Zola: Germinal and Tragic Praxis

  • John Orr
Part of the Edinburgh Studies in Sociology book series (ESIS)


Marxist literary critics have long been wary of Zola’s work. There seems to be an abiding suspicion that his fiction has never possessed the high seriousness typical of the bourgeois novel. Yet in terms of thematics, Zola seems to have fulfilled all the necessary criteria for a perceptive and committed writer. His famous cycle of novels Les Rougon-Macquart attack the bourgeois hypocrisy of the Second Empire, condemn the environmental conditions of the urban masses, and highlight the misery and exploitation of the poor through generations. For his pains Zola has been branded a naturalist, and presumably would have wished it since he used the term himself. But he never imagined just how pejorative the label was to become. Lukacs in particular analyses Zola’s fiction from the perspective of the author’s pompous theories on literature, and finds no difficulty in proving the case against him. With slightly more sophistication, Zeraffa sets Zola forth as the forefather of a type of documentary realism attempting to shame the social conscience of its readers. In other words it is the forerunner of the type of naturalist fiction prevalent in the United States which later degenerates into a socially conscious soap opera suitable to any social democracy.


Mining Community Strike Action Wage System White Whale Social Conscience 
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© John Orr 1977

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  • John Orr

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