Face Value: Physiognomical Thought and the Legible Body in Marivaux, Lavatar, Balzac, Gautier and Zola

Face Value: Physiognomical Thought and the Legible Body in Marivaux, Lavatar, Balzac, Gautier and Zola

by Christopher Rivers
     
 

In Face Value, Christopher Rivers explores ideas about human physical appearance expressed in French novels of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, as well as the pseudoscience of physiognomy that influenced them.  Physiognomy, which purports to "read" the body as an index to spiritual, intellectual, or moral qualities, had its greatest

Overview

In Face Value, Christopher Rivers explores ideas about human physical appearance expressed in French novels of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, as well as the pseudoscience of physiognomy that influenced them.  Physiognomy, which purports to "read" the body as an index to spiritual, intellectual, or moral qualities, had its greatest proponent in the eighteenth century Swiss theoretician Johann Caspar Lavater.  In addition to closely reading the fictional narratives of Marivaux, Balzac, Gautier, and Zola, Rivers offers the first sustained critical reading of Lavater’s work.
    Rivers looks at some of the most compelling and explicit literary treatments of physiognomy in the French canon, suggesting that the ways authors use physiognomical ideas to render the world "hyper-significant" poses fundamental questions about the nature of narrative itself.  He also shows how physiognomy serves almost invariably as a tool of sexism as it attempts to ascribe intellectual or moral qualities on the basis of corporal features.  Linked by more than their physiognomical themes, the novels River studies share similar dynamics of reading, rhetoric, and representation. Ultimately Face Value is an original contribution not only to French literary studies, but also to cultural studies, narratology, semiotics, intellectual history, science and literature studies, and gender studies.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780299143909
Publisher:
University of Wisconsin Press
Publication date:
11/15/1994
Pages:
288
Product dimensions:
6.20(w) x 9.30(h) x 0.90(d)

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