The Cave, the Clock and the Railway: Primitive and Modern Time in La Bête humaine

Studies of time in Zola have traditionally treated the contrast between linear and circular time. Both, however, seem to indicate a uniform temporal structure and an orderly existence (life), a structure intermittently disrupted, at least in some Rougon-Macquart novels, by chaotic, unsequential time, so-called psychological or primitive time, which represents passion and risk (Life). In Une Page d'amour and La Faute de l'abbé Mouret, Zola presents characters who, although tempted by Life, prefer to return to the chronologically structured security of everyday, respectable life. In La Bête humaine, however, he indicates the ultimate futility of such a return, as individual and social structures are destroyed by the chaos of jealousy, war and la félure, a battle depicted essentially as a temporal one. (RMV)

Viti, Robert M
Volume 1990 Fall; 19(1): 110-21.