Zola and the Ideology of Messianism

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Abstract

This article investigates the solutions Zola proposes to the problems of social anarchy and sterile materialism highlighted in his portrayal of the Second Empire; it explores the ways in which the triumphant messianism of his later fiction is prefigured in Les Rougon‐Macquart; and it examines the ideology that emerges from this messianism. Although Zola had a strong sense of social justice, his vision is conservative in its impulse towards order and rationality, and in the considerable respect he implies for authority. In Les Rougon‐Macquart he implicitly sees hope for the creation of a new social order in certain bourgeois figures who are admired for their energy, enterprise and leadership. The importance of the theme of leadership is confirmed by an analysis of Travail, in which the utopian world Zola describes is based on the values of love and work, but where he recognizes the need for a nominal leader in the shape of the messianic bourgeois philanthropist, Luc Froment. Zola's final vision of the ideal society corresponds to class collaboration and a rearranged bourgeois hierarchy. The rearrangement of the bourgeois hierarchy corresponds to the advocacy of bourgeois reformism and the creation of a bourgeois patriarchy; Zola's humanitarian messianism is deeply paternalistic. A latent authoritarianism is reflected in the fact that social utility is the ideology which guides and channels human energies in Zola's utopia.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)70-82
Number of pages13
JournalOrbis Litterarum
Volume37
Issue number1
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 1982
Externally publishedYes

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