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Fruitfulness   By: (1840-1902)

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By Emile Zola

Translated and edited by Ernest Alfred Vizetelly


"FRUITFULNESS" is the first of a series of four works in which M. Zola proposes to embody what he considers to be the four cardinal principles of human life. These works spring from the previous series of The Three Cities: "Lourdes," "Rome," and "Paris," which dealt with the principles of Faith, Hope, and Charity. The last scene in "Paris," when Marie, Pierre Froment's wife, takes her boy in her arms and consecrates him, so to say, to the city of labor and thought, furnishes the necessary transition from one series to the other. "Fruitfulness," says M. Zola, "creates the home. Thence springs the city. From the idea of citizenship comes that of the fatherland; and love of country, in minds fed by science, leads to the conception of a wider and vaster fatherland, comprising all the peoples of the earth. Of these three stages in the progress of mankind, the fourth still remains to be attained. I have thought then of writing, as it were, a poem in four volumes, in four chants, in which I shall endeavor to sum up the philosophy of all my work. The first of these volumes is 'Fruitfulness'; the second will be called 'Work'; the third, 'Truth'; the last, 'Justice.' In 'Fruitfulness' the hero's name is Matthew. In the next work it will be Luke; in 'Truth,' Mark; and in 'justice,' John. The children of my brain will, like the four Evangelists preaching the gospel, diffuse the religion of future society, which will be founded on Fruitfulness, Work, Truth, and Justice."

This, then, is M. Zola's reply to the cry repeatedly raised by his hero, Abbe Pierre Froment, in the pages of "Lourdes," "Paris," and "Rome": "A new religion, a new religion!" Critics of those works were careful to point out that no real answer was ever returned to the Abbe's despairing call; and it must be confessed that one must yet wait for the greater part of that answer, since "Fruitfulness," though complete as a narrative, forms but a portion of the whole. It is only after the publication of the succeeding volumes that one will be able to judge how far M. Zola's doctrines and theories in their ensemble may appeal to the requirements of the world.

While "Fruitfulness," as I have said, constitutes a first instalment of M. Zola's conception of a social religion, it embodies a good deal else. The idea of writing some such work first occurred to him many years ago. In 1896 he contributed an article to the Paris Figaro , in which he said: "For some ten years now I have been haunted by the idea of a novel, of which I shall, doubtless, never write the first page.... That novel would have been called 'Wastage'... and I should have pleaded in it in favor of all the rights of life, with all the passion which I may have in my heart." M. Zola's article then proceeds to discuss the various social problems, theories, and speculations which are set forth here and there in the present work. Briefly, the genesis of "Fruitfulness" lies in the article I have quoted.

See Nouvelle Campagne (1896), par Emile Zola. Paris, 1897, pp. 217 228.

"Fruitfulness" is a book to be judged from several standpoints. It would be unjust and absurd to judge it from one alone, such, for instance, as that of the new social religion to which I have referred. It must be looked at notably as a tract for the times in relation to certain grievous evils from which France and other countries though more particularly France are undoubtedly suffering. And it may be said that some such denunciation of those evils was undoubtedly necessary, and that nobody was better placed to pen that denunciation than M. Zola, who, alone of all French writers nowadays, commands universal attention. Whatever opinion may be held of his writings, they have to be reckoned with. Thus, in preparing "Fruitfulness," he was before all else discharging a patriotic duty, and that duty he took in hand in an hour of cruel adversity, when to assist a great cause he withdrew from France and sought for a time a residence in England, where for eleven months I was privileged to help him in maintaining his incognito... Continue reading book >>

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