Date of Award
The creation of the French Penal Code of 1791, which failed to address the legality of prostitution, and the social climate of nineteenth-century France led to the rapid development of sexual commerce. The spread of syphilitic diseases soon became a serious crisis, and the fault of the spread of syphilis and disease was quickly ascribed to purchasable women. Other social crises of the time, such as problems with sewage and the spread of disease and decay also came to be associated with prostitution. My thesis will examine ways in which male artists of the time used literature and painting to suppress the contagious, transgressive sexual female, and the ways in which the representation of this female illustrates deeper anxieties and fears of the French bourgeois society about class and gender.
I have constructed my argument in the context of two literary/artistic prostitute figures: the “heart of gold” and the “man-eater.” The “heart of gold” is characterized as a prostitute with qualities of goodness and integrity, who must ultimately die as the only way to reconcile her deviant behavior. The “man-eater,” by contrast, is a woman who destroys the men who seek her, driving them to financial, emotional, and even physical devastation.
In order to complete my thesis, I have used a selection of primary sources (the works of Balzac, Dumas fils, Maupassant, Flaubert, and Manet), analyses of nineteenth-century French literature, and several historical sources, as well as the memoirs of Céleste Mogador, a courtesan in nineteenth-century France. The goal of my thesis is to examine the two literary figures mentioned above in the context of gender relations and power, the spread of disease, and decay and degeneration.
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Callahan, Kelsey, "La Prostitution dans la Culture Française du Dix-Neuvième Siècle: Classe, Sexe, et Contagion" (2014). Senior Honors Theses. 52.