Corporeal Secrets in Nineteenth-Century France

Hannah Thompson

Legenda (General Series)


3 June 2013  •  168pp

ISBN: 978-1-907975-55-4 (hardback)  •  RRP £80, $110, €95

ISBN: 978-1-315087-47-4 (Taylor & Francis ebook)


French realist texts are driven by representations of the body and depend on corporeality to generate narrative intrigue. But anxieties around bodily representation undermine realist claims of objectivity and transparency. Aspects of bodily reality which threaten les bonnes moeurs – gender confusion, sexual appetite, disability, torture, murder, child abuse and disease – rarely occupy the foreground and are instead spurned or only partially alluded to by writers and critics.

This wide-ranging study uses the notion of the taboo as a powerful means of interpreting representations of the body. The hidden bodies of realist texts reveal their secrets in unexpected ways. Thompson reads texts by Sand, Rachilde, Maupassant, Hugo, Barbey d’Aurevilly, Mirbeau and Zola alongside modern theorists of the body to show how the figure of the taboo plots an alternative model of author-reader relations based on the struggle to speak the unspeakable.

Dr Hannah Thompson is a Senior Lecturer in French at Royal Holloway, University of London. Her first book, Naturalism Redressed: Identity and Clothing in the Novels of Emile Zola, was published by Legenda in 2004.


  • ‘One of the principal merits of the book is that it is a study of how the ‘unspeakable’ manages to find a voice and how taboo excesses can be represented in language. It provides a reflective and stimulating commentary on the ways in which what is not usually talked about signifies and matters.’ — Françoise Grauby, Modern Language Review 109.3, July 2014, 809-10 (full text online)
  • ‘With such an array of taboo subjects, it struck me that it would have been hard to know where to begin, but one of the things I like best about this book is its craftsmanship... I think scholars and students will find much to discuss in Taboo.’ — Holly Christine Woodson, H-France 14.101, June 2014
  • ‘Throughout, Thompson identifies a variety of critical perspectives that throw those taboos into sharper focus, from seminal reference points such as Freud, Sontag and Butler to the emerging field of Disability Studies, resulting in a thought-provoking exploration.’ — unsigned notice, Forum for Modern Language Studies 50.4, October 2014, 510
  • ‘This monograph is an incisive study of representations of the unspeakable taboo body... Thompson’s lucid work argues that analysis of the form and function of the taboo encourages readers to re-examine their own values and preconceived notions towards the body. This study is especially useful to scholars of nineteenth-century French literature, gender studies, and disability studies.’ — Karen Humphreys, French Studies 69.3, July 2015, 403-04
  • ‘This is a valuable contribution to the growing field of studies investigating the literary body.’ — Bernadette Lintz, French Review 89.1, 2015, 282
  • ‘This examination of some of the best-known prose in nineteenth-century French literature is especially masterful for the thoughtful – sometimes stunning – deployment of the readings and the overall structure of the study... In its sweeping consideration of the body in disarray, Thompson’s study places itself squarely within studies of the body while also relying upon the tenets of newer arenas of inquiry such as disability studies.’ — Tammy Berberi, Disability and Society 31.3, 2016, 431-33

Bibliography entry:

Thompson, Hannah, Taboo: Corporeal Secrets in Nineteenth-Century France (Cambridge: Legenda, 2013)

First footnote reference: 35 Hannah Thompson, Taboo: Corporeal Secrets in Nineteenth-Century France (Cambridge: Legenda, 2013), p. 21.

Subsequent footnote reference: 37 Thompson, p. 47.

(To see how these citations were worked out, follow this link.)

Bibliography entry:

Thompson, Hannah. 2013. Taboo: Corporeal Secrets in Nineteenth-Century France (Cambridge: Legenda)

Example citation: ‘A quotation occurring on page 21 of this work’ (Thompson 2013: 21).

Example footnote reference: 35 Thompson 2013: 21.

(To see how these citations were worked out, follow this link.)

This Legenda title was first published by Modern Humanities Research Association and Maney Publishing but rights to it are now held by Modern Humanities Research Association and Routledge.

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