“The Belly of Paris”

The Decline of the Fat Man in Fin-De-Siècle France
  • Christopher E. Forth


In early 1898, the journalist Séverine interviewed the renowned French novelist Émile Zola in his home shortly after he had published his essay “J’Accuse,” an event that helped transform the Dreyfus Affair into a national crisis. Describing the rather Spartan interior of Zola’s study, she detected a note of asceticism in her surroundings that seemed to conflict with her older impressions of the novelist, impressions that Severine obviously thought her audience would share. “Zola, an ascetic?” she asked. “Really? Yes. Don’t be too quick to smile or gasp.” Zola’s reputation as a successful novelist with a passion for fine food was quite well known, as was the rather considerable girth that he had acquired along the way. In fact, next to Sarah Bernhardt, Zola was the most frequently caricatured of French celebrities, so when some of his critics nastily dubbed him (after his novel of the same name) “the belly of Paris,” everyone knew what they meant. Contrary to these conventional images of Zola, Severine noted a profound change in the novelist that seemed to explain the heroic gesture he had just made. “And one should believe it when I say that this new Zola … reveals himself, asserts himself in such a way that I never noticed before.… He is not pleasing to look at; he is not ugly either; in any case, he is neither pudgy nor brutish. In the end he is simply well-shaped, like one of those hunting dogs of [the military academy at] Saint-Germain, of a superior race.”2


Anorexia Nervosa Masculine Identity Army Officer National Crisis Superior Race 
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Copyright information

© Christopher E. Forth and Ana Carden-Coyne 2005

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  • Christopher E. Forth

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