Romancing the Cathedral

Gothic Architecture in Fin-de-Siècle French Culture

By Elizabeth Emery

Subjects: French Studies
Paperback : 9780791451243, 242 pages, September 2001
Hardcover : 9780791451236, 242 pages, September 2001

Alternative formats available from:

Table of contents

List of Illustrations


1. The Synthesis of France

2. "The Immense Cathedral of the Future World": Zola and the Religion of Science

3. "The Soul of Arches": Huysmans and the Medieval Church

4. "Perpetual Adoration": Proust and the Art Spirit

5. Conclusion


Selected Bibliography


Through an analysis of political, art historical, and literary discourse, this book considers French fascination with the Gothic cathedral.


Romancing the Cathedral explores the late-nineteenth-century French passion for Gothic architecture, particularly the cathedral. Though maligned in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries and vandalized during the French Revolution, by World War I the cathedral was considered "the genius of the French nation," a privileged and patriotic work of art that surpassed such other national artworks as Wagner's operas and the Parthenon. However, the moment at which the Gothic style finally reached near-universal acclaim in France also coincided with one of the most anti-clerical periods of French history, the years surrounding the separation of church and state.

Taking this contradiction as a starting point, Elizabeth Emery explores how the cathedral's popularity stemmed from its semantic richness as well as its glorification in the works of such writers and artists as Emile Zola, J.-K. Huysmans, Marcel Proust, Paul Claudel, Claude Monet, Auguste Rodin, and others. Using their works as a springboard, Emery examines the ways in which they responded and contributed to prevailing discourses about the cathedral. Interdisciplinary in nature, Romancing the Cathedral will appeal to those interested in Gothic art and architecture, European cultural studies, medievalism, and French literature.

Elizabeth Emery is Assistant Professor in the Department of French, German, and Russian at Montclair State University.


"Emery successfully straddles both an academic and a more broad-based audience with an interest in French literature, history, or medievalism. Her style is accessible and the product of insightful, complex scholarship. Fin-de-siècle medievalism is a sadly understudied field. While scholars have taken on some of the themes that Emery charts in regard to individual authors and artists, none look comprehensively at the very prominent image of the cathedral in fin-de-siècle French culture. " — Laura Morowitz, coeditor of Artistic Brotherhoods in the Nineteenth Century