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Defying a decadent democracy: a comparative study of the works of Paul Bourget and Emile Zola

Irons, Jessica Rosalind (2000) Defying a decadent democracy: a comparative study of the works of Paul Bourget and Emile Zola. Masters thesis, Durham University.



Facing each other across the bitter political divide between Catholics and Republicans in late nineteenth century France, Paul Bourget and Emile Zola might seem at first glance to have little in common. Bourget, devoutly Catholic and monarchist, was a significant influence on Right wing thought and action: Zola devoted his career to the promotion of a scientific, positivist and anti-clerical Republic. Yet as this thesis seeks to demonstrate, the opposition between Bourget and Zola - and between bourgeois Catholics and Republicans on a wider scale - could conceal not only ambiguity but also considerable consensus, particularly with reference to the question of national decadence. Focusing on a variety of literary, critical and journalistic works, the thesis illuminates Zola's political and social thought while incorporating original research on Paul Bourget, whose ideological importance has long been neglected. The shared sense of the writer's moral mission is studied as a prelude to a wider investigation of the two novelists' attitudes to political, social and racial decadence, throughout which emphasis is given to common perceptions of the nature of national degeneration. Journalistic campaigns attacking the early Third Republic give an insight into common complaints of political stagnation, and the longing for scientific government and strong leadership; fears of decadence and disorder in the social sphere often reveal a similar degree of bourgeois consensus. Concern at racial degeneration was still more widespread, and frequently crossed political and religious boundaries. Yet while Bourget and Zola shared common preoccupations, their proposed solutions were nonetheless widely divergent, and similarity of mentality could make for irreconcilable differences, especially in the religious domain. This thesis aims to demonstrate how defiance of a decadent democracy co-existed with the inescapable revolutionary legacy, thus giving a three dimensional picture of the depths of conflict and consensus within a divided society.

Item Type:Thesis (Masters)
Award:Master of Arts
Thesis Date:2000
Copyright:Copyright of this thesis is held by the author
Deposited On:01 Aug 2012 11:43

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