Sexuality and Corporeality in the Work of Annie Ernaux, Nancy Huston and Nelly Arcan

Polly Galis

Research output: Other contributionPhD thesis (not Bristol)

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This thesis discusses the representation of sexuality and corporeality in the work of Francophone authors Annie Ernaux, Nancy Huston and Nelly Arcan, including a range of genres and drawing from their earliest publications to the most recent. It takes as its main objects of study the female body, and women’s sexual development, experience and pleasure. In order, it examines the authors’ perspectives on the following issues: dominant sexual discourses (mostly pornography and the media), sexual difference, the sexual representation of others (especially prostitutes and porn-stars), women’s writing and the body politic. As the first comparative study of its kind, this thesis sheds light on the largely unexplored similarities between these authors’ works, as well as their relevance to contemporary women’s writing in French and to feminism more generally (despite evidence to the contrary). It asks: How is women’s sexuality informed by dominant sexual discourses, and in what ways do the authors proffer a productive counter-narrative? How do they understand the gendered nature of women’s situation, and to what extent do they resist or reinforce this? And how far does this extend to all women? Indeed, how do the authors represent other women in the first place? Finally, how do they define the body, and what is the relationship between the multiple bodies inside and outside of the text (including the authors’ own)? By responding to these questions, this thesis reveals how Ernaux, Huston and Arcan’s writing operates unrelentingly in the interest of female sexual and corporeal desire, remaining sensitive to the differences between women’s backgrounds and experiences. In so doing, it concludes that their literature constitutes an innovative and important blueprint for more nuanced representations of feminine identity that, despite conflicting appearances, constitute a potent force against patriarchal systems and misogynist dogma.
Original languageEnglish
TypeSupervised by Prof. Diana Holmes and Dr. Claire Lozier
Number of pages295
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sept 2018


  • Annie Ernaux
  • Nancy Huston
  • Nelly Arcan
  • sexuality
  • corporeality
  • sex
  • France
  • Quebec
  • the body
  • gender
  • women


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