Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


French Studies

Document Type



Writers have long explored and attempted to portray the visual artist’s challenge of creating the ideal in the real world through art. My thesis asserts that the Pygmalion myth, originally told in written form in Ovid’s 8 A.D. Metamorphoses, is the quintessential model to explore the changing, and sometimes problematic, relationships between the artist, the creation, and the creative process. The three main characters in the Pygmalion myth – the sculptor, the sculpture, and the divine intervention – each appear, albeit in different manifestations, in its later adaptations. Throughout the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries in French literature, authors explored this tripartite relationship in their texts. I claim that the retellings in my corpus attest to a renewed interest in Ovid’s myth at a time when ideologies and conceptions about the creative process underwent significant changes. Plato’s conception of the ideal in The Phaedrus and The Republic serves as a grounding for each of my texts. I begin my examination with an exegesis of the Pygmalion poem in Ovid’s Metamorphoses. Chapter two explores the creation theme at the heart of Pygmalion’s quest in eighteenth-century theater to indicate the point at which French literature saw a marked increase in Pygmalion adaptations. Here, I introduce L’Amante statue (1774) and La Fausse statue (1771) into the Pygmalion corpus. Looking at the ways in which the creator figure attempts to control the potential of the ideal object through destructive means, I turn to nineteenth-century fantastic short stories in Prosper Mérimée’s La Vénus d’Ille (1837) and Balzac’s Le Chef-d’oeuvre inconnu (1831/7). A final chapter reveals how innovations in technology and artifice aid the artist in reconstructing the ideal in two decadent novels: Villiers’s L’Eve future (1886) and Rachilde’s Monsieur Vénus (1884). This dissertation will contribute to nineteenth-century French literary studies and eighteenth-century theater as well. Adding criticism of two eighteenth-century plays to the already significant body of Pygmalion retellings underlines the myth’s renewed popularity at the time. Each chapter examines these adaptations as part of a greater metamorphosis of the Pygmalion story itself. From creation to destruction to reconstruction, the creator figure adapts - with varied results - to a changing artistic, technological, and cultural environment.



Document Availability at the Time of Submission

Release the entire work immediately for access worldwide.

Committee Chair

Bongiorni, Kevin