The Disappearance of Émile Zola
The incredible story of Émile Zola’s escape to London in the aftermath of the scandalous Dreyfus Affair.
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Pronounced guilty of libel and sentenced to a year in prison, novelist Émile Zola went on the run.
Zola’s crime had been to defend a wrongly convicted man, in what became known as the Dreyfus Affair. Fleeing the French state with just hours to spare he ended up living in the suburbs of south London unable to speak a word of English. Michael Rosen brings to life the sleepy world of late Victorian suburbia, Zola’s turbulent politics and his tangled private life. Desperate to write a novel, he was also trying to balance the extremely delicate matter of the two women in his life – one the mother of his children, the other his wife.
The Disappearance of Émile Zola is the incredible true story of a writer’s personal bravery in the face of the greatest political scandal of the age.
[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.
[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.
[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.
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.
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