Document Type


Date of Degree

Fall 2015

Degree Name

PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)

Degree In

French and Francophone World Studies

First Advisor

Curto, Roxanna

First Committee Member

Boos, Florence

Second Committee Member

Ganim, Russell

Third Committee Member

Racevskis, Roland

Fourth Committee Member

Scullion, Rosemarie


This dissertation is an analysis of the role of the automaton in late-nineteenth century French novels by Émile Zola, Jules Verne, Villiers de l’Isle-Adam, and Rachilde. Designed to resemble naturally produced people and animals, these living machines were animated by steam or electricity and used to explore the changing relationships between humans, animals, and machines.

My analysis focuses on a specific type of automaton, the bachelor machine—feminized and sexualized machines that often resemble women and replace them in romantic and sexual relationships. My research is informed by the nineteenth century clinical approach to medicine that assumed that the body, particularly the female body, was a penetrable space to be dissected and diagnosed. By focusing on female sexuality and reproduction, women in the nineteenth century were considered biological machines, valued only for their reproductive capabilities. Under the male scientific gaze, the hysterical female body was a site of diseased sexuality that was replaced by bachelor machines and other mechanized women. I label these fictional bachelor machines “reproductive futurisms” and consider their role in evolutionary debates which increasingly link anthrogenesis and technogenesis.

The female automata presented in these novels are examples of a new type of representational text in which artificial femininity is a hybrid of technical mastery and artistry. Female automata are fabricated using technologies of re-production including: sculpture, wax casts, photography, the hologram, the phonograph, and early films. These technologies of re-production change the ways in which the human body and voice are captured and reproduced. Furthermore, many of these technologies of re-production mimic dissection techniques and result in the fragmentation of the female form. This study makes a contribution to the fields of nineteenth century French studies and gender and sexuality studies.

Public Abstract

This dissertation analyzes the role of automata and other mechanical bodies in nineteenth century French novels authored by Émile Zola, Jules Verne, Villiers de L’Isle-Adam, and Rachilde. “Automaton” refers to a self-moving object that often resembles a human being and is a precursor to today’s robots. Specifically, the automata discussed are examples of bachelor machines: machines created by men to resemble women. Written during the Industrial Age, these novels present automata in two ways. First, by comparing man and machines, these authors consider the positive and negative effects of industrialization on the human body and on modern man’s identity. Secondly, as hybrids of technology and artistry, the automata featured in these narratives contribute to ongoing debates about the place of science in art and fiction, leading to the creation of the genre we now refer to as “science-fiction.”


publicabstract, French, Nineteenth Century, Science Fiction


vi, 244 pages


Includes bibliographical references (pages 232-244).


Copyright 2015 Elizabeth Carroll