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Series:

Claude Rétat

Abstract

The reference to Darwin, topic at the end of the 19th century, is at the heart of a verbal sparring match about who will be (or will claim to be), in matters of struggle for life, on the right side of history. Louise Michel articulates the topoi of evolution, and alongside the topoi of evolution-revolution, with an imagination and a practice (of thought, of writing, of militant engagement). Her 1892 article “À propos des explosions” (“On explosions”, treating the assassination attempt of Ravachol) shows in a paradigmatic—but nonetheless sardonic and original—way her use and practice of scientific reference.

Series:

Claude Blanckaert

Abstract

Pierre Boitard (1789–1859), an ancient officer reconverted to natural history, is one of the first vulgarizers of a transformist doctrine based on the “metamorphosis” of matter and the “genealogical tree of organization”. Since the mid-1830s, he takes up Le Diable boiteux by René Lesage in order to give a literary form to a novel on the origins, founded on Lamarck. Contesting the system of catastrophes, claimed by Georges Cuvier (“maître Georges”), he carries his reader along into the abyss of time. He covers the lost worlds of the past ages of Earth and shows him the imperative march of Nature, growing more and more complex from period to period, since the formation of our globe 875,000 years ago.

Series:

Claire Barel-Moisan

Abstract

At the turn of the 19th century, writers such as Camille Flammarion or Rosny aîné use the novel to draw a picture of the future of mankind: Earth will have reached the end of its natural cycle, due to the cooling of the sun, the collision with a comet (Flammarion, La Fin du monde, 1894), or because of the changes in the ecosystem induced by human activity (Rosny aîné, La Mort de la Terre, 1910). For these authors, futuristic novels are a means to transpose scientific theories in the field of fiction. The genre of the novel thus allows them to explore most remote times and to render theoretical abstractions incarnate. Evolutionary theory, for example, is made visible in Rosny’s novel by the description of a desert universe where mankind is supplanted by a new species. This paper aims to address both the poetic and ideological issues brought to light by this use of futuristic novels. It also studies the conception of time implied in these novels depicting the end of the world.

Series:

Frank Jäger

Abstract

The present study argues that the omnipresent use of “savage”, “violent” and animal-like metaphors, found in Lautréamont’s Chants de Maldoror, constitutes a specific form of literary transformation and (re-)creation of concepts and ideas found in nineteenth-century natural history such as evolutionary theory or metamorphosis. By analysing some of the recurrent imagery and metaphors used by Lautréamont, the study aims to shed light on the intertwined interactions between the emerging fascination for natural history and its impact on artistic writing.

Series:

Sandra Collet

Abstract

In La Comédie humaine, Balzac aims to provide a complete description of the various ‘social species’, which was modelled on the animal classifications established by Buffon and Cuvier. However, faced with the transformations that his century had undergone, Balzac the novelist also wished to be a historian. The succession of revolutions in France in the 19th century confronted him with two divergent time scales: the brief and shattered one of Man in History; and the longer one of Nature. These revolutions, which were profoundly transforming French society, raised the crucial question of the individual’s adaptation to a rapidly changing society. The scientific models of naturalists, especially Geoffroy Saint Hilaire’s transformism, offered the novelist a theoretical model for constructing a classification of social species caught up in history, and thus for harmoniously combining historical and biological models.

Series:

Juliette Azoulai

Abstract

The contribution analyses the works of three outstanding authors, Michelet, Flaubert, and Zola, in order to point out the interaction of two rivalling conceptions of time in nineteenth-century literature: evolutionist temporality, presupposing a continual, progressive representation of time, and revolutionary temporality, which, on the contrary, presupposes an asyndetic, halting conception of it. Although the first temporality rests on concepts from the biological realm, and the second one on the historical and political, there are fields of blending in nineteenth-century thought: socio-biology proposes an evolutionist vision of social development, and the catastrophist theory of Cuvier proclaims a history of the earth modelled on revolutionary jolt. The complicated relations between evolution and revolution that are to be found in nineteenth-century authors are tributary to this delicate linking between nature and culture, which is individually recreated in each literary universe.

Series:

Yohann Ringuedé

Abstract

Ernest Cotty is a French minores poet and entomologist who composed a “geologic poem” in 1876, Antediluviana. Within the framework of this article, I attempt to characterize the diachronic way antediluvian beings appear. Indeed, the palaeontological science tends to represent the history of life by stratification, as a pure succession lacking in logic and biologic ties. That parataxis seems to match with the successiveness of Cuvier’s theory of history. The poetological signs of that view are numerous and multiple in the poem, which intends to prove that whereas Cuvier has been compromised by transformism, French poetry goes on considering him as an alternative which reconciles the biblical genesis and Creation as seen in a long diachrony.

Series:

Pascal Duris

Abstract

Until the mid-18th century, naturalists were convinced that the age of Earth is about 6,000 years, and that animal species are fixed for eternity (Linné). From the end of the 18th century on, they become gradually conscious of the fact that this chronology, based on a literal reading of the Bible, had to be extended (Buffon) and that living beings may become extinct (Cuvier) or, on the other hand, that they transform slowly in the course of time (Lamarck, Darwin). By 1800, it is due to the fact that scientists reflect on the temporal dimensions of life that a progressive passage from a creationist to an evolutionist paradigm can take place.

Series:

Christophe Bouton

Abstract

The category of “development” (Entwicklung in German) is a good example of the transfer of biological time into historical time: it is a category borrowed from biology of the 18th century which, in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century thought, serves to conceive history as the development of a universal substrate ((a) people, humanity, the spirit of the world, etc.). After indicating some milestones in the history of the concept of development in Germany from the mid-17th to the late 18th century, I study this category in four German theories of history (Herder, Kant, Hegel and Marx). The thesis that I will defend is that during the 19th century, the development category proved to be inadequate or incomplete for thinking the historical experience in its practical dimension, that is to say, as something that is effected partly by individuals.

Series:

Pierre-Louis Rey

Abstract

In the eyes of Gobineau our species is bound, due to a mix of races fatal to the purest of them, to decline until it reaches its final extinction. Nevertheless, an unwavering faith in his own person incites Gobineau, as shown by his posthumous Mémoire sur diverses manifestations de la vie individuelle, to save some rare exceptional beings from the general shipwreck, a concern further illustrated in his novel Les Pléiades (1874). Escaping from materialism, which seemed the fatal law of all mankind in the Essai sur l’inégalité des races humaines, these exceptional individuals are promised, due to their ability to love or to work scientifically, not only a longevity comparable to those of medieval heroes, but even immortality, distinguishing themselves thus from the ordinary human herd.