Foreign Languages & Literatures ETDs

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A study of the star motif in the works of Gérard de Nerval brings out stylistic diversity and stylistic development in the works of the period 1841 through 1854. Before this time the star is hardly mentioned in the work of Nerval.

During the period between 1841 and 1843, Nerval underwent two important experiences. The first such experience is the mental crisis of 1841 during which he was hospitalized for the first time for such an illness. The second experience is the voyage to the Orient, a trip lasting the entire year of 1843. These two events can be seen to have a stylistic and a thematic influence on his later work.

After 1843, the star appears in the "Histoire du Calife Hakem'' and subsequently in the Confidences de Nicolas, in the introduction to Les Filles du Feu and in Sylvie. Gérard treats the star according to the mode of each work and gives it a variety of meanings. The star also assumes different roles in the myths which organize the narratives of each work.

The star has polyvalent meanings in Aurélia. It occupies ambiguous space between the level of the realistic narrative, and the level of archetypal meaning. Symbolically it is the lost beloved, and Harmony, which restores creation to its original concord. As a character in the archetypal quest myth which is the organizing principle of Aurélia it plays the role of guide in the spirit world. Its appearance at the climax of the third decent into Hades marks the successful culmination of the quest.

The star in the sonnet “El Desdichado” is surrounded by themes which exist in Aurélia in less concentrated form. The poetry of the sonnet and of Aurélia are the best examples of the evocative power which Gérard had gradually developed in his work.

The work of Nerval leads ultimately to two new modes of experience. One is that of Proust. The star of Sylvie is the attribute of this exploration of time. The other mode of experience is that of surrealisme, leading towards Andre Breton’s Arcane XVII of which the star in Aurélia is the prototype.

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Degree Name


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Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures

First Committee Member (Chair)

Claude-Marie Senninger

Second Committee Member

Patricia Murphy

Third Committee Member

Ernest Truett Book