Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



Document Type



The “gypsy” figure has been popular in popular culture for hundreds of years – certainly since the 1600s. The figure can embody wanderlust, difference, bold sexuality, freedom, danger, and criminality. In 19th-century France, the figure’s trendiness was apparent in literature. Writers such as Victor Hugo, George Sand, Charles Nodier, and Prosper Mérimée profited from using these figures in writing. Most criticism of these works focuses on the origins of the tales or critical analyses of the narratives themselves. This research expands upon the extant scholarship to develop an overview of the usage of this figure as it moved throughout the 19th-century. Rather than being an incidental trend, the “gypsy” figure was a key literary tool used to explore national identity politics. Specifically, it was used to explore what it means to be French in an unstable political landscape. The figure itself became a literary, linguistic tool.

Though the figure functioned well as a linguistic tool to explore French identity, it is a dual-sided coin with implications for Romani populations. Because the figure was reduced to stereotypes, it reified societal discrimination against the Roma. The last chapter of this dissertation looks at how one Romani author, Matéo Maximoff, built upon the extant French literary corpus to rewrite Romani stereotypes. In doing so, he translated some of his community’s folklore not only from Romany into French but from oral to written. His writings provide the basis for a study on cultural reappropriation and folklore.

Ultimately, this research finds that the French relationship with the tzigane literary figure is complex. It contributes to the nationalistic dialog of the 19th century; it allows for literary boundary pushing; and finally, it is being reappropriated by Romani authors today.



Committee Chair

Peters-Hill, Rosemary