Zola le Saint-Simonien

“Anachronistic Visions of Socialism and Colonial Endeavor: The Influence of SaintSimonian Thought on Émile Zola’s Novels.” Excavatio, vol. XXXIII. Forthcoming January 2023.

The idealism of Zola’s last novels is well-documented, and several scholars have noted the Fourierist inspirations of Travail. In this article, however, I revisit Zola’s engagement with early-nineteenth-century utopian socialism, examining the influence of Saint-Simonian thought on Zola’s fiction. Saint-Simonians like Comte, Enfantin and Pelletan were thinkers and engineers who promoted economic justice and scientific progress from the Bourbon Restoration to the end of the Second Empire. They also played a significant role in Napoleon III’s colonial policy. Combining close readings of Zola’s fiction with historical contextualization based on the work of historians like Pamela Pilbeam and Ceri Crossley, I show that the utopian themes of Zola’s Quatre Évangiles—including the founding of proletarian cities, the settling of rural, so-called virgin lands, and the creation of new religions to unite people and reform society—closely track Saint-Simonian ideas and have antecedents in Zola’s early novels like Le Ventre de Paris and Son Excellence Eugène Rougon. I examine this progression from ideation to application over the course of Zola’s writing career, arguing that his utopian socialism is rooted not in the political debates of his time but in the Saint-Simonian ideals of decades prior. 

Published by Valentin Duquet

PhD Candidate in French Studies, University of Texas at Austin