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Looking at the sociohistorical and sociocultural context, this study investigates examples of anorexia nervosa, a highly symbolic form of nonverbal discourse, in a selection of French novels spanning the period 1835-1889. In each of the novels, there is an unmistakable association between literal and figurative hunger, whereby the protagonists become human signs of their private, unconscious protest. They refuse food not because they are not hungry, but because they hunger too much for effectiveness and self-fulfillment in the face of a repressive society. Each protagonist, when confronted with her severely limited options and overwhelming sense of ineffectiveness, discovers self-empowerment through disorderly eating. The starving body functions as a register of emotional anguish, low self-esteem, and powerlessness. Through a kind of gender-switching, most of the protagonists voluntarily take on, in an attempt to challenge society's restrictive view of femininity, what are commonly considered to be masculine characteristics. This book will be of interest to students and faculty of literature as well as women's and gender studies. Professional therapists dealing with anorexia will find new insight in this informative and unique presentation of the topic.
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