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Open Access Publications from the University of California

The Gospel According to Zola: National Identity and Naturalist Utopia in Fin-de-Siècle France

  • Author(s): Zupsich, Gina Katherine
  • Advisor(s): Sanyal, Debarati
  • et al.

My dissertation, "The Gospel According to Zola: National Identity and Naturalist Utopia in Fin-de-Siècle France" is a sustained interdisciplinary investigation of Emile Zola's Quatre Evangiles (1899-1903). These novels are an allegory of the French Republic of the future in which the heroic Froment family cures social diseases such as depopulation, agricultural stagnation, recession, anti-Semitism, as well as class and sexual inequality.

Although critics have tended to dismiss this series as marginal status to the Zola canon, I show how the study of these works should cause us to rethink our usual approaches to the whole of Zola's oeuvre. These late novels mark a radical shift from Naturalism's critical dissection of the Second Empire to a positivist Republican utopianism. My study complicates the picture we have of Zola's social and political commitments by historicizing how we came to understand republicanism as a progressive, pluralistic, inclusive politics. I show that, unlike his earlier works, the Evangiles envision active caretaking roles for men and advocate women's equal educational and professional opportunities through original archival research on the critical reception of these novels by feminist journalists.

My analysis also suggests that these works epitomize a vision of government devoted to what Foucault calls biopower, where the state's function is to "faire vivre et de laisser mourir" by resolving social conflict through the intermarriage of people of socially adverse backgrounds. The Froments' biopolitical regulation of the family and education provides certain benefits for women and workers, nevertheless, the eugenic program they enact ultimately disallows for social, cultural and racial diversity. The Evangiles' homogenization of religious, racial and class identity in continental and colonial France gives voice to an aggressive strain of imperialism supported by republican universalism. The study of the Quatre Evangiles enriches our understanding of Zola in ways overlooked by standard accounts of the intellectuel engagé by situating his literary interventions within fin-de-siècle reform discourses and ongoing debates on universalism, ethnic and religious specificity, and assimilation in the French Republic. My dissertation recovers Zola's forgotten corpus as an important foundational fiction in French literary and historical canons.

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