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Zola's Fin-de-Siècle Reproductive Politics

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Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)193-208
Number of pages16
JournalFrench Studies
Issue number2
Early online date1 Apr 2014
E-pub ahead of print1 Apr 2014
Published1 Apr 2014

King's Authors


This article offers a synoptic reading of Émile Zola's fictional and journalistic writings from the mid-1890s to his death in 1902, considering these in light of the novelist's engagement with the Third Republic's politics of pronatalism, and with questions of reproduction more broadly. It explores Zola's particular conception of the problem of depopulation (the declining French birth rate at the end of the nineteenth century) as an aesthetic question demanding an aesthetic solution, before examining how he attempted to provide such a solution in his later fiction. The final novels are shown to be incessantly preoccupied, and at several levels, with an idealized figure of the child. The article finally considers the intolerance that Zola displayed in his last few novels towards all individuals — homosexuals, ‘new women’, priests, Catholics, decadent novelists, childless heterosexuals — whom he imagined as failing to conform to his own reproductive ideal.

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