Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

First Advisor

John Jefferson Humphries


Proust's main novel, A la recherche du temps perdu, has been analyzed by Gilles Deleuze as the story of an experience of learning, the narrator's account of his gradual understanding of signs. This means that Proust's novel can be read as a continuous act of semiotic and social interpretation, and Claude Duchet's hypothesis that the systems of objects in a novel comprise a discourse of their own--a semiotic network within the text--can be a point of departure in the study of such signs, precisely of the detail as a dynamic structure. Such examination of the narration of fictional objects/signs belongs to the critical genres of poetics and semiotics, as defined respectively by Roman Jakobson and Umberto Eco. Reading this "language of signs" implies a semiotic and narratological study of mechanisms of indexicality and symbolism as these function within the narrative and its hermeneutic code--of how Proustian details and pictorial signs frequently anticipate the revelation of secrets. These proleptic constructions reveal in Proust's novel epistemological positions shared by other modern forms, such as the detective novel and contemporary empirical sciences based on the scrutinization of details and indices. Moreover, they take place within a larger problematic of Representation. This semiological perspective also implies a sociological one. The system of objects in the Recherche is the locus of a semiotic and social instability that corresponds to Proust's unravelling of traditional social classes. Thorstein Veblen and Pierre Bourdieu's theories are also especially relevant for exposing social patterns and behaviors in Proust, since this instability is particularly readable in the response of the novel's characters to Art. In this ever-expanding universe of kitsch and human reification, prostitution is a highly meaningful theme. The shifting semiosis, observed in the disposition of objects and the exchange of social roles, functions in two privileged spaces of interaction: the salon and the bordello. Proust's particular use of the bordello underlines its reality as a literary convention that both prolongs and deconstructs the prostitutional themes of such nineteenth century figures as Sue, Balzac, Flaubert, Zola, Maupassant and Manet.