Monash University

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In the midst of the world: realism in the novels of Michel Houellebecq

posted on 2017-02-23, 23:47 authored by Jack , David William
This thesis argues for the realism of the novels of Michel Houellebecq. The purpose of this thesis is to address the gap in scholarship which has tended to focus on the content of Houellebecq’s novels, often at the expense of form. This thesis primarily considers the development of realism as a literary mode in Houellebecq’s novels. It thus considers closely three of Houellebecq’s early novels, Extension du domaine de la lutte, Les Particules élémentaires, and Plateforme; however Houellebecq’s other works, including fiction, non-fiction and poetry are cited where necessary, to support claims about his realism. The thesis considers the origins of Houellebecq’s realism in his contradictory relationship to the world (both au milieu and contra), his personal experiences of the world post-1968, and his rediscovery of Balzac. It argues that Balzac – and not Zola – is the true precursor to Houellebecq’s writing style. This thesis also proposes a ‘classical heritage’ for the realism of two of Houellebecq’s novels, Les Particules élémentaires and Plateforme, and argues that epic narration and tragic plot structure, both features of Balzacian realism, are the main formal devices of these two novels respectively. This thesis, then, looks at Houellebecq’s realism not from the point of view of an external ‘reality’ to which his novels refer, but rather in terms of a principle of reality which structures the action of the novels.


Principal supervisor

Andrew Milner

Additional supervisor 1

Philip Anderson

Year of Award


Department, School or Centre

Languages, Literatures, Cultures and Linguistics


Doctor of Philosophy

Degree Type


Campus location



Faculty of Arts

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