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Reviewed by:
  • Germinal by Émile Zola
  • Robert Lethbridge
Émile Zola, Germinal. Édition de Colette Becker avec la collaboration de Véronique Lavielle. Œuvres complètes: Les Rougon-Macquart, XIII. (Bibliothèque du XIXe siècle, 34.) Paris: Classiques Garnier, 2017. 740 pp.

Almost forty years ago, the indefatigable Colette Becker produced an authoritative critical edition of Germinal for Classiques Garnier. This new one is now included in the same publisher's Œuvres complètes project, the scope of which has been detailed in earlier reviews of individual [End Page 448] texts (see FS, 69 (2015), 103-04). To compare it with the 1979 version is to be forcibly reminded of the advances in Zola scholarship over the decades. For while Becker's original Introduction is only slightly expanded, the edition as a whole has been enriched in specific ways. The extended supporting documentation, for example, draws heavily on the exceptional familiarity with the genesis of the novel testified to by Becker's own La Fabrique de 'Germinal' (Paris: SEDES, 1986) and the transcription of Zola's preparatory notes in the relevant volume of her massive La Fabrique des 'Rougon-Macquart', published by Honoré Champion since 2003 and in sight of completion (see FS, 63 (2009), 481-82). A separate section, with an associated bibliography, is devoted to the theatrical reworking of Germinal, finally, and unsuccessfully, staged in 1888. Yet, in spite of the general updating, there remains a slightly antiquated residue: the appendix devoted to Germinal's critical reception now helpfully lists reviews in the contemporary press; but the two examples of 'lectures modernes' (pp. 683-87) are those excerpts included in the 1979 edition, Marcel Girard's 1953 essay on 'L'Univers de Germinal' (Revue des sciences humaines, 17, 59-76) and Henri Mitterand's 1972 article on 'Le Système des personnages' (Cahiers de l'Association internationale des études françaises, 24, 155-66). At least as surprising is that this new edition eschews reproducing the vast majority of the textual variants found in the earlier one, the reference to their 'nombre extrêmement important […] dont seule une édition électronique peut rendre compte' (p. 91) being qualified by the inclusion only of those concerning the character of Souvarine (pp. 585-89). On the other hand, whereas previously one had to be content with a Selective Bibliography, students and specialists alike are offered here a veritable 'library' of primary and secondary material: twenty-eight prior French editions; another twenty-four in translation; details of cinematographic adaptations; and, leaving aside all the special issues of journals, 220 items of literary criticism devoted to the novel, most of them published since the 1980s (but marred by dozens of misprints, including in respect of one of Becker's many excellent pieces, dated 2202!). Useful, too, is the list of illustrated editions of Germinal. But disappointment awaits anyone attracted, within this, to that of 1899 published by La Maison moderne, with its promise of lithographs and etchings by, to name only the best-known of its twenty contributors, Bonnard, Degas, Denis, Van Gogh, Toulouse-Lautrec, Renoir, and Rodin. For although Zola was presented with the first number of this luxury limited edition, it has nothing whatsoever to do with his novel except, as Gustave Geffroy explained in its preface, the album being conceived 'sous cette belle enseigne de GERMINAL qui dit le renouveau, qui appelle l'avenir, "les récoltes du siècle futur" annoncées par Zola'. There is no doubt that this new Classiques Garnier edition of Germinal qualifies as the most comprehensive available. One is left with the impression, however, that its rapid stitching is less than invisible.

Robert Lethbridge
Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge


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pp. 448-449
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