IN July 1898, novelist Emile Zola crossed the channel from Paris to London, at the height of the controversy surrounding the Dreyfus case.
Faber & Faber, €19.83;
Zola had just penned his celebrated polemic, J’accuse, in which he lambasted the French establishment and a military court in particular for sanctioning the ritual humiliation and expulsion of a Jewish captain, Alfred Dreyfus, to Devil’s Island, on trumped-up charges of espionage.
Though a huge literary celebrity at the time, Zola arrived in secrecy.
He had been forced to retreat in the face of a charge of defamation relating to a single sentence in his article, accompanied by the threat of a year in jail.
While the book’s subject is urgently important, it fails to captivate as a narrative. Too little space is devoted at the outset to setting the context of Zola’s achievements and celebrity at the time of his arrival in England.
There is extra interest, at least, in a section on Zola’s reception by English critics, and translations of a short story he wrote in exile and of J’accuse itself.
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