Zola’s “champ limité de la réalisation”: La Débâcle and the Commune

Émile Zola explains the inclusion of the Paris Commune of 1871 in his novel, La Débâcle (1892) in terms of his Naturalist epistemophilia: “Je veux tout mettre, je suis toujours désespéré du champ limité de la réalisation.” But Naomi Schor has called this fictional representation of the Commune a “pons asinorum,” or stumbling block, for Zola’s critics. This article responds to Schor’s challenge by tracking the aesthetic and ideological ambiguities of the final two chapters of Zola’s novel through close reading of allegory and intertextuality (in particular, Edmond de Goncourt’s response to Zola and the Commune). The article examines how Zola’s denouement brings into focus the fall of the Commune during the Bloody Week (i.e. the culmination of the political plot) through the exquisite pain of the Jean/ Henriette/ Maurice love triangle (the romance plot).

Nicholas White
University of Cambridge
Volume 49.3–4