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Les personnages de médecins et hommes de science dans la littérature narrative de Luigi Capuana : une approche morale

Abstract : The 19th century is characterized by the progress of science and medicine: in a positivist society which awards all its trust to scientific reason, the doctor becomes a professional and the therapeutical approach changes. This is also reflected in literature, which undergoes a sort of “medicalization”. Plenty has been written on the relationship between science and literature, the role of literary malaises - most notably neuroses - and on physician-authors; however, one aspect has been neglected by critics: the morality of physician characters in literature. This research focuses on the desire to define the 19th century’s ideal doctor through medical ethics, one which later will become deontology, in a period where historical, cultural and scientific events are profoundly changing the idea of “good” and “evil”.The thesis draws up a catalog of physician characters in Capuana’s narrative work, setting up a moral taxonomy, distinguishing between the “good”, characterized by empathy and professionalism; the “evil”, characterized by selfishness and ignorance; the doctors at margins, anonymous or in absentia (instrumentally); the “mad geniuses” who devote themselves to completely immoral experiments; and the confessor-doctors, who use the power of logos as a new therapeutic approach.The corpus examined here includes part of Capuana’s literary work, between 1867, when his first novel Il dottor Cymbalus was published, and 1911, when the anthology La voluttà di creare was published.Part of this thesis analyses the instrumental role of physician characters, particularly Doctor Maggioli, who appears in many of Capuana’s novels. He acts in the texts as narrator, narrative engine, and plot generator, representing science and rationality, witness and warrantor of truth, but above all, the author’s alter ego. Through Doctor Maggioli, Capuana shows his proclivity towards the idea of morality: on the one hand he condemns the immorality of evil physicians, and on the other he is attracted, in a sense, to the most wicked and diabolical doctors, who dare violate the laws of Nature through science.The idiosyncrasy between morality and experimentation is revealed especially in the “mad genius” characters, protagonists of typically fantastic novels. Fantastic elements in Capuana’s work are very particular when compared to horror novels or Gothic European literature. Capuana’s goal with fantasy is not to frighten his readers, but rather show them another paradigm of reality, one in which the rules of the world’s natural order are upset, and the rationalism of positivist science gives way to unexplainable, absurd, and fantastic phenomena. In this world, ethics have also been upset, and Capuana finds a way to justify the wickedness of his characters. Experiments on human guinea pigs (noticeably women) no longer appear diabolical in the eyes of readers, because they are conceived as possible only in an other, fantastic reality.In conclusion, in Capuana’s work “good” physician characters are quite rare, while “evil” ones are numerous, and even wicked “mad geniuses” are justified in a sense. In fact, Capuana’s position on the subject of morality in sciences is not at all neat nor constant. If in his first novels he allows scientific experimentation in the name of progress, in his more recent anthologies, he aspires for a renewed medicine, following the example of his master, Angelo Camillo De Meis. This medicine sees in the relationship between doctor and patient a new therapeutic approach based on mutual trust and empathy, but also on the respect of human rights and the laws of Nature.
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Submitted on : Wednesday, March 20, 2019 - 12:34:06 PM
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Valeria Gravina. Les personnages de médecins et hommes de science dans la littérature narrative de Luigi Capuana : une approche morale. Littératures. Université Côte d'Azur; Università degli studi di Napoli Federico II, 2018. Français. ⟨NNT : 2018AZUR2033⟩. ⟨tel-02073923⟩



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