Author ORCID Identifier
Bachelor of Arts
Leonard V. Smith
France, French literature, Honore de Balzac, Emila Zola, Jules Michelet, Literature, Realism, Positivism, History, French history, 19th century, Literary theory, Hayden White, Roland Barthes, Intellectual history, Cultural history, Epistemology, 1848
My thesis examines the fluid boundaries between French historical and literary writing in the 19th century, and the shifts in “historical consciousness” that occurred in both fields as the century progressed. I examine three exemplary French writers—Jules Michelet, a historian, and Honore de Balzac and Emile Zola, both novelists—considering each primarily as a historical thinker, regardless of whether they considered themselves to be one. I argue that as the 19th century progressed, the broad shift in French institutions towards positivist epistemological and explanatory frameworks was reflected in literature, as well as in history. Both disciplines, one increasingly academic and one primarily cultural, were affected in strikingly similar ways by the influence of positivism and scientism, providing a distinct aesthetic and rhetorical lens through which the impact of post-1848 positivism can be understood. As positivism infiltrated the practice of history, pushing the discipline farther into the realm of science, so too did it affect the historical thinking of prominent novelists. Additionally, I argue that the shift in historical consciousness reflects broader social fragmentation as France vacillated between various forms of government and their attendant social ideologies across the century. As political regimes and ideologies came and went, novelists, like historians, turned to rationalist frameworks, rather than idealistic or metaphysical ones, to explain their rapidly evolving political, social, and cultural moments. In addition to analyzing the impact these shifts had on historical consciousness in France, my thesis attempts to understand how historical thinking changes in response to shifts in institutional authority and ideology.
Schuman, Samuel A., "Representation, Narrative, and “Truth”: Literary and Historical Epistemology in 19th-Century France" (2021). Honors Papers. 813.