An ecocritical reading of selected works by Léopold Chauveau (1870-1940)

Paterson, John Ignatius Wareham (2021) An ecocritical reading of selected works by Léopold Chauveau (1870-1940). MPhil(R) thesis, University of Glasgow.

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This is the first study in English of the writer, illustrator, sculptor, and painter Léopold Chauveau, who since the 1990s has been the subject of renewed interest, leading in 2020 to a major Musée d’Orsay retrospective exhibition; and the first in any language to consider his work from an ecocritical perspective. Its corpus comprises a wide range of literary and visual works depicting non-human animals, including sympathetic ‘monstres’ who cannot easily be identified by species. This thesis argues that Chauveau represents these non-human characters, their interaction with humans and with an anthropomorphised God, in a way that expresses deep scepticism about anthropocentrism and expectations of human progress. With reference to archival material and to studies of the interwar period’s cultural history, it relates these aspects of Chauveau’s œuvre to his traumatic experience of working as a medical doctor at the time of the First World War and subsequent influenza pandemic, as well as treating his son Renaud, who died at the age of 12. I argue that, while Chauveau’s viewpoint is pessimistic and his œuvre serves a therapeutic purpose, it also has politically subversive implications since it depicts solidarity between non-human animals and less powerful human groups, satirising ideologies and structures that oppress both.

The thesis comprises three chapters — as well as an introduction and conclusion that contextualise it with reference to previous criticism and the current reception context. Chapter 1 focusses on Chauveau’s depiction of primitive environments threatened by colonialism and commercial exploitation, placing Chauveau’s œuvre in the context of modernist primitivism and in conversation with recent scholarship on decolonial ecology. Chapter 2 focusses on works that depict various forms of kinship between non-human animals and less powerful human groups — especially women, children, and disabled people— with particular reference to Chauveau’s conception of the monstrous and his depiction of ‘trickster’ figures. Chapter 3 focusses on Chauveau’s depictions of non-human characters interacting both with God and with human religious practices, arguing that, despite defining himself as a non-believer, Chauveau’s œuvre engages with spirituality on a profound level, through a celebration of reverence for nature and a satire of anthropomorphising literalist conceptions of God.

Item Type: Thesis (MPhil(R))
Qualification Level: Masters
Subjects: P Language and Literature > PN Literature (General)
P Language and Literature > PN Literature (General) > PN0080 Criticism
Colleges/Schools: College of Arts > School of Modern Languages and Cultures > French
Supervisor's Name: Douglas, Dr. Rachel and Grove, Professor Laurence
Date of Award: 2021
Depositing User: Theses Team
Unique ID: glathesis:2021-82499
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 07 Oct 2021 12:47
Last Modified: 08 Oct 2021 08:36
Thesis DOI: 10.5525/gla.thesis.82499

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