Recycling Excrement in Flaubert and Zola

Manon Mathias

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5 Citations (Scopus)
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This article offers the first reading of human excrement in agricultural novels by Gustave Flaubert and Émile Zola. Drawing on insights from ecocriticism and psychoanalysis and focusing on the ‘dirty nature’ so rarely considered in green studies, I show that these writers challenge the boundary between humans and the rest of the natural world. Whereas urban sanitation, pollution and public health are well studied in nineteenth-century France, less interest has been shown in the agronomic debates in the 1840s–60s regarding the role of our own excrement in the ecological system. Socialist philosopher Pierre Leroux drew on these debates to develop an agricultural model called the ‘circulus’ reusing human faeces as fertilizer and Flaubert and Zola explore the possibilities of this system in Bouvard et Pécuchet (1880) and La Terre (1887). Ultimately, however, excrement is exposed in their work as a form of truth about our bodies and our place within the ecosystem.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbercqx040
Pages (from-to)224-243
Number of pages20
JournalForum for Modern Language Studies
Issue number2
Early online date6 Oct 2017
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2018

Bibliographical note

The support of the Carnegie Trust in preparing this article is gratefully acknowledged.


  • excrement
  • ecocriticism
  • the body
  • Flaubert
  • Zola


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