Severed Hands: Amputation, Anxiety and Alienation in 19th and 20th Century French Literature Restricted; Files Only

Miner, Kathryn Elizabeth (2014)

Permanent URL: https://etd.library.emory.edu/concern/etds/tm70mv398?locale=en
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Abstract

From Gérard de Nerval's La Main Enchantée to Auguste de Villiers de l'Isle-Adam's L'Ève future, the corpus of nineteenth-century French literature is marked by the haunting return of uncanny severed hands. Over the course of the century, Prosper Mérimée, Théophile Gautier, and Guy de Maupassant all pen texts of dead hands coming back to life with malicious and deadly intent. Furthermore, the reanimated severed hand does not die at the turn of the century, but extends ghostly fingers forward into twentieth-century literature and film, reappearing in the World War II era works of director Maurice Tourneur and poète de la main gauche Blaise Cendrars.

The hand, by virtue of its privileged relation to both reading and writing, might seem to provide an ideal figure for interpretation, illumination and transmission. However, the severed hands of modern literature produce only misreadings, anxiety and death for those who encounter them. In an attempt to elucidate the severed hand's complicated relationship to anxiety, mortality and return, I turn to psychoanalysis. In readings informed by object relations and trauma theory, as well as Freud's concept of the repetition compulsion, this study seeks to examine the ways in which the severed hand functions as a figure of failed transmission and failed return.

Chapter one examines the criminal masculine hand, beginning with the legacy of poète-assassin Pierre-François Lacenaire as read through Gautier's poem "Etude de mains," and finishing with a reading of three short texts by Maupassant: "La Main d'écorché," "La Main" and "En Mer." Chapter two similarly explores the hand's relationship to criminality and guilt in Blaise Cendrars' La Main Coupée and L'Homme Foudroyé. Chapter three considers questions of reproduction, prosthesis and misrecognition through the artificial feminine hands of Mérimée's La Vénus d'Ille and Villiers' L'Ève future. Finally, chapter four revisits these texts and invokes Tourneur's film La Main du diable to examine how efforts to restrain and bind the severed hand raise fundamental questions about the very nature of control, exchange, connection and loss.

Table of Contents

Introduction : Hand Writing and Palm Reading…………………………………… 1

Chapter 1: Mains Coupées/ Mains Coupables: Criminal Hands from Lacenaire to

Maupassant ………………………………………………………………....14

1.1- The Criminal Hand …………………………………………………….14

1.2- Taking the Law in One's Hands: Lacenaire's Criminal and

Poetic Vengeance………...……………………………………….....17

1.3- Gautier's Chiromancy…………………………………………………..28

1.4- Maupassant's Stolen Hand……………………………………………...38

1.5- "La Main d'écorché"..…………………………………………………..40

1.6- Melanie Klein and Matricide ………………………………………......46

1.7- "La Main"………………………………………………………………55

1.8- "En Mer" ……………………………………………………………….65

1.9- Conclusions……………………………………………………………..71

Chapter 2: Blaise Cendrars: The Left Hand and the Hand Left Behind…….….…....74

2.1- Avulsion and Evasion……………………........………………………...77

2.2- Prochronie………………………………………………………….........84

2.3- Fellow Amputees……………………...................……………………...86

2.4- Dire La Bonne Aventure…………………………...........……………....91

2.5- The Many Faces of the Mother……………………………...………......95

2.6- La Main Amie: Destruction and Reparation…………………....……...104

2.7- Conclusions……………...…………........……………………………. 109

Chapter 3: Artificial Hands: Life, Death and Copy in L'Ève future and

La Vénus d'Ille ………………………………………………………….…...109

3.1- Idolatry and Technology………………………....………………….…112

3.2- Back to Eden: L'Ève future…………………………………....……….115

3.3- Frozen Desire: La Vénus d'Ille……………………..……………….….......143

3.4-Conclusions…………………………………………………………......159

Chapter 4: The Bound Hand………………….…………………………………….161

4.1- Maupassant's Hands Tied……………………………………………...163

4.2- Church Bells and Wedding Rings: La Vénus d'Ille……………....…... 175

4.3- Magnetic Currents: L'Ève future………………………...……….…….182

4.4- Les Maillons de la Chaine: Maurice Tourneur's La Main du Diable.....190

4.5- String Theory: Psychoanalysis and Attachment ....................................200

Conclusion: …...........................................................................................................213

Bibliography: ……………………………………………………………………....217

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