The Médan Matrix: Huysmans and Maupassant following Zola's model of naturalism

by Wolter, Jennifer Kristen

Abstract (Summary)
Comparable to a matrix, the Médan group incarnates a system for the production of naturalist literature with Emile Zola serving as the model for a select handful of writers. Nourished by the scientific developments of the nineteenth century, Zola’s theories and successful practice of naturalism drew Joris-Karl Huysmans and Guy de Maupassant, among others, to the movement. Yet, they soon diverged from Zola’s model of naturalism, as did Zola himself at times. The first chapter of this dissertation seeks to reveal the inherent discrepancies within the theory of naturalism that prevent a true fusion of science and art in the novel. Les Soirées de Médan, a collection of stories about the Franco-Prussian War, united the writers in a show of adherence to the naturalist movement. While the work garnered the reputation of a manifesto, the stories belie the deviations from naturalism that were present and growing in Huysmans, Maupassant, and even Zola. Chapter two approaches the Médan group from its foundation in support of an aesthetic ideal to the contradictory display of naturalist and non-naturalist features in Les Soirées de Médan. The untenability of the Médan group is confirmed by the members’ attraction to various literary styles. Chapters three and four examine Huysmans’s A rebours and Maupassant’s “Le Horla,” hailed as exemplars of the decadent and fantastic genres. Themes of artifice in A rebours and the supernatural in “Le Horla” overturn the conventional subject matter of naturalism. It is a mistake, however, to distance these works entirely from the naturalist theories that ground them. Even so, both writers choose to depict some of the most unnatural aspects of human existence. Overall, the interplay of naturalist and non-naturalist elements in Huysmans and Maupassant blurs the lines of classification to affirm that the writers possess unique talents independent of their initial allegiance to Zola’s campaign of naturalism. Indeed, Zola recognized the individuality of artistic genius and embraced diversity in the Médan group. The metaphor of the matrix therefore is not to force each writer into the same mold, but rather to provide a template for the exploration of humanity in literature.
Bibliographical Information:


School:The Ohio State University

School Location:USA - Ohio

Source Type:Master's Thesis

Keywords:huysmans joris karl maupassant guy de médan group naturalism nineteenth century french literature zola emile


Date of Publication:01/01/2003

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