Date of Award

Spring 3-20-2015

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


French & Italian

First Advisor

Warren Motte

Second Advisor

Elisabeth Arnould-Bloomfield

Third Advisor

Christopher Braider


Scholars have long associated the word fantastique in literature with Todorov's theory. He defines it as a speculative moment in a realistic world, when the reader is confronted with the impossibility of making a decision as to what truly happened. Through his notion of "hesitation", Todorov gives birth to the fantastic as a genre. I argue, however, that Todorov's definition did not survive the passage of time and posit that, conceptualizing the fantastic as a morpheme whose specificities vary according to the times, offers more accurate engagement with the texts. Starting from this premise, I assert that contemporary fantastic literature is best discovered in discussions of dysfunctional divergences directly emanating from an aesthetic of derailment. My dissertation analyzes the ways in which authors as diverse as Marie NDiaye, Marie Darrieussecq, Maryse Condé and Jean Echenoz each wrote novels reflecting and showcasing the nature and effects of the notion of derailment, to express the peculiarities of their time within their specific geography.

In my thesis, I achieve two aims. First, I revise our understanding of the literature of the fantastic. I reconsider the theories of the fantastic across the last six decades, beginning with Pierre George Castex's anthology of the fantastic in 1951 to Roger Bozzetto's treatment of the genre in 2012. Bounding this theoretical landscape, I map the route of "doubt", from 1772, when Jacques Cazotte introduces it as a narrative novelty that will inspire Hoffman, Gautier, Nodier and others, to 1970, when it is the starting point with which Todorov formulates his "hesitation". Connecting neglected scholarship that interpreted "doubt" as a tool of resistance against the ambient positivism of the Enlightenment (Castex), with a forgotten interpretation that explains the use of the fantastic by nineteenth century European writers as a means to express their fears brought in by the French revolution(s) (José Monleón), I expose the aesthetic of the fantastic as being time sensitive.

Second, based on the novels I analyze in my thesis, I assert that the aesthetic of derailment is at the core of the fantastic and simultaneously addresses the nature of the fantastic and its effects in the diegesis. The fantastic portrays a world that is unstable and unreliable, on the verge of faltering from its usual trajectory of concordance. Elemental is the notion of derailment, shaping the world through divergent interactions and creating a space that does not work according to our understanding of the norm. Using this narrative line, the contemporary fantastic novel raises questions pertaining to (uneasy) human interactions or lack thereof, raising questions on community, belonging, gender, social politics and the individual.