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This volume assembles 14 essays that investigate the poetics and reception of naturalism as well as readings of individual texts. The collection is appropriately comparative, including texts from France, England, Spain, Italy and Germany, although its center of gravity rests somewhere in Zola's France. In his introduction, Brian Nelson declares that the publication hopes to open up fresh perspectives for naturalism by applying a "generic" approach which "breaks completely with the traditional historical perspective usually adopted." His hopes are realized to some extent, although the periodization of Naturalism continues to hold sway, with most of the volume's individual examples selected from the late 1870s and the 1880s (with the notable exception of Lillian Furst's discussion of Buddenbrooks, published in 1901).
Several of Nelson's contributors are well known scholars in the study of Naturalism. Both David Baguley and Yves Chevrel have relatively recent book-length studies on the subject. Lilian Furst has an earlier volume dedicated to naturalism, while Philippe Hamon has several works on the topic, and Henri Mitterand has written extensively on Zola's works.
In the book's first section, "Poetics," David Baguley explores "The Nature of Naturalism" and stresses its entropie vision. He sees a fundamental poetics of degradation and disintegration at the heart of naturalist poetics. The most difficult essay to work through, Philippe Hamon's exploration of "The Problem of Reference" may suffer from its translation from French into English. Yves Chevrel's "Aesthetics of the Naturalist Novel" includes some surprising texts not usually viewed as naturalist (Fontane's Effi Briest, for example) as well as an emphasis on German literature (including Arno Holz and the criticism of Georg Lukács). Henri Mitterand produces an intriguing essay on the genetics of naturalistic space and its use as metaphor, which is counterpointed by James Reid's discussion of the temporal aspects of Zola's Rougon-Macquart cycle and their relationship to narration, description and metaphors of history.
Part two, "Reception," leaves familiar French territory to explore reactions to naturalism in Germany, Spain, Italy and England. This broadly comparative view helps to establish international aspects of naturalism and the resistance to it in various geographical and cultural contexts. Particularly enlightening is Maurice Hemingway's essay on Emilia Pardo Bazán, which allows the reader to appreciate that the naturalist experiment was not exclusively male. Lyn Pykett continues the focus on gender in her examination of the naturalist debates in England in which the representation of [End Page 411] women in fiction as well as the works of women authors became major features. Noël Valis contributes further to the gender discussion in her (quite graphically compelling) analysis of the female body in Alas's La Regenta. The final section, "Texts," continues the international emphasis with examinations of volumes in Spanish, German, English and French.
This collection should be of interest to anyone concerned with Naturalism as a literary movement and its expansion throughout western Europe as well as scholars of national literatures of the late nineteenth century. The discussions of genre characteristics and those essays that emphasize issues of gender are particularly illuminating. The volume certainly contributes to the contemporary critical debates surrounding Naturalism as a period designation and as a description of a literary style. While not entirely unprecedented, the essays do indeed offer several new perspectives on European Naturalism.