Publication Date



Open access

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PHD)


Modern Languages and Literatures (Arts and Sciences)

Date of Defense


First Committee Member

David R. Ellison

Second Committee Member

Ralph Heyndels

Third Committee Member

Barbara Woshinsky

Fourth Committee Member

Rebecca Parker Brienen


This dissertation explores how literary descriptions of visual artworks affect the narrative and descriptive fabric of a text. The novels I examine operate on three textual levels: the painter's creative struggles, his amorous entanglements with his model and/or the painted women of his canvas, and his aesthetic claims to revolutionize painting. My project argues that ekphrasis is a translational mode that takes two forms: the traditional, "contained" description of a visual artwork; and a mode of writing that pervades the entire text and emulates the characteristics of painting. For example, Balzac's "Le Chef d'oeuvre inconnu" and the Goncourts' Manette Salomon successfully adopt the ekphrastic mode of writing, transforming the narrative into a canvas where the boundaries between the media are blurred. On the other hand, Zola's L'oeuvre exploits ekphrasis in order to advance the superiority of literature over painting. At the heart of these Realist and Naturalist texts, the fundamental adherence to the mimetic principle of art is confronted with the nonfigurative experiments of their fictional painters. The female body, as the embodiment of Art and the manifestation of the artist's desire, becomes the symptom of his incursion into abstract painting and the site of the resistance to ekphrasis.


L'Oeuvre; Manette Salomon; Abstract Art; "Le Chef-d'oeuvre Inconnu"; Balzac; Goncourt; Emile Zola; Impressionism; Description Of Paintings; Ekphrasis