The Masterpiece

Meta-Art, Exorcism, and Existentialism in The Masterpiece

Jeffrey S. Uzzel

Dr. Katarina Gephardt

English 4480

29 November 2007

“Meta-Art, Exorcism, and Existentialism in The Masterpiece”

The Masterpiece is perhaps the most blatantly autobiographical work in Emile Zola’s Rougon-Macquart series. In the novel, Zola illustrates the plight of the suffering artist. He uses descriptive language to imitate the artistic style of his characters, thereby creating the impression of meta-art. In effect, the novel is a vehicle of self-reflection. By tracing Claude’s “bitter disappointments, perpetual groping, and painful doubts,” Zola appears to be exorcising his own personal and artistic demons (Zamparelli 155). Sandoz, on the other hand, represents Zola’s disillusionment and resignation to the grim reality of life. Zola, like Sandoz, approaches the fin de siecle with a somber estimation of the human condition, relying on Naturalism and “the cold light of science” to survive the terrors of existentialism (Zola 422).

Emile Zola consciously intended The Masterpiece to be a work of meta-art: “I not only wrote in favor of the impressionists, I translated them into literature, in my style, tone, coloration, the palette I used in many of my descriptions … the painters have helped me paint in a new manner,...

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