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  • Emile Zola: Notes From Exile
  • Michael Lastinger
Speirs, Dorothy E., and Yannick Portebois. Emile Zola: Notes From Exile. Trans. Dorothy E. Speirs. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2003. Pp. 97. ISBN080203747X

Sometimes the best things come in small packages, and this is indeed the case with Dorothy E. Speirs's translation of Emile Zola's Pages d'Exil. This short volume is edited by Speirs and her colleague Yannick Portebois, and in addition to the diary Zola kept during the exile in England that was brought on by his condemnation for libel in the open letter "J'Accuse," it contains a foreword by Captain Glen Vizetelly James, a chronology of the Dreyfus Affair, an introductory overview of Zola's life and work up until the exile, and, one of this book's real bonuses, dozens of photographs of the English countryside and the villages that were "home" to Zola from July 19, 1898 until his return to Paris on June 4, 1899.

Captain Vizetelly James is the grandson of Ernest Alfred Vizetelly, Zola's English translator and friend who was largely responsible for making life possible under conditions that were in some respects nearly unbearable for a Frenchman on foreign soil. In addition to his foreword outlining the Vizetelly family history from the Roman Empire to their modern work in printing, journalism and the arts, Captain Vizetelly also allowed the editors access to the family archives that contained photos Zola took during his stay in England. While these pictures are not as crisply reproduced here as those that appeared in the 1979 collection Zola Photographe offered by Massin and Emile-François Zola, they do add another chapter to Zola's record as a photographer. Their presence is especially valuable in their illustration of the places Zola came to know during the time of his exile.

The introduction by Speirs and Portebois sets the stage for the exile with a brief overview of Zola's life, work, reputation, and philosophy as they had developed in the 1890's. They, along with the chronology of the Affair, also remind us of the events and political climate that crystallized into one of France's most traumatic political, religious, and military scandals.

The heart of this volume is of course Zola's journal itself, and the English-speaking world owes the editors a debt of gratitude for bringing these notes, which were first published by Colin Burns in 1964, to a new public. All who admire Zola, and perhaps some who do not, have a new opportunity to peer into this man's thoughts, habits, and daily life during one of his own most traumatic adventures. The journal opens with Zola's hasty departure in the wake of a new condemnation for "J'Accuse!" "What a wrenching separation! My dear wife watched me leave, with her eyes full of tears and her hands clasped and trembling" (26), he writes of his boarding the train in the Gare du Nord. His anguish is only heightened by the injustice of his treatment and the shame France was bringing on herself: "I had never in my life experienced such deep unhappiness" (27). This suffering continues as his journey unfolds and his life-long dread of travel takes its toll anew. His arrival in England brings little relief as he [End Page 206] is obliged to live under pseudonyms and to change residences fairly regularly in order to avoid extradition by the French authorities. And then there's the language. Zola spoke no English upon his arrival and made little progress (or effort) toward learning the language during the ten and a half months of his stay abroad. And then there's the food: "Never any salt in anything. All the vegetables boiled and served without butter or oil . . . And the bread – good God, English bread, barely cooked, all soft, like a sponge . . ." (74). Zola's life in England is not all bad, though. He admires the verdant countryside and cozy villages even for the working poor. He seems especially happy to continue some of his favorite pass-times: cycling (for whose taste he admires English women), reading (he re-discovers Stendhal with real...


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