THE DANCE MOTIF IN ZOLA'S "L'ASSOMMOIR" (FRANCE)
JOHNSON, CYNTHIA JUNE
Doctor of Philosophy thesis
The vocabulary of l'Assommoir is one of movement; it is the vocabulary of dance. The way in which people and even animals and machines move is expressed in terms that evoke the ballet of nineteenth-century France. Thus l'Assommoir presents an example of transposition of art. The relationship of dance to literature has not been studied before, so the terms of the study have to be determined by using anthropological and sociological studies of dance and works on ballet theater. The text of l'Assommoir is divided into sections like the acts of a ballet. The plot, like a balletic pretext, is less important than the telling of the story, the description of movement, and the expression of life through gesture. The ballet of l'Assommoir has a precedent in French ballet with repect to plot, character, theme, atmosphere, and symbolism. The method by which Zola achieves this evocation of ballet consists of three parts: word choice; association of gesture with certain situations and character types; and the use of techniques associated with the stage. The dance has influenced literature in many ways, beginning when "literature" was an oral, not a written, phenomenon, as in Homeric times. The stage has also been a place where the two genres met. In addition, many writers, such as Diderot, have sought to infuse more life into language by incorporating dramatic techniques into their words and their works. In nineteenth-century Paris dance and the figure of the dancer were important in the arts as a whole. Also, the concept of performance and performance viewed were the subject of intellectual and artistic interest. L'Assommoir's episode in the Louvre illustrates this point: The wedding party is a commedia dell'arte troupe parading through galleries viewing paintings, while they themselves constitute a spectacle, which in turn is reflected in the paintings. The emphasis on movement and the dance heighten the symbolic value of Gervaise's limp. This symbol, which makes her lame in a world of dancers, unites the poetic constructs of the text, even calling on images from ancient myths. The artistry with which Zola uses this symbol and the way in which it both unifies the text and unites l'Assommoir with the rest of the Rougon-Macquart cycle is a tribute to the often overlooked artistry of the author.