Australian Journal of French Studies

Art and Imperfection: Zola's L'Œuvre

Australian Journal of French Studies (2015), 52, (1), 73–86.


Critics have long highlighted the impossible ambitions of Zola's search for realism in art. This article argues that in L'Œuvre, Zola acknowledges the inevitable failures of large-scale artworks to depict broad subjects accurately. Yet, he counterbalances these aesthetic flaws by stressing the ability of small-scale works or sections of larger works to offer accurate depictions of slices of life or of the human body. Zola, in effect, emphasizes the successes of the naturalist project of depicting life as accurately as possible, mediated through an artist's perspective, in fragments and "admirables morceaux". Rather than signs of failure, these worthy fragments are reasons to celebrate. Concurrently, he points to inevitable flaws in realistic depictions of life to urge artists to leave their aesthetic labors, if only briefly, to experience myriad facets of life so as to gain a fuller understanding of the complexity of their subject, the world around them.

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Author details

Deutsch, David