Doctoral Dissertations

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Modern Foreign Languages

Major Professor

John B. Romeiser

Committee Members

Mary K. McAlpin, Sebastien Dubreil, Gregor A. Kalas


This dissertation will look at the house-occupant relationship in four major French novels of the long nineteenth century: Balzac’s Le Père Goriot (1835), Flaubert’s Madame Bovary (1856), Zola’s Thérèse Raquin (1867), and Proust’s “Combray,” from Du côté de chez Swann (1913). Each of these novels relies heavily on the use and description of interior and domestic space, and the manner in which the characters in each novel inhabit and relate to this space is a reflection of the specific and evolving cultural landscape of the moment when these works were composed, I argue, as well as of the particular obsessions of each author. The hermeneutic tool used to explore these novels is the theory of domestic space outlined in Gaston Bachelard’s La Poétique de l’espace (1957). I rely on four images from Gaston Bachelard’s philosophical musing on the house-occupant relationship in this work: the shell, the armoire, the miniature and the round. These paradigms of domestic space reflect the evolution of the house-occupant relationship in the aforementioned novels. That Bachelard chose to label his treatise on the philosophy of space a “poétique,” makes his treatise particularly well suited to my analysis of the evolution of the house-occupant relationship in the nineteenth-century novel. A “poétique,” like Aristotle’s first and most influential Poetics, is a blueprint for interpreting or reading a work of literature that can be simultaneously a poetic work of art of its own. Bachelard’s inventive and evocative Poétique provides, I argue, a useful tool or key to unlocking the private and somewhat mystical nature of the relationship between house and occupant. After introducing the four modes of dwelling outlined by Bachelard in chapter one, I trace a chronological evolution. Through the study of the occupant-house relationship in these novels, we can trace the evolution of the house toward a more independent and self-controlled space that corresponds to the French nation’s struggle toward individual freedom. The occupant’s new relationship to himself and his intimate space imparts a new way to situate himself inside while also giving the occupant a newer more peaceful and secure way of existing in the world.

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