Journal Article

Emile Zola's Forgotten History: Les Rougon-Macquart

William Gallois

in French History

Published on behalf of Society for the Study of French History

Volume 19, issue 1, pages 67-90
Published in print March 2005 | ISSN: 0269-1191
Published online March 2005 | e-ISSN: 1477-4542 | DOI:
Emile Zola's Forgotten History: Les Rougon-Macquart

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This article argues that while Émile Zola's Les Rougon-Macquart has retained its enduring status as a work of fiction, the cycle has become curiously forgotten as a work of history and, more specifically, as an historical argument. This essay asks, therefore, why Zola is not seen as an historian and sets out the gains which can come to historians through studies of the cycle. It addresses both questions of form—in terms of connections between Zola's realism and the tropes of historical narratives—and the substance of the past— through assessments of the historical value of novels such as Germinal and Le Rêve. Using such texts I argue that, when read as a totality, Zola's cycle possesses a compelling historical argument which connects his descriptions of the changes in life which arrive with modernity, the shift from monopoly to welfare capitalism in the Second Empire, and the failure of theoretical writers to comprehend the true nature of secularization in France. I go on to suggest that this narrative is bound within a very detailed and subtle discussion of teleology and modern history, that generates an historical conclusion to the cycle which adapts Hegel's ‘End of History’.

Journal Article.  0 words. 

Subjects: European History

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