Zola, the Body Modern: Pressures and Prospects of Representation

People involved in this project

Principal investigator:

School Modern Languages
Department French
Dates 2006 - 2007
Funder AHRC
Contact person Professor Susan Harrow

More about this project

Emile Zola’s reputation as a landmark European novelist is undisputed. His monumental achievement, the novel cycle Les Rougon-Macquart: Histoire sociale et naturelle d’une famille sous le Second Empire (1871–1893), fixed his status as a major writer in the naturalist tradition. Is there any more to be said?

Susan Harrow answers boldly in the affirmative, challenging the commonplace view that Zola’s writing is predictable, prolix, transparent, tedious even (what Barthes called ‘readerly’). This book exposes the modernist and postmodernist strategies which surface in the Rougon-Macquart novels, and reveals Zola’s innovatory representation of the body captured here at work, at war, at play, at rest, and in arresting abstraction. Informed by critical thought from Barthes and Deleuze to Michel de Certeau and Anthony Giddens, Zola, the Body Modern offers a model for how we can revitalize our understanding of the canonical nineteenth-century European novel, and learn to travel more flexibly between parameters of century, style and aesthetics.