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Divine Images of Hysteria in Emile Zola's "Lourdes"

KATHLEEN ANN COMFORT
Nineteenth-Century French Studies
Vol. 30, No. 3/4 (SPRING SUMMER 2002), pp. 329-345
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/23537779
Page Count: 17
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Divine Images of Hysteria in Emile Zola's "Lourdes"
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Abstract

In his late novel, Lourdes, Zola interweaves in a complex way his trademark medical descriptions with Catholic symbolism in order to depict the "miraculous" healing of Marie de Guersaint, whose pilgrimage to the Shrine in Southern France lies at the center of the narrative. The reader acquainted with the "tare héréditaire" that plagues the Rougon-Macquart clan is not surprised to find that the same disorder, hysteria, is the source of the young woman's paralysis. Less expected, perhaps, is the prominence of metaphors drawn from popular Catholic belief, in particular, from the lives of Saints. Yet the convergence of hysteria and Catholic mysticism one finds in Lourdes accurately reflects a significant social phenomenon in late nineteenth-century France. Lourdes views the phenomenon of miraculous healing through the double optic of positivism and Catholic mysticism, drawing as much on Catholic lay representations of miracles as it does on clinical accounts of spontaneous recovery from psychosomatic illnesses.

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