with a thorough and nuanced account of the various representations of the mother in the Rougon-Macquart series and of how Zola uses the mother figure. Through close readings and concrete examples in the text, Dr. Hennessy views motherhood in Zola’s world from many different perspectives – historical, thematic, cultural, symbolic – as she teases out the various narrative points of view that create these perspectives ...” – Professor Dorothy Kelly, Boston University

“ ... Critics have long recognized the importance of mothers and would-be mothers in Zola, but now Dr. Susie Hennessy offers us the first major study that focuses primarily on the figure of the mother, not as woman, not as sexual being, but as maternity itself in all its manifestation. Those who have followed Dr. Hennessy’s work over the years will be pleased that she has now chosen to bring elements of her past studies together with her new insights in this interesting and enlightening analysis of such a vital part of Zola’s overall vision ...” – Professor Michael Lastinger, West Virginia University

Table of Contents

Preface by Elizbeth Emery
1. Fertility and Heredity
2. Motherhood as Alienation
3. Mothers and Industrial Society
4. Motherhood and Sacrifice

Other France/French: All Subjects Books

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