The Pathological Body from the Mid-Nineteenth Century to the Present

20 September 2019

A one-day symposium supported by the Cassal Endowment Fund and the Society for French Studies

Friday 20 September 2019

Keynote Speaker: Dr Steven Wilson (Queen’s University Belfast)

What is sickness, and how is it represented in literature? In his twenty-volume Rougon-Macquart novel cycle (1871–93), Émile Zola creates pathological bodies living within Napoleon III’s Second Empire (1852–70), a period which is represented as being engulfed by political and social sickness. It is in the last volume, Le Docteur Pascal, that there is hope embodied within Pascal’s newborn son, the potential ‘messiah’ of the French nation. In the aftermath of the disastrous Franco-Prussian War (1870–71), Zola’s cycle may be a literary reaction to the state of a weakened France in exalting the mythicised image of the mother and child, at once a symbol of purity and new beginnings. Reflecting on the multi-dimensional aspect of Zola’s Naturalism, Henri Mitterand writes that these novels are not merely a form of social and historical documentation, but, instead, offer a knowledge that is more intuitive, modern and poetic, and which might be termed an ‘anthropomythic naturalism’ (preface, Émile Zola, Le Docteur Pascal, p. 48). This symposium aims to explore the nexus of fears, anxieties and desires that society projects onto the body within European literature and culture, from the mid-nineteenth century to the present, tracing the birth and development of modern medicine. It will examine the widest meaning of sickness and the power dynamic between the body and society. Is sickness ever ‘just’ sickness, or is there often a covert ideological agenda that drives and constructs it? How can literature help us understand the relationship between the body and society? The symposium will take a transhistorical and transnational approach in order to see whether, and how, cultural anxieties which appropriate the body change and differ across European national boundaries during a time when medicine is establishing and asserting its increasing authority. The symposium will be an opportunity for colleagues to forge connections and to compare different approaches within the growing field of Medical Humanities within the Modern Languages.

SFS 2020 annual conference - deadline for proposals

20 September 2019

You may only just have recovered from the SFS 2019 conference at 2019... but yes, it's already time to start thinking about putting in a proposal for 2020 in Bath. Details below...

R. Gapper postgraduate essay prize

31 October 2019

The 2019 R. Gapper postgraduate essay prize competition is now open. Get your entry in before 31 October! More details below...

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29 June - 01 July 2020

We are delighted to announce that our 2020 conference will be held at the University of Bath. The call for papers is now available, and the deadline for proposals is 20 September 2019.