Date of Award

Spring 5-23-2021

Document Type

Honors Thesis



First Advisor

Adeline Soldin




"This analysis is aimed at investigating the extent to which literary representations of women’s madness throughout the 19th century in France reflect changes in women’s social status as well as the evolving psychiatric practices throughout the period. Four texts were selected for analysis on the basis of being written by a French author between 1800 and 1900 and focusing on the mental health of at least one prominent female character : Ourika, by Claire de Duras; Adieu by Honoré de Balzac; Madame Bovary, by Gustave Flaubert; and La Jongleuse, by Rachilde. This work explores the portrayal of female characters across texts in relation to societal expectations of women, their psychological symptoms, and their interactions with male characters, including the doctors representing the medical field in each novel. These plot elements are strong indications of the gendered power dynamics and the construction, perception, and treatment of mental illnesses throughout the 19th century. Moreover, the texts’ representation of madness, in conjunction with contemporaneous psychiatric practices in the 1800s, indicates the utility of mental illness diagnoses as tools of social control to suppress and punish women who deviate from their prescribed social roles."