THE LIFE AND TIMES OF EMILE ZOLA by F. W. J. Hemmings
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THE LIFE AND TIMES OF EMILE ZOLA

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KIRKUS REVIEW

F. W. J. Hemmings has written, among other books, a social history of late 19th-century France and a critical study of Zola's novels. Here he joins these two interests in a sprightly, economical ""life and times"" intended to complement not replace his book on Zola's art. Eschewing the trappings of arduous scholarship (the book is based on secondary sources and Zola's writings), he goes straight to the story of Zola's life, which he tells with novelistic elan. He shows that although Zola was driven by a sense of his inherent ""power,"" he nevertheless shared and was partially shaped by the preoccupations of his age and generation. Growing up among artists who took social reality as their principal subject, Zola dedicated himself to the same theme. He disclosed in his novels the sordid and bitter truths of society, just as his friends, the Impressionists, represented in paintings the natural appearances of people and things--and he defended the painters in print many times. until their aestheticism and his naturalism parted ways. Hemmings' narrative touches on all of the important events of Zola's life, including the writing of his greatest novels, the Dreyfus Affair, and his complicated private relationships. But Hemmings also looks beyond the narrative line for clues to Zola's personality, which he finds in the symptoms of an ""overcontrolled psyche."" Notwithstanding Zola's energetic nature, he was not a free spirit, but socially withdrawn, hypersensitive to physical discomfort, and neurotically restrained. His brutally naturalistic novels thus gave vent to thwarted desires, just as his morally dedicated actions compensated for them. Skillfully interweaving the life, the works, and the culture, Hemmings' attractive essay is the most engaging and up-to-date introduction to Zola that we have.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1977
Publisher: Scribners