Copies and Perceptions: Human Expression in Duchenne and Zola

This article places Doctor Duchenne de Boulogne’s 1862 study, Mécanisme de la physionomie humaine, in dialogue with Emile Zola’s 1872 novel, La Curée, arguing that both texts experimented with copied human expressions and their reader’s ability to decode them. In the first part, this article shows that Duchenne’s use of photography and his recasting of sculptures trained the reader to detect how facial expressions were copied and modified in different media. In the second part, this article proposes that Zola’s narrative, which is an adaptation of Racine’s Phèdre, mirrors and extends this form of perceptual training in its use of photography, tableaux vivants, and an embedded stage production of the play it copies. By highlighting practices of making and observing copies, Duchenne’s study and Zola’s novel cultivated a form of spectatorship in which human expressivity was perceived, and evaluated, through an appreciation of the technical means of its reproduction.