Digestion and Brain Work in Zola and Huysmans

  • Manon Mathias
Part of the Palgrave Studies in Literature, Science and Medicine book series (PLSM)


Whilst health manuals from nineteenth-century France advocated equilibrium between body and mind, they also validated the link between bad digestion and heightened intellect. Gastrointestinal problems thus became a key element in the identity of the scholar. The focus on the viscera in Zola’s Le Ventre de Paris (1873) and J-K Huysmans’ À Rebours (1884), for example, is a way of highlighting the superiority of the scholarly mind. What is revealed in these novels, however, is a tension between foregrounding and denying the body, as digestive disorder operates both as a form of release from corporeal life and as a reminder of this reality. The desire for transcendence thus remains in suspense, as the texts expose essential connections between writing, digesting and excreting.


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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Manon Mathias
    • 1
  1. 1.University of GlasgowGlasgowUK

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