Labour Research March 2017


The disappearance of Émile Zola

Love, literature and the Dreyfus case

Michael Rosen, Faber and Faber, 320 pages, £16.99 (hardback)

When you think of Émile Zola, author of the famous open letter, J’Accuse, Norwood in south London is perhaps not the first place that comes to mind. But it was here that Zola found himself in exile from 1898 to 1899 after fleeing Paris for supporting Alfred Dreyfus. Dreyfus, a French Jewish artillery officer, was convicted of treason for passing military secrets to the German embassy, a conviction that was later overturned. 

Zola was one of many outraged at the verdict. He hoped to bring attention to the case by being sued for libel. But he was rather too successful and had to flee when he himself became a target of the government. 

Zola, the author of the classic novel, Germinal, was one of a generation of novelists who used fiction to explore the strange new world of 19th century capitalism.

Michael Rosen has written a book that explores the little-known story of Zola’s time in exile. Along the way he makes the case that Zola’s stand on anti-semitism helped cause a significant change in attitudes among socialists.

Reviews contributed by the Bookmarks socialist bookshop. 

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