“Le point d’interrogation de Clotilde”: Doubt, Experience, and Experiment in Le Docteur Pascal

I argue that Clotilde can be seen as the main character of Le Docteur Pascal on account her conceiving experience and experiment in ways that challenge dogmatic approaches to scientific method; her approach reflects the experience of reading and interpreting the novel. What Zola identifies as the “point d’interrogation de Clotilde” leads readers to understand the novel as a roman à hypothèse that impels them to enter a process of interpretation of experience that is both modeled and questioned by Clotilde. By maintaining a place for mystery even while her mind is “nourri de science,” she calls attention to the fact that Pascal seems to misalign science with its content, or “facts,” rather than its method, of which Clotilde emerges as the embodiment, as she tests initial hypotheses against her lived experience in order to accept, reject, or modify them.