Émile Zola’s Climate History of the Second Empire

Keywords: Rougon-Macquart, climate, milieu, Hippolyte Taine, global warming

Abstract

      This article looks at Émile Zola’s novel cycle Les Rougon-Macquart and argues that it describes its subject, the Second Empire, as a warming climate tending toward climate catastrophe. Zola’s affinity to the notion of climate is shown to be linked to his poetic employment of the concept of ‘milieu’, inspired by Hippolyte Taine. Close readings of selected passages from the Rougon-Macquart are used to work out the climatic difference between ‘the old’ and ‘the new Paris’, and the process of warming that characterises the Second Empire. Octave Mouret’s department store holds a special place in the article, as it is analysed through what the article suggests calling a ‘meteorotopos’: a location of intensified climatic conditions that accounts for an increased interaction between human and non-human actors. The department store is also one of the many sites in the novel cycle that locally prefigure the ‘global’ climate catastrophe of Paris burning, in which the Second Empire perishes.

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Author Biography

Johannes Ungelenk, University of Potsdam

Johannes Ungelenk is Junior professor of Literary Theory and Comparative Literature at the University of Potsdam, Germany. He is the author of Literature and Weather. Shakespeare – Goethe – Zola (De Gruyter, 2018).

Published
2020-03-12
Section
Articles: Cultures of Climate. On Bodies and Atmospheres in Modern Fiction