The Masterpiece

Quasi-scientific purpose

In Le Roman expérimental and Les Romanciers naturalistes Zola expounded the purposes of the 'Naturalist' novel. The experimental novel was to serve as a vehicle for scientific experiment, analogous to the experiments conducted by Claude Bernard and expounded by him in Introduction à la médecine expérimentale. Claude Bernard's experiments were in the field of clinical physiology, those of the Naturalist writers (Zola being their leader) would be in the realm of psychology. Balzac, Zola claimed had already investigated the psychology of lechery in an experimental manner, in the figure of Hector Hulot in La Cousine Bette. Essential to Zola's concept of the experimental novel was dispassionate observation of the world, with all that it involved by way of meticulous documentation. To him, each novel should be based upon a dossier. With this object in view he visited the colliery of Anzin in northern France, in February 1884 when a strike was on; he visited La Beauce (for La Terre), Sedan, Ardennes (for La Débâcle) and travelled on the railway line between Paris and Le Havre (when researching La Bête humaine). Zola sometimes professed his awareness that the work of any creative artist must by its very nature be subjective.


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