The Representation of Jewelry in 19th-Century French Literature

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Virginia Tech


Often overlooked, yet still a significant and visible social code, jewelry and its symbolic power are barely analyzed in literary criticism. In this thesis, by tracing jewelry's various functions and representations throughout the 19th century, one discovers its ability to also blur and reinforce boundaries that so typifies the tensions and redefinitions happening throughout this era. With the rise of the bourgeoisie and industrial production, jewelry became more available to the masses than it ever had before. Its transformation occurred alongside the newfound desire for women to be seen, perhaps as a direct result of patriarchal society's attempt to relegate them to the private sphere where they were to carry out their domestic duties. For women, the beginning of the century marked itself as an "[époque] stricte, corsetée, guindée et protégée," the fin-de-siècle was an era that promoted the sensual liberation for women whose existence had been relegated to the private sphere to perform only domestic duties (Coupeau 85). Thus, by tracing jewelry's representation in the 19th century, I unveil how women broke through social restrictions by transforming their literal chains of submission and esclavage into pieces of adornment that brandished their desire to be seen, to be liberated, to be desired.



French, French literature, Baudelaire, Maupassant, Zola, Rachilde, jewelry, Nineteenth Century France