‘Du pain!’ to ‘À Berlin!’
: Food in Zola’s Rougon-Macquart

Student thesis: Master's ThesisMaster of Philosophy (MPhil)


Émile Zola’s Les Rougon-Macquart: histoire naturelle et sociale d’une famille sous le Second Empire (1871-1893), a broad exposé of life in Second Empire France, was avidly consumed by a nineteenth-century readership and is rich in everyday detail. Through focusing on descriptions of the sourcing, preparing, and sharing of food, as well as its rhetorical potential, this thesis contends that food is a crucial, if understudied, aspect of the Rougon-Macquart cycle. As a novelist, Zola was preoccupied with labour and the effects of work on the body, as well as with narratives of physical and social illness, and the language of production, consumption, appetite, and hunger pervades his novels. Throughout this thesis, close readings of narrative engagement with food reveals its productive intersection with themes of gender, work, community, and the rhythms of everyday life.
This thesis will trace a three-part study of food as narrative function in the Rougon-Macquart. Chapter I situates the topic of food within the context of the Rougon-Macquart and explores the connection between the language of food and the language of adultery, as well as themes of scarcity, plenty, and edibility which recur in various novels in the cycle. Chapter II focuses on food in Zola’s seminal novel of work: Germinal (1885). In Germinal, the economy of exchange - capitalist, ideological, corporeal – is set against a backdrop of family life and domesticity. Zola’s female characters, who navigate their families through extreme hunger and suffering, weave together these strands of narrative, bridging the gap between work in the mine and the domestic work which happens at home. In Chapter III, I trace the relationship between food, waste, and mess in Nana (1880), showing how Nana’s ‘appetites’ lead to social and bodily mess. Throughout the thesis, I draw attention to the complexity of food in a selection of Rougon-Macquart novels, an argument which opens up fresh perspectives in Zola studies, and connects more generally with sensory, material, cultural, and literary studies of food.
Date of Award22 Mar 2022
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Bristol
SupervisorSusan R Harrow (Supervisor) & Paul Earlie (Supervisor)

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