Figures of Ill Repute: Representing Prostitution in Nineteenth-century France

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Duke University Press, 1989 - Art - 329 pages
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Ubiquitous in the streets and brothels of nineteenth-century Paris, the prostitute was even more present in the novels and paintings of the time. Charles Bernheimer discusses how these representations of the sexually available woman express male ambivalence about desire, money, class, and the body. Interweaving close textual analysis with historical anecdote and theoretical speculation, Bernheimer demonstrates how the formal properties of art can serve strategically to control anxious fantasies about female sexual power. Drawing on methods derived from cultural studies, psychoanalysis, social history, feminist theory, and narrative analysis, this interdisciplinary classic (available now for the first time in paperback) was awarded Honorable Mention in 1990 for the James Russell Lowell prize awarded by the Modern Language Association for the best book of criticism. Figures of Ill Repute brilliantly explores the prostitutes embodiment of the threat of female sexuality and her subjection to artistic strategies of containment. [Bernheimers] compelling readings of Balzac, Manet, and Zola and his provocative discussions of Flaubert and Degas advance debates about sexuality and representation and refocus the history of modernity.Jonathan Culler [A]n important work. . . . Shifting nimbly from close textual analysis to biographical or scientific information, from psychoanalytic speculation to anecdotes of social history, this original, exciting study offers . . . a truly liberal view of the seriousness and importance of all our representational activities.Leo Bersani A remarkable achievement that can be recommended to anyone interested in nineteenth-century European culture.Francine du Plessix Gray, New York Review of Books Figures of Ill Repute is no less than a brilliant achievement in the debates on sexuality and representation.Heather Dawkins, Art History Combining psychoanalysis, narrative theory, new historicism, and the newly minted approaches of men in feminism, Bernheimer traces male fantasies of the prostitute from Balzac to Huysmans. An impressive sweep of the nineteenth-century canon is brought into play. . . . [A] pioneering work.Emily Apter, Novel

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Balzac and Sue
Three Barbeys Dandy Narratives
The Figuration of Scandal
Five The Idea of Prostitution in Flaubert
Voyeurism and Ideology
The Corpse of Naturalism
Syphilis Hysteria and Sublimation

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About the author (1989)


Charles Bernheimer is Professor of Romance Languages and Comparative Literature at the University of Pennsylvania. He is the author of Flaubert and Kafka and coeditor of In Dora’s Case.

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