La Vierge et la bête: Marian Iconographies and Bestial Effigies in Nineteenth-Century French Narratives

Although nineteenth-century France is well known to be an age of science, materialism and reason, the same period experienced a powerful Marian revival. This article demonstrates how the following nineteenth-century narratives develop the representations of woman as virgin or beast: Honoré de Balzac’s Le Lys dans la vallée (1836), Edmond and Jules de Goncourt’sSœur Philomène (1861) and Emile Zola’s Lourdes (1898). These novels reflect a growing struggle to codify female roles in imitation of the Virgin Mary. The theme of the virgin progresses during the century from Balzac’s use of metaphor and metonymy early in the century to Zola’s eventual "morphing" of the literary virgin with the Virgin Mary. Bestial imagery in Balzac is directly associated with excessive sexual appetite and moral weakness, but by the end of the century, the beast is portrayed as characters who literally look like monsters and who appeal to the Virgin for the healing of their monstrous afflictions. (PAM)

McEachern, Patricia A.
Volume 2002-2003 Fall-Winter; 31(1-2): 111-22.