This article analyzes tactile illusions and calculations in Emile Zola's 1883 novel Au Bonheur des Dames, focusing on the text's descriptions of fabric and its account of characters' haptic perceptions. While scholars have approached Zola's narration of the rise of the grands magasins as a depiction of consumer manipulation and desensitization, often analyzing nineteenth-century visual culture, this essay proposes another interpretive framework with which to probe the effects of both modern commercial infrastructures and representational strategies on the perceiving subject. Connecting Zola's portrayal of the sense of touch to developments in consumer practices, modern aesthetics, and contemporary medical-scientific understandings of physiological events, this article highlights the ways in which tactile sensitivities become increasingly exchanged, quantified, and mediated in a variety of contexts. An examination of touch in Au Bonheur des Dames allows us to reassess not only the stakes of Zola's literary naturalism, but in addition, the changing cultural dimensions of haptic experience in the mid-to-late nineteenth century.


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pp. 1-18
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