Review by Choice Review
Unlike F.W.J. Hemmings's Emile Zola (1953), Elliot M. Grant's Emile Zola (CH, Nov'67), Bettina L. Knapp's Emile Zola (CH, Jan'81), or the more recent Philip Walker's Zola (CH, Jun'86), the present monograph is not a biography but an in-depth study of the 20-volume Rougon Macquart series, which traces the history of a family during the Second Empire (1851-70). Using an approach based less on chronological order than on textual analysis and thematic studies, critics Berg and Martin have endeavored to establish and uncover the main lines of art and thought and to paint a picture of the cultural and social history of France. A preliminary chapter, "Towards Naturalism," focuses on Auguste Comte's positivism, Taine's historical determinism, and Darwin's notions of inherited characteristics. Successive chapters explain in great detail how Zola applied these notions in his fiction. For example, in Chapter 3, "Moment and Movement," the reader will find grouped together such dissimilar works as La Cur'ee (1872) and L'Argent (1892), which deal with land and stock manipulation; La Conquete de Plassans (1874) and Son Excellence Eug`ene Rougon (1876), which detail political machinations in the provinces and in the capital. Any of the six chapters may be considered as a separate entity, but the serious Zola reader should read the entire critique. Except for the sparse two-page conclusion, this is an admirable and clearly written presentation, offering insight into the political, psychological, and social climate of 19th-century France. Advanced undergraduate; graduate; faculty. R. Merker; Grambling State University
Copyright American Library Association, used with permission.