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The Disappearance of Émile Zola

Michael Rosen

The incredible story of Émile Zola’s escape to London in the aftermath of the scandalous Dreyfus Affair.

Date Published
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It is the evening of 18 July 1898 and the world-renowned novelist Émile Zola is on the run. His crime? Taking on the highest powers in the land with his open letter ‘J’accuse’ and losing. Forced to leave Paris, with nothing but the clothes he is standing in and a nightshirt wrapped in newspaper, Zola flees to England with no idea when he will return.

This is the little-known story of his time in exile. Rosen has traced Zola’s footsteps from the Gare du Nord to London, examining the significance of this year. The Disappearance of Zola offers an intriguing insight into the mind, the loves, the politics and the work of the great writer.

Critic Reviews

[A] nuanced and sympathetic account of … Zola’s life of self-exile … Rosen’s chronicling of these months constitutes an admirable and at times very moving attempt to convey something of the sacrifice that was made by a figure who, in crisis and in deepest south London, was obliged to call on the moral courage that would eventually exculpate Dreyfus and has come to stand for us as a moment in the conscience of mankind.

The Observer
Critic Reviews

[L]ively and thoughtful analysis ... The Disappearance of Émile Zola honours its hero not only for his fortitude, consistency and sense of purpose but also for the way in which J'Accuse...! and Zola's related writings exposed the Dreyfus case as a stalking horse for anti-Semitism in its most virulently sophisticated form ...Rosen presents a plausible image of Zola as the harbinger, throughout his career, of a new kind of politics, internationalist in its struggles against poverty, injustice and racism ... [the book's] evocation of a Britain confident enough to absorb and shelter a foreign dissident without the institutionalised hostility of visas or internment camps is, to say the least, timely.

Literary Review
Critic Reviews

[A] study of a little-documented period in the life of one of France’s greatest novelists … This engaging book draws on letters, photographs and journals to recreate Zola’s fugitive life in London, capturing the fraught relationship between his wife and mistress, the avid press coverage and the mysterious circumstances surrounding his death.

Financial Times
Critic Reviews

Timely ... [Rosen's] most eye-opening chapter is about the persecution Zola suffered in his early career: his greatest novels denounced as filth and banned in Britain; his English translator imprisoned. In France his unforgivable sin was to stand up for Dreyfus.

The Sunday Times

Michael Rosen MA, PhD, is a poet, broadcaster, former Children’s Laureate and a recipient of one of France’s top honours: Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres. His book We’re Going on a Bear Hunt has sold over 8,000,000 copies. He has presented Radio 4’s Word of Mouth since 1996 and his programme, ‘Zola in Norwood’, was broadcast on…

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