Against the Grain
: The Poetics of Non-Normative Masculinity in Decadent French Literature

  • Mathew Rickard

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


This thesis explores the links between reading and writing, and how they have historically been associated with masculine privilege and intellect. Taking Joris-Karl Huysmans’s À Rebours as a starting point, I explore the representation of masculinity as a literary concept in Decadent literature by Jean Lorrain (Monsieur de Phocas), Rachilde (Monsieur Vénus and La Tour d’amour), and Octave Mirbeau (Le Calvaire), in order to demonstrate how the Decadent movement both appropriated and subverted patriarchal assumptions surrounding reading and writing. By positioning the study against the backdrop of the fin-de-siècle ‘crisis’ of masculinity, the thesis undermines the exceptional default status that heterosexual white males held at the time by revealing that masculinity can be equally performed by those deemed un-masculine under Patriarchy - specifically the neurasthenic dandy, the male witch, the submissive male, the dominant female, the illiterate male, and finally the aesthetically and sexually impotent male. By revealing the crisis of masculinity to be a self-perpetuating myth, the thesis opens up fresh ground for the appraisal and analysis of gender in French studies and beyond. The overarching argument is that while these authors present different, non-normative moulds of masculinity within their texts, the deliberate interaction with acts of reading and writing represents construction of identity via the transmission and subversion of received knowledge and patterns surrounding the performance and perception of masculinity.
Date of AwardJul 2020
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Queen's University Belfast
SupervisorClaire Moran (Supervisor), Steven Wilson (Supervisor), Caroline Sumpter (Supervisor) & Dominique Jeannerod (Supervisor)

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