Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


College of Humanities and Social Sciences


Modern Languages and Literatures

Thesis Sponsor/Dissertation Chair/Project Chair

Elizabeth Emery

Committee Member

Rabia Redouane

Committee Member

Kate Loysen


From Goethe to Maupassant, the act of seduction has fascinated writers. Consequently, seduction —as stimulation of love and pleasure- has been discussed often; however, its psychological motivations (other than pleasure), and its consequences have not been sufficiently studied, particularly with regard to the works of the French author Guy de Maupassant. When analyzing the notion of seduction in Maupassant’s works, many critics, such as Mary Donaldson-Evans or Nicholas White, evoke its sexual nature and its narrative manifestations, but no one has specifically written about the driving force behind the act of seduction. Nor has anyone remarked upon the paradoxical nature of his representation of seducer and seducee- their roles are often blurred. I thus propose to remedy this critical oversight by exploring aspects of the psychology and motivations of seduction as well as its effects in the three novels by Maupassant, Bel-Ami. Une Vie ar,d Pierre et Jean. My research will show that Maupassant’s characters use seduction either to satisfy a latent desire, resolve an unconscious issue, or to escape from the environment to which they belong.

This study will adopt diverse methodological approaches applied to the function of seduction. Historical analysis of the nineteenth-century period, psychological research, and philosophy will be the major resources for this study. Indeed, Jean Paul Aron’s analysis of the conditions of nineteenth-century women will supply a better understanding of the motivations behind seduction during that time period. Likewise, the psychological research on “seduction behaviors” by Lyse Lebeau and Duart Maclean, among others, will help me to better explain the attitudes of seducers in the novels. Furthermore, Vincent Descombes’ idea that “there is seduction every time truth is hidden” will be an important element of the study.

In the layout of my study, I will separate conscious and subconscious motivations of the seducers. For that purpose, in the first part of the thesis, with an historical perspective, I will first explain how male characters in Bel-Ami and Une Vie consciously seduce women in order to modify their social status and to improve their standard of living. We will then determine if the women voluntarily allowed themselves to be seduced in order to take advantage of the personal and social fulfillment not permissible to women in nineteenth century society. Referring to women’s condition in the nineteenth century, we will study the manipulation techniques that female characters of Bel-Ami use in order to enter the man’s world, to become sexually and socially free, and finally to simulate a high-society relationship that was not permissible at that time. Second, with the help of historical studies about women’s conditions and girls’ education in the nineteenth century, we will analyze the semi-subconscious motivations of the female characters in Bel-Ami, Une Vie, and Pierre et Jean that push the women to seduce in order to live an imaginary life and experience a story-book love.

This will lead us to the second part of the thesis in which we will analyze the subconscious reasons behind the act of seduction. First, adopting a psychological perspective, I will demonstrate that the male characters use seduction to appeal to women in order to be accepted by them. In other words, I will prove that it is their lack of selfconfidence, and the weakness of their ego that compels them to seduce. Second, from a Freudian perspective, I will show how seduction is related to the Oedipus complex. Ultimately, in this thesis, I will attempt to demystify the notion of seduction in Maupassant’s novels.

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