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The cataleptic novel: living on with George Sand

Illingworth, James 2022. The cataleptic novel: living on with George Sand. Open Library of Humanities 8 (1) 10.16995/olh.7687

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This article considers the representation of catalepsy—a trance-like nervous condition characterised by rigidity of the limbs that resembles death—in the literature of 19th-century France. It begins with an overview of the medical literature on catalepsy and its influence on the literature of the period, which reveals a particularly gendered aspect to the fate of the cataleptic, before turning to its primary case study: George Sand’s Consuelo novels (1842–44). These two texts provide Sand’s most sustained engagement with catalepsy, but they also set Sand’s depiction of the condition apart from how her (male) contemporaries represented it. While in the work of writers like Honoré de Balzac (1799–1850), Jules Barbey d’Aurevilly (1808–89), Théophile Gautier (1811–72), and Émile Zola (1840–1902) the cataleptic is generally an unstable male genius whose tale ends in death, madness, or oblivion, Sand elaborates an alternative model that allows these superior individuals to find self-actualisation (irrespective of their gender). The occult knowledge associated with the cataleptic is not to be feared in Sand’s texts; rather, it provides personal fulfilment and offers new purpose that benefits society. Catalepsy in Sand’s texts is thus endowed with political significance, representing the potential for new beginnings and a move beyond traditional ways of being. Drawing on the Consuelo novels as a model, this article then turns to Sand’s wider oeuvre to posit the poetics of the ‘cataleptic novel’ as inherent to Sand’s literary enterprise.

Item Type: Article
Date Type: Publication
Status: Published
Schools: Modern Languages
Publisher: Open Library of Humanities
ISSN: 2056-6700
Date of First Compliant Deposit: 23 May 2022
Date of Acceptance: 23 February 2022
Last Modified: 30 May 2022 15:30

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