McDonald, Callum

Project title: Zola’s Rougon-Macquart novels: A history of the Second French (Overseas) Empire?

Department: French

Faculty supervisor: Dr. Émile Fromet de Rosnay

"Émile Zola’s Rougon-Macquart novel cycle (1871 to 1893), provides the history of a family under Napoleon III’s Second Empire (1852-1870), a polity divided between France proper and an overseas empire which saw its most concrete manifestations in Algeria and in the Suez. This project will examine two novels which closely bear on imperial statecraft: L’Argent and Son Excellence Eugène Rougon, which describe the Parisian stock exchange and the life of a politician in the French state, respectively. Zola’s mentions (and omissions) of France’s overseas policy reflect a relationship between his work and empire. First, this project will theorize a link between the descriptive focus of Zola’s Naturalism and forms of empire, both in Zola’s own time and in the novels’ historical time.

Zola’s Naturalism was committed to both accuracy and to the exploration of social change in the recent historical past. This project, interdisciplinary in nature, will be primarily occupied with the extent to which Zola’s Naturalist commitments to social understanding extend to a growing French imperial reality. Two interpretive questions will follow. First, what function do Zola’s non-European references serve in his Naturalist works? Second, is this function different from the one generally assumed of works traditionally called “Orientalist,” i.e. works that legitimate Western power over Eastern subjects, as Edward Saïd theorized in Orientalism (1978) and Culture and Imperialism (1993)?

A potential visualization of this project will entail contrasting a map of the actual French empire in Zola’s time with the locations mentioned in his work."