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Feldman, A.B. (1956). Zola and the Riddle of Sadism. Am. Imago, 13(4):415-425.

(1956). American Imago, 13(4):415-425

Zola and the Riddle of Sadism

A. Bronson Feldman, Ph.D.

A new translation of Zola's The Human Beast by Louis Coleman—a rough paraphrase of the novel by George Milburn, done for our contemporary rough readers, the subway passengers addicted to the pocket books known to the trade as “breast-sellers”—and Hollywood's production of the Beast in technicolor, perhaps a tridimensional super-epic version, with Zola's locomotives driving right over our heads—these testimonials of the novel's timeliness bring one back to it with the curiosity to discover what insights it may hold for the world today.

La Bête Humaine was produced in 1890, when Zola was fifty, and his France was turning from a surfeit of naturalism in literature to the orgy promised by symbolism. In this book he gave the country and the continent, indeed the entire West, the dominant symbol of passion for the next fifty years. Tolstoy had unconsciously suggested the artistic utility of the locomotive in the death of Anna Karenina. Joris Karl Huysmans anticipated Zola in Against the Grain but he did no more than toy with the erotic facet of the symbol. His master displayed its economic and ethical sides as well. It required the systematic exploitation method of Zola to make Europe and America see the significance of the railroad engine as an emblem of fundamental emotions, the prevailing drives of humanity in presentday industrial circumstances.

With characteristic romantic American chastity Frank Norris in The Octopus worked on the economic facet exclusively.

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