Representations of syphilis in sixteenth-century French literature
AuthorRandall, Lesa Beth
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PublisherThe University of Arizona.
RightsCopyright © is held by the author. Digital access to this material is made possible by the University Libraries, University of Arizona. Further transmission, reproduction or presentation (such as public display or performance) of protected items is prohibited except with permission of the author.
AbstractSyphilis caused unprecedented terror as it rapidly spread through Western Europe at the onset of the sixteenth century. In France, a flourish of literary production specifically about syphilis provides an important record of various reactions to what constituted the first known experience of deadly disease, sexually transmitted. This dissertation examines three types of literary representations of syphilis in texts dating from 1500-1550, by authors as familiar as Rabelais and Jean LeMaire de Belges, in addition to many that remain anonymous. With a foundation of anthropological theories of sickness as danger and pollution, psychoanalytic theory is employed to elucidate the thought processes that led to the pervasive blaming and scapegoating of women, the most common social reaction to syphilis seen in this literature. Organization of texts on the same subject into separate units was achieved by considering the tone with which they deal with syphilis. Chapter One presents and analyses Le Triomphe de Treshaulte et Puissante Dame Verolle, the only known Renaissance compilation of texts about syphilis. Reliance on allegory and myth to explain the origins and causes of syphilis make this text a prime example of socially sanctioned literary reaction to the disease, clearly the most polite discourse found to date. Chapter Two examines the cornucopian representations of syphilis found in Rabelais. As a monk, physician and writer, Rabelais had a unique and varied perspective on the disease. His text imitates, reverses or mocks most common reactions to syphilis while advancing the important message of 'temperance in all things' that forms and informs his works. Twelve popular poems, mostly anonymous, are presented in Chapter Three. Analysis of vivid, realistic descriptions of loss associated with syphilis and a discourse of warning whose foundation rests on the denigration of women demonstrate that these texts were both cathartic and didactic. A compilation and translation of the works discussed in chapters one and three appear as special appendices, so that these cultural artifacts may be considered in future studies of social reaction to deadly, sexually transmitted disease in Renaissance France.
Degree ProgramGraduate College
French and Italian