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The Disappearance of Émile Zola: Love,…

The Disappearance of Émile Zola: Love, Literature and the Dreyfus Case (2017)

by Michael Rosen

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I love Rosen's poetry and his radio programmes on BBC about words but this history of Zola's exile in the UK after the Dreyfus trial didn't work for me. His main source for the period is Zola's own letters to his mistress, which sound like they ought to be interesting but are instead endless complaints about his life and her raising of their two children. I am still interested in Dreyfus though, and Rosen makes a case for the significance of Zola standing up against antisemitism as a French writer, in the face of considerable opposition.
What we do know is that, at a crucial moment in 1897, he made a brave, unpopular, self-sacrificing decision to support a wrongly convicted man ( )
  charl08 | Oct 9, 2017 |
In the summer of 1898 the celebrated French novelist Emile Zola was on the run from the authorities. He had published a letter in the press on the Dreyfus Affair ('J'accuse') and had lost a court case. Facing a huge fine or imprisonment Zola decided that France was no longer a place of safety, accused of pro-Jewish sentiment and anti-authority ideas Zola decided to move to England. This began a period of living in secret exile, writing feverishly and suffering from separation away from his complicated family.

This is a little known section in the life of Zola and Rosen has used connections well to tell a story. Zola lived in the prosaic surroundings of South Norwood for several months, hiding from the French authorities and the British press. What is really fascinating is the story of Zola's private life, his childless marriage and his secret family by a much younger mistress, also the way that it all seemed to work. Whilst no a big fan of Zola's writings, I found this book intriguing and well-researched. ( )
  pluckedhighbrow | Jun 26, 2017 |
Emile Zola’s connection with the Dreyfus Affair is well known. His open letter, titled ‘J’Accuse’ and published in L’Aurore (edited by Georges Clemencau, who subsequently became French Prime Minister), brought international attention to the scandal and was a major contribution to the campaign that would, eventually (and woefully belatedly) see Captain Dreyfus pardoned for his wrongful conviction of treason.

Less, though, is known about Zola’s disappearance in July 1898. Zola had suffered for his intervention in the Dreyfus Affair, and in addition to heated public invective he was prosecuted for libel arising from his claims that the court martial proceedings against Dreyfus had been fixed from the onset. On 18 July, in advance of the declaration of the verdict in that libel case, Zola left Paris, eventually turning up in London. The verdict found Zola guilty, and he was fined 3,000 francs and sentenced to one year’s imprisonment. The libel case has already proved a cause célèbre, with extensive press coverage and a crowd had gathered to bay for Zola’s head as he left the court on the previous day. His disappearance became, therefore, a major media event, prompting press exuberance across Europe.

Michael Rosen has explored how Zola spent his time in England following his escape from France, and has woven an enlightening account of the novelist’s life and works during that period. Zola’s personal life was involved, to say the least. He had been married for many years to the long-suffering Alexandrine but had also maintained a lengthy liaison with his mistress, Jeanne, (whom he addressed in his many letters as ‘Chère femme’), with whom he had two children. Nothing too surprising there, perhaps when one applies British stereotypes of French writers. What was less predictable, however, was that Zola’s wife would not only countenance Jeanne travelling with the children to be with Zola in England while she remained in Paris, but would actually make all the necessary arrangements herself.

Rosen offers a clear and engaging portrayal of Zola’s life in England, where he struggled to adapt to the life of an exile in what he clearly considered to be a most uncivilised country. Although he developed a liking for local Sunday roast lunches, for the most part he was appalled by the culinary fare on offer, finding even such staples as bread to be barely palatable. His sociological observations were far from sympathetic, too, coming to view the English as a nation of relentless litter louts. This did not prevent him from putting his time in England to good use, and he completed his novel Fécondité and planned its companion volumes.

Rosen is himself well known for his espousal of liberalism and has campaigned vociferously for the spread of literacy, and particularly for prisoners’ wider access to books, so it is clear that he and Zola are kindred spirits. His book is a sound tribute: informative, enlightening and engaging. ( )
  Eyejaybee | Mar 18, 2017 |
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To Emma, Elsie and Emile
In memory of Oscar, Rachel and Martin Rosen who perished as a result of a time in France when Zola's words on ant-semitism were rejected by those in power.
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Book description
18 July 1898. World-renowned novelist Emile Zola is on the run. His crime? Taking on the highest powers in the land with his open letter 'J'accuse' and losing. Forced to leave Paris, with nothing but the clothes he is standing in and a nightshirt wrapped in newspaper, Zola flees to England with no idea when he will return.
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It is the evening of 18 July 1898 and the world-renowned novelist Emile Zola is on the run. His crime? Taking on the highest powers in the land with his open letter 'J'accuse' and losing. Forced to leave Paris, with nothing but the clothes he is standing in, Zola flees to England with no idea when he will return. This book tells his story.… (more)

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