Export Zola

Eager to make a living from his pen, Zola quickly understood the importance of the translation market. The circulation of his novels, but also advertising, merchandising and scandals have made it possible to widely exploit his work. Throughout the world, the naturalist machine ran at full speed.

Aurlie Barjonet is a lecturer HDR the University of Versailles Saint-Quentin Paris-Saclay, where she teaches comparative literature and German-speaking culture. Deputy director of the Center for the Cultural History of Contemporary Societies, she works on contemporary literature as well as on Zola.

Timo Kehren is a teacher-researcher in Romance literature and cultures at the Johannes-Gutenberg University of Mainz in Germany. Author of a book on the Spanish picaresque novel, he is currently working on the reception of the positivist social utopia in novels from the end of the XIX century in France, Spain and Brazil.

The Life of Ideas : You have just organized a meeting on naturalism. Why a new conference on Zola?

Aurlie Barjonet and Timo Kehren: Zola was one of the first internationally best-selling authors. Studying his notoriety in the world allows us to uncover literary influences, but also to form an image of the concrete dissemination of his work via very different media, and to show the construction of a public opinion about him even before the Dreyfus affair.

Caricature of Zola, by Theodor Zasche, published in the Berlin newspaper Lustige Bltter (Feuilles droles) in 1887, on the occasion of the publication of La Terre. The representation of Zola on a pig in some way prepares the anti-Semitic caricatures ten years later.

During his lifetime, Zola was translated throughout the world, often quickly after the French release, because technical progress allowed it. It represented a new literature, both in terms of its themes and its way of treating them, not to mention its scientific program which seemed to break with artistic standards itself.

The first country to publish a Zola novel in translation and in volume was Russia, in 1873, with The Fortune of the Rougons. Then came, in 1876, Poland and Italy, with His Excellency Eugene Rougon. In 1877, Portugal released a translation of The curewhile a year later, the United States begins with a chaste novel, A page of love (1878), following the example of Spain, which first published The Seen from a Dead Woman (1878), then THE stunner next year.

In 1879 precisely, the first novel about the people, which does not lie and which has the smell of the people is translated into German, Swedish, Ukrainian and Hungarian. Some countries need more time to focus on this literature and translate Zola's work. In Japan, for example, his novels were only translated at the beginning of the XXe century.

Eager to make a living from his pen and former head of advertising at Hachette, Zola quickly understood the importance of this international market, which also offered him the opportunity to make a living and, more importantly, to contribute to the institutionalization of literature in many countries. Through his translations, he wants to make money, but also reach an ordinary readership, and not just the elite who, in many countries, could read him in French.

Depending on the country, Zola sold the rights to his novels for between 500 and 5,000 francs, but he also managed to big shots. For example, in 1879, the New Freie Pressthe prestigious bourgeois daily newspaper of Vienna, offered him 10,000 francs to have it published in translation and as a serial Pot-Bouille. This is a very large sum, considering that Zola bought his property in Medan for 9,000 francs.

While Zola did not speak any foreign language, from 1881, he managed his rights abroad alone, even if he had writer friends to help him, such as George Moore (favoring the edition of his works in English), Ivan Turguniev (who took care, among other things, of sell To the Ladies' Happiness a Russian magazine), Ivan Franko (who himself translated his works into Ukrainian or Polish) or even Clarn (who translated Work in Spanish). He even had agents, like Ernst Ziegler for the German-speaking world. If this international success is known to literary researchers, particularly since the publication of Zola's correspondence (thanks to a Franco-Canadian team between 1975 and 1995) and the Dictionary of naturalisms (directed by Colette Becker and Pierre-Jean Dufief in 2017), we are still struggling to get a concrete image of the circulation of Zola's work.

In short, while the naturalist movement is often considered anti-literary, notably because it breaks with dominant aesthetics, it in reality reconnects through the literary and cultural circulation that it arouses with the resurgent ideal of the Republic of Letters.

The Life of Ideas : What is the naturalist machine?

Aurlie Barjonet and Timo Kehren: We use this metaphor of the machine, which so inspired Zola himself, to designate everything that is set in motion so that his works circulate, but also everything that occurs when they circulate. It works on several levels.

First of all, there is Zola's ambition to penetrate all circles and, if necessary, violently. In this regard, he is aware that Daudet has prepared the ground for him. As he wrote in 1881 in Naturalist Novelists:

(Daudet) is responsible for touching hearts, opening doors to the troop of fiercer novelists who come after him. He accustoms audiences to exact analysis, the painting of the modern world, to the daring of style. The bourgeois by welcoming him does not suspect that he is letting the enemy, naturalism, enter his home; because, when Mr. Alphonse Daudet has passed, the others will pass.

Then there is the editorial machine: Zola's work is printed in the form of books, brochures and, even more often, abroad, in the press. The deadlines are very short. Often, translators had to render Zole's prose without knowing the whole work, redacting it blindly, not always understanding the issues of this or that passage.

The judicial machine too. If, in France, Zola did not experience censorship or legal condemnation (for his works), his foreign publishers cannot say the same. Many editors and translators sometimes censored themselves, before publication, what seemed potentially scandalous to them. However, they do not always learn about the confiscation of their volumes and, worse, the trial which also ensured excellent publicity.!

Not all publishers were moved by the dissemination of modern literature and often pursued purely mercantile goals: publishing stories and descriptions presented as scabrous, which can be seen in the choice of illustrations or certain titles.

Shipping department at Librairie Hachette, circa 1880.

Zola represented an exploitable commercial force. We can speak of an advertising machine, Zola and his work giving rise to derivative productslike this anthology of female characters distributed in the German-speaking world (mile Zolas Mdchen- und Frauengestalten1898) or a fanciful American story about the loves of Zola (mile Zolas First Love Story and Others1895), without forgetting the forgeries (The Two Duchessespublished under the name Zola New York in 1884)!

Letter from Ernst Ziegler to Zola (Vienna, December 13, 1884): I would only like to be able to do one thing: to render all this in German, as I feel and as you have done. Alas, it's impossible, they would stone me; In a hundred years, perhaps, someone will dare to make a beautiful edition of your work in German. Gallica, NAF 24524.

Foreign publishers therefore have a responsibility for the (tenacious) bad reputation of naturalism, as scabrous tales of sex and misery. Conversely, Brazil sold Nana cigarette holders, Zola hats, and even named a horse after the writer, which reflects the great fame of the French writer rather than merchandising with little concern for his reputation.

The Life of Ideas: What was the influence of Zola and French naturalism on the world??

Aurlie Barjonet and Timo Kehren: It was immense! Zola embodied modern literature throughout the world. His naturalism clashed with all dominant aesthetics. He appealed to young people for his ideal of truth, but his themes and his program were not unanimous. His aura even went beyond the literary sphere. As proof, this letter from a young American girl aged 17 who, on December 17, 1884, asked him for advice as aman who understands female sex wonderfully (sic), because she feels a dprave.

conversely, in a letter sent from Nova Scotia on May 24, 1898, a woman told him she had read Paris and feel thanks to this reading better, stronger, and therefore more useful. There is also this young anonymous Italian aristocrat who sends his confessions as a homosexual to Zola to feed his inspiration, and which have just been republished.

The Life of Ideas: Who are the heirs of Zola today, in literature and in journalism?

Aurlie Barjonet and Timo Kehren: Difficult to say. They should check so many boxes! Zola took an active role in the distribution of his work abroad, because the market was becoming international and there were not yet any real professionals. It's different today. Above all, Zola is as much a novelist as an intellectual in the modern sense, that is to say someone who put his world notoriety, obtained in the literary sphere, at the service of a non-literary cause.

There are certainly some today, but could we find a personality who has changed the outlook on his country as much as Zola?? Let us think of all these Jews dazzled by France through the commitment of Zola. In On the inner stage (Gallimard, 2013), Marcel Cohen discusses how his maternal grandmother said that as a teenager, in the suburb of Istanbul where she was born, she embroidered cushions with the effigy of Dreyfus and Zola (p. 62).

Anti-Smite caricature published in the Viennese newspaper Kikeriki on September 10, 1899. On the pedestal, we read Aid to the traitor.

following the Dreyfus affair, Zola received thousands of letters from all over the world, many of which were posted online by the Zola Center of theITEMCNRS. The Naturalist Notebooks of 2021 looked at these unpublished archives, which come from five continents, from individuals and collectives impressed by Zola's courage.

In this mass, there is young Dora, a Prussian of 17 years old who is not allowed to read his novels, but salutes his fight and asks for an autograph, or even this Algerian who calls himself anti-Jewish, but to whom Zola has transmitted his confidence in Dreyfus and who wishes him success. Without forgetting all the poems sent to him for his glory.

Basically, it is through its themes, more than through its method (close to investigative journalism), that it is easier to find connections with today's French authors, such as Maylis de Kerangal or Nicolas Mathieu. Note, however, that they rarely claim it, as Zola's bad reputation is so tenacious. In terms of the reception and indignation that his novels arouse, we can think of Houellebecq. Besides, The Naturalist Notebooks of 2024 will include a file on this issue!