Date of Thesis



My thesis, Beyond the Physical, is a project that aims to investigate the function of disease in 19th and 20th century French literature through the analysis of the narrative techniques of three fictional novels and secondary sources. This work is an interdisciplinary study that combines the social and scientific aspects of Public Health with literary elements present in French and Francophone Studies. In La Cousine Bette (1847), a Realist novel by Honoré de Balzac, Valérie Marneffe's obsession with greed and attention leads her to pursue various extramarital affairs in her efforts to augment her financial status. Her death by syphilis eliminates her ability to use sex and beauty to attract men only after she has settled on a wealthy entrepreneurial lover. Nana (1880), by Émile Zola, is a Naturalist novel about a young Parisian prostitute who dies from small pox, a 19th- century epidemic, after she uses her body to exploit and manipulate high society men in her endeavors of social mobility and status. Both La Cousine Bette and Nana employ disease to objectively comment on the interactions and lifestyles of the bourgeois and lower classes and the consequence of altering one's reality. Le Protocol Compassionnel (1991), by Hervé Guibert, shows a shift in the conversation about disease. Rather than observing the interactions of the infected individual in a social setting, the genre of AIDS literature switches from the "he/she" to the "I" to offer readers an intimate account of one's existence. In these three novels, disease takes on many different functions, but what all of these works share is the treatment and discussion of illness beyond its physical and biological roles.


French literature, Public health, Biology, Realism, Naturalism, AIDS, Disease

Access Type

Honors Thesis

Degree Type

Bachelor of Arts


Languages, Cultures & Linguistics

Minor, Emphasis, or Concentration

French & Francophone Studies

First Advisor

Logan Connors