Date of Degree
Mary Ann Caws
French and Francophone Literature
The restaurant, like so many of the institutions of French modern society, developed at a very particular moment in history. In this project, I tell the story of the maturation of the restaurant and study its unique role in the social history of Paris during the nineteenth century. By examining the restaurant as a site of modernity, I illuminate its important role in precipitating class distinctions, locating the emerging consumer culture, highlighting gender differentiation, challenging prevailing views of domesticity, and revealing a debate over public and private space.
Through a close reading of the realist novel as a discourse on daily life, I intertwine cultural history and literary theory to look at some of the critical questions about the nineteenth century restaurant. I examine a sampling of novels in which the restaurant is integral to the author’s narrative project. I demonstrate how Balzac uses the restaurant in Père Goriot as a signifier of one’s social status and how Maupassant uses the restaurant in Bel-Ami to differentiate gender roles. In my analysis of Flaubert’s Madame Bovary and L’Éducation Sentimentale and of Henry Céard’s Une Belle Journée I write about the restaurant’s unique role as both a public and private space in French society by highlighting its ability to sumultaneously satisfy many “appetites.” I read Balzac’s Le Cousin Pons, Dujardin’s Les Lauriers sont coupés, and Huysmans’ À Vaul’eau through the lens of an anxious bourgeoisie trying to navigate the emerging restaurant culture of Paris. In my final chapter, I address the social issues that rose to the surface as a result of the emergence of a nineteenth century consumer society focused around the restaurant through an analysis of Baudelaire’s poem “Les Yeux des pauvres” and Zola’s Le Ventre de Paris.
Rienti, Joseph J.B., "Reading the Restaurant: Social Class, Identity, and the Culture of Consumption in the Nineteenth Century French Novel" (2014). CUNY Academic Works.