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  • La Débâcleby Émile Zola
  • Alexandra Tranca
É mileZ ola, La Débâcle. Translated by E linorD ordayand edited by R obertL ethbridge. New edn. ( Oxford World's Classics.) Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017. xxxix + 536 pp., maps.

This reissue of Zola's La Débâclearrives at a timely moment in the context of the First World War centenary and complements the publication of the French critical edition by David Baguley (Paris: Classiques Garnier, 2012). While the new edition is not intended to compete with the latter in comprehensiveness, Robert Lethbridge's synoptic Introduction offers a highly compelling, scholarly discussion of Zola's famous war novel. Lethbridge provides an overview of the themes and motifs that create different levels of interpretation (historical fiction; symbolical and allegorical paradigms), complicating the reception [End Page 449]and deciphering of the novel. He outlines the literary and historical scope of the project, showing how Zola's decision to write in a particular context afforded an 'aesthetic and philosophical' distance that shaped his perspective on the events and approach to the subject (p. xiv). This penultimate work in the monumental Rougon-Macquart family saga marks the climactic point of the series and recounts the experience of the Franco-Prussian War and the Commune. A best-seller during the author's time and up to the First World War, Zola's powerful evocation of the brutal realities and chaos of combat became a landmark for modern representations of conflict. Lethbridge discusses Zola's solutions to the difficult task of depicting historical events on such a scale within a fictive framework. A detailed portrayal of the movements of the Seventh Corps, as well as references to the strategies deployed on the rest of the Front, foreground the disorganization and errors that sealed France's fate. With this in mind, the Oxford edition contains a series of maps that give a sense of the spaces of conflict (including Paris) and through which readers can trace the progress of the 106th Regiment, in which Zola places his protagonists. They also help us visualize the strategies deployed by both armies, thus grasping, on the one hand, the adroit manoeuvres of the German forces, who targeted critical positions that confined and incapacitated the French, and, on the other, the tactical mistakes of the French and their ill-fated decisions. Given the complex architecture of Zola's novel, which was constructed in three parts that manipulate time in order to recreate the combatants' disorientation, this edition also contains a useful chronology of the events of 1870 and 1871, a list of characters to help keep track of the extensive cast, and a set of endnotes that shed light on topical and historical references, rendering them accessible to a non-specialist. This second edition's bibliography was updated to reflect the most recent scholarship. Elinor Dorday conveys the vividness of Zola's prose with a masterful sense of the language and its context. One aspect that is often challenging concerns translating the louche expressions and expletives of a language and culture. These are prominent in Zola's dialogues between the military at all hierarchical levels. Dorday's conservative rendition, appropriate for the novel's period, remains faithful to the colour and roughness in such exchanges. This is an accomplished edition and a rewarding read within and beyond the academic environment.

Alexandra Tranca
St Anne's College, Oxford


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pp. 449-450
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