Remembering Purgatory: Contemporary Incarnations in Paris, London, and Dublin

Doctoral Dissertation


While a long literary tradition exists that depicts the city as an infernal space, this dissertation contends that the Reformation’s secularization of purgatory ultimately sees the city become a purgatorial site. I primarily ground my understanding of Purgatory in Dante, next employing the work of Jacques Le Goff, Stephen Greenblatt, and Richard Fenn. In terms of basing my argument in the urban world, I use Lewis Mumford and Richard Sennett. From these readings on Purgatory and the city, I address contemporary Paris, London, and Dublin as purgatorial spaces. Contemporary literature and films from these cities embody a more purgatorial understanding of the city; for, even if the city sometimes appears as a place of stasis and despair, it is primarily a place of process, transformation, and transition. Using contemporary monuments in Paris (the Phare), London (the Eye), and Dublin (the Spire), I argue that this purgatorial process is visible in the built environment of these cities as well.

My main contention throughout the dissertation is that each city has a chronic fault that it is trying to excise. It is only when it accepts that fault that it is purgatorial. With Paris, I observe that French Republicanism exiles mystery and the hidden. However, when the hidden becomes sayable the city becomes purgatorial. I examine the early effects of the Revolution in Parisian literature, turn to Balzac, Hugo, and Zola, and then end with contemporary works by Andrei Makine, Michel Tournier, and Alix Girod de l'Ain. Next, I demonstrate that London attempts to excise the plagues it creates internally and abroad. Yet, in its acceptance of the disease of the other, it is a purgatorial city. I trace this motif first in Defoe and Blake and later in Dickens and Conrad. I finish with Zadie Smith, Gautam Malkani, and Ian McEwan. Lastly, I maintain that Dublin’s difficulty comes in recognizing its parentage, be it England or the Church. The city’s acknowledgment of its antecedents can lead it to a more purgatorial vision of itself. I follow Joyce’s treatment of religion and paternity, move on to mid-20th century accounts of the city with Flann O'Brien and Donleavy, and end with novels by Keith Ridgway and Barry McCrea.

While my dissertation focuses on Western cities with Christian underpinnings, I ultimately posit that even in a secular or non-Christian world, the idea of the purgatorial, of a restorative union to a more complete version of the city, exists in all cities.


Attribute NameValues
  • etd-04152010-131337

Author Joan Frances Arbery
Advisor Margaret Doody
Contributor Margaret Doody, Committee Co-Chair
Contributor Collin Meissner, Committee Member
Contributor Luke Gibbons, Committee Co-Chair
Contributor Catherine Perry, Committee Member
Degree Level Doctoral Dissertation
Degree Discipline Literature
Degree Name PhD
Defense Date
  • 2010-03-29

Submission Date 2010-04-15
  • United States of America

  • paris

  • london

  • urban studies

  • purgatory

  • dublin

  • University of Notre Dame

  • English

Record Visibility Public
Content License
  • All rights reserved

Departments and Units


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