A comparative study of London and Paris in the works of Henry James and Emile Zola: with special reference to "the Princess Casamassima" and "L'Assommoir"

Davies, David J. (1987) A comparative study of London and Paris in the works of Henry James and Emile Zola: with special reference to "the Princess Casamassima" and "L'Assommoir". Doctoral thesis, Polytechnic of North London.


The role of the city in nineteenth-century literature has been seen as a crucial factor in the development of a literature of social concern. This thesis examines the ways in which two major nineteenth-century authors, Henry James and Emile Zola, utilised their respectively-chosen cities of London and Paris as indicators of social change and instability, and, in the process, widened the scope of the English and French novel.

No artist works in a vacuum and Chapter One of the thesis considers influential work on a similar theme - that of the city described in a naturalistic context by other contemporary writers: the Goncourt Brothers, George Gissing, George Moore and Guy de Maupassant. Chapter Two deals with the treatment of London and Paris in James's and Zola's fiction as a whole and Chapter Three focuses on the two novels chosen for special reference in the thesis, The Princess Casamassima and L'Assommoir. Chapter Four deals with the social themes that are implicit and explicit in James's and Zola's studies, including Zola's use of source material, James' s debt to Zola's methodology, actual instances of social problems such as alcoholism, poverty, etc. Chapter Five then considers some of. the literary connections and references between actual events, e.g. the increase in anarchist support in the 1880s, and their representation by James and/or Zola.

The thesis contends that, through the detailed description of the role of the city in their fiction, there is a far stronger link between James and Zola than has previously been made; and that in this and other areas, both authors deal with similar subjects in similar ways. It suggests that each of them selected a controlling metaphor - anarchism in the case of James, alcoholism in the case of Zola - and used it to convey a vision of life in the city as a kind of prison, particularly for its working-class characters.

Finally, the thesis asserts, by means of detailed references and comparisons, that James deserves more respect for his attention to social details and, conversely, that Zola deserves more respect for his ability to describe the city poetically, than either has yet received.

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