Publication Date



Open access

Embargo Period


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PHD)


Modern Languages and Literatures (Arts and Sciences)

Date of Defense


First Committee Member

David Ellison

Second Committee Member

Ralph Heyndels

Third Committee Member

Elena Grau-Lleveria

Fourth Committee Member

Michael Miller

Fifth Committee Member

Anne Simon


My study is entitled “Violence, Primitivism and Animality: The Limits of Human Nature as depicted in French World War I Narratives". My research is interdisciplinary in nature, bringing literature and history together as well as other fields of study. It will contribute to the field of literary representation of World War I in French narratives. I will consider more precisely the questions and themes of primitivism and animality/bestiality in narration and how these themes are interrelated and represented. The objective of this dissertation is to contribute to the literary field by the interpretation of texts that reveal specific aspects of writing in/during/about war. Indeed, how do people write in a traumatic milieu? How and what do they testify about when at war? I will focus on the questions of violence, primitivism and bestiality in the texts of my corpus. It will then be interesting to see how texts evolve along the lines of these themes. I will attempt to see if there is a pattern that emerges among those themes present in narratives, i.e., the role and occurrences of primitivism and animality in war narration. I will try to connect the themes of violence, primitivism, and animality and the ways they are represented in narratives to the animalistic and/or primitive part of human beings. I will then show how the analysis of primitivism and animality contribute to the literary field, and more precisely to an understanding of the imagery of war. Primitivism and animality as human manifestations when related to war have been studied in history but the literary aspect of these texts has often been overlooked. My research seeks to fill this gap and to offer a new perspective on the literary representations of war. The dissertation also aims to broaden and contribute to the field of research connected to the representation of humans’ limits when the representation of human beings’ behavior tends to be assimilated to animalistic and/or primitive comportments. Indeed, literature has often tried to put together - in order to delimit or to compare – human beings and animal behaviors. The study of these behaviors has been pursued in several ways (among them, for example, that of the metamorphosis), from Plato to La Fontaine and Montaigne and from Rousseau to Kafka or Romain Gary. As far as the question of primitivism goes, 19th-century literature has offered some primitive representations of human characters (I mainly think about Zola’s work La Bête Humaine). The fundamental question of what it is to be human gets raised again with the First World War. But beyond this questioning, what really matters in the end is to determine what is conceived of as “human;” in other words, what are specific human abilities when confronted with extreme circumstances? Were the soldiers animalistic, when they killed? Did they go back to a primitive stage when performing violent acts? Or were they “just” human? In each under consideration work written by “soldiers writers” , a profound change occurs within the main characters and within the narrator throughout the narratives. The one who experiences war, experiences a deep questioning of human nature that most of the time is materialized by a confrontation with an animalistic/primitive and abject world. It is the transition from the state of human beings to animality that I want to question in the present work.