Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)

Sainte-Thérèse Ward

Sainte-Thérèse Ward (sant-tay-REHZ). Hospital ward committed to Sister Philomène’s charge that eventually becomes her entire world. The hospital in which the ward is situated is never identified, although it is likened at one point to the Hospital de la Pitié in Paris’s rue du Fer-à-Moulin. The novel opens with a description of Philomène doing her rounds, emphasizing the limited nature of her daily and nightly routines.

The vocation that brings Philomène to the ward is a trifle arbitrary. She is meekly following in the footsteps of her friend and role-model, Céline; however, she is no less powerful for that. The neatness, cleanliness, and discipline of the wards, brightened by a copious display of frequently laundered white linen, are carefully contrasted with the disorder of the resident doctors’ room: a vaulted hall whose stone walls ooze damp, equipped with a pipe-rack, a slate board on which the surgeons scrawl memoranda, and their untidy pigeon-holes. Philomène is glad to have the suffering in the wards carefully veiled and curtained but still must work hard to suppress the vivid imagination that informs her of what happens in the consulting rooms and—most horrifically of all—the dissecting room.

Her inability to recognize the sexual nature of her feelings for the young doctor Barnier, the surgeon responsible for her patients, is symbolized by the delight she takes in the news he brings her of the great city that she could experience for herself if she would only allow herself to step out into its streets.

Madame de Viry’s house

Madame de...

(The entire section is 679 words.)


(Great Characters in Literature)

Auerbach, Erich. Mimesis: The Representation of Reality in Western Literature. Translated by Willard Trask. New York: Doubleday, 1953. Considers the Goncourts as naturalist writers. Compares their novels with those of Émile Zola and classifies the Goncourts as second-tier writers.

Baldick, Robert. The Goncourts. London: Bowes, 1960. A very brief but excellent survey of the Goncourts’ novels. Concentrates on biographical background to the novels. Includes some exploration of major themes and aspects of literary style. Sister Philomène is cited as their most positive and least sensational novel.

Billy, Andre. The Goncourt Brothers. Translated by Margaret Shaw. New York: Horizon Press, 1960. The standard biography of the Goncourts. Shows that their novels emerged from events in their lives. Traces the research efforts that contributed to Sister Philomène. Also furnishes contemporary reaction to their novels.

Grant, Richard B. The Goncourt Brothers. New York: Twayne, 1972. Surveys the lives and works of Jules and Edmond de Goncourt. Ordered chronologically, the book carefully integrates their lives of the authors with detailed stylistic and thematic analysis of their novels.

Nelson, Brian, ed. Naturalism in the European Novel: New Critical Perspectives. New York: Berg, 1992. Essays by prominent scholars of naturalism in England, France, Germany, and Spain. Includes several important discussions of the Goncourts’ role in the development of social documentary as a literary genre.