Master of Arts (MA)


French Studies

Document Type



Nineteenth-century France, obsessed with personal property, strained under multiple changes in government and the new 1804 Code Napoléon, becomes fascinated with criminal literature. Victor Hugo, Eugène Sue, and Emile Zola span the century with their criminal literature and fascinate their audience. Taking advantage of this nineteenth-century French interest in crime, these popular authors also spread political commentary through their novels. Theft, rape and murder are each treated differently in the nineteenth-century French Penal Code, and I suggest that Hugo, Sue and Zola mirror this inconsistency on the part of the law and its resulting effect on society so well that the out-of-touch law slowly draws nearer to the people it is created to protect. I demonstrate my argument by comparing nineteenth-century French Penal Code articles on theft, rape and murder to Hugo’s messages in Notre-Dame de Paris (1833) and Les Misérables (1862), Sue’s messages in Les Mystères de Paris (1840) and Zola’s messages in Au Bonheur des Dames (1883) and La Bête Humaine (1889). This comparison shows that some nineteenth-century French Penal Code modifications occur after each of these authors’ publications, and moreover, these modifications are made in the very areas Hugo, Sue and Zola critique in their crime novels.



Document Availability at the Time of Submission

Release the entire work immediately for access worldwide.

Committee Chair

Rosemary Peters