Abstract: We live in a society where some still consider evolution to be a debatable theory, whereas most take Darwinism entirely for granted. In nineteenth-century France, evolutionary theory destabilized literature’s representation of nature and prompted a new type of fantastic that Natalie Deam calls the fantastic natural. In this chapter of her dissertation, she focuses on the unexpectedly wild representation of nature within the controlled environment of the hothouse in Émile Zola’s La Curée and Joris-Karl Huysmans’ A Rebours. Both novels depict the hothouse as a space of sexual and evolutionary transgression that produces fantastic femme-fleur figures and challenges evolution’s heteronormative assumptions. By re-contextualizing Zola and Huysmans within contemporary evolutionary and sexological discourses, she will show how evolution prompted authors to imagine fantastic natural possibilities, contend with anxieties that evolutionary thinking produced, and critically question what aspects of the natural world evolutionary theory could not explain.
Natalie Deam is a PhD candidate in French at Stanford University currently working on a dissertation about responses to evolutionary theory in French literature. Her research interests include the history of science and technology, environmental humanities, queer studies, and video games.