Jessica A. Hutchins, Ph.D. deposited “‘Ce(lle-)ci est à moi’: Self-Making through Women and Property in Le Père Goriot, La Bȇte humaine, Wuthering Heights, and La Migration des cœurs.” on Humanities Commons 1 year, 3 months ago
The self-made man is a common trope of nineteenth-century French and British novels, and subsequently, it might seem odd to read it as a genre of criminality. The 1789 revolution in France, the rise of the mercantile class, and the declining British aristocracy during this period make social mobility a defining aspect of many nineteenth-century novels. And yet, the opportunities for social advancement made possible during this time also call into question revolutionary liberté, égalité, and fraternité when it comes to the role of private property as it is represented within the novel. In a plot device that is common to texts by Honoré de Balzac, Émile Zola, and Emily Brontë, as well as an historical novel by Maryse Condé, the self-made man achieves his social rise through the acquisition of both women and property. As a result, female characters tend to reap the violent fruits of men’s race to own land, objects, and ultimately people. Women in these novels become sources of wealth and social legitimacy; however, the self-made man’s manipulation of the female social hierarchy represents a neglected theme within the novel of masculine self-making. By examining the women behind the men, we can see that theft and violence against women are frequently the foundation upon which socially mobile male characters make their fortunes. While we might expect the figure of the self-made man to represent the new freedoms offered by social mobility, Le Père Goriot, La Bête humaine, Wuthering Heights, and La Migration des cœurs reveal instead that this figure’s ascent is based on a series of semi-criminal actions toward both women and property.