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“Un train peut en cacher un autre”: Gender and Mobility in Cather and Zola
Start Date: 2/17/2017Start Time: 3:00 PM
End Date: 2/17/2017End Time: 4:00 PM

Event Description
Deirdre Sennott, Visiting Assistant Professor of French, will speak about her recent research.

In Trains, Literature, and Culture: Reading the Rails, Steven D. Spalding and Benjamin Fraser contend that “[t]hrough literary and visual representations, artists have imagined the train as a contradictory symbol of both modern anxiety and potential freedom” (x). This is certainly the case in Émile Zola’s La Bête humaine (1890)—The Human Beast—where trains and the rail system take center stage, and Zola highlights both the complex ways new technologies affect daily life and the prevailing injustices that temper any possible idealism from these changes. Twenty-five years later, Willa Cather would publish The Song of the Lark, which could aptly be called her “rail novel.” Much research has pointed to the influence of French writers on Cather, in particular Balzac, but Zola’s influence has been largely dismissed, perhaps due to her ambivalence towards his writing at various moments in her journalistic career. This study contends that Cather’s novel engages directly with Zola’s La Bête humaine in an implicit critique of modern gender relations. I focus on the protagonist Thea Kronberg’s initial train journey to Chicago, during which she witnesses fearful female travelers, in contrast to her own joyful independence. In contrast, Zola depicts in La Bête humaine the first modern serial killer in fiction, the railway worker Jacques Lantier, in a neglected scene during which Jacques chooses among potential victims on an express train from Paris. I argue that The Song of the Lark functions as a reworking and challenge of this scene particularly in terms of how the two authors depict the female train traveler, a symbol of the anxieties of the long nineteenth century surrounding women’s growing freedom. Like the French rail warning sign, “one train may hide another”—Cather’s more idealistic train a representation that is in dialogue with Zola’s earlier portrayal of rail travel.

Location Information:
*WU Campus - Hatfield Library  (View Map)
900 State Street
Salem, Oregon 97301
Phone: 503-370-6300
Room: Hatfield Room
Contact Information:
Name: Doreen Simonsen
Phone: 503 375-5343
Email: dsimonse@willamette.edu
Deidre Sennott
Admission / Ticket Info:
Free Admission
Event Sponsor(s):
Faculty Colloquium
Other Details:
Students are welcome

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