L’Homme Social selon Emile Zola: une Sociologie par la Littérature.
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Emile Zola (1840-1902), a nineteenth-century French writer whose name is synonymous with the school of literary naturalism, assembled a substantial corpus of fictional works in which a strong sociological perspective is immediately apparent to many readers. Before he wrote each novel, Zola used to carry out extensive preparatory studies which consisted of both documentary work and fieldwork observations. By taking these studies seriously, Zola aimed to construct his novels on the basis of accurate data, which is why he is often considered as a pioneer of the ethnographic approach. Indeed, Zola defined his own work as a practical sociology since he wanted his literary creation to contribute to the development of modern science. This thesis sets out to analyse the sociology which implicitly informs the Rougon-Macquart series of novels (1871-1893). Not only did Zola develop an ethnographic approach, but he also realized that the growth of modernity could be analysed as a sociological issue and was aware of the stakes involved for society. He displayed an acute sense of the réel and was among the first to formulate certain sociological problems which anticipated the key premises of French sociological thought as later developed by Emile Durkheim (1858-1917). Thus we can demonstrate that Zola was instrumental in an intellectual evolution which starts with the French philosopher Auguste Comte and leads via Hippolyte Taine to Emile Durkheim. Zola brought to literature what Durkheim brought to sociology, namely specific methods and concepts for analysing the social world. Working from a perspective of sociological analysis through literary representation, the present study seeks to elucidate fully the implicit sociology discernible in the Rougon-Macquart novels.