Lettre autographe à Jules Lemaître
s.d. (14 mars 1885), 13x20,6cm, 4 feuillets recto sous étui.
FIRST AUTOGRAPHED JET OF A LETTER TO JULES LEMAÎTRE, UNSIGNED, [MARCH 14, 1885].
4 pages in-12 (206 x 130 mm) in black ink on laid paper written on the front, under modern black half-morocco shirt.
Famous response from Zola to Jules Lemaître who described the Rougons Macquart as "a pessimistic epic of human animality".
Many critics of the time had accused Zola of lacking in psychology in the painting of his characters, who were, in their eyes, nothing but simple puppets driven by rude instincts. The critic Jules Lemaître had just published in the Revue bleue of March 14, 1885, a fairly critical article to which Zola responds here.
He begins by congratulating his correspondent for the study he wrote: certainly the most penetrating page that has been written on me. However, he wishes to qualify the word animality in the definition that the critic has given of his work: A pessimistic epic of human animality. The whole letter is devoted to explaining this point, which is crucial for Zola.
For him, man is above all part of nature: You put man in the brain, I put it in all the organs. You isolate man from nature, I do not see him without the earth, from where he comes out and where he comes in [...] And I add that I firmly believe that I have taken into account all the organs, brain like any other. My characters think as much as they have to think, as much as we think in everyday life. The whole quarrel comes from the spiritualist importance that you give to the famous psychology, to the study of the soul taken apart. Zola defends his psychology: that which I wanted to have, that of the soul returned to its role in the vast world, once again life, manifested by all the acts of matter. There is therefore only a quarrel of philosophers there. He is therefore surprised, and even injured, that his correspondent could have accused him of rudeness. It is, moreover, a reproach which he is used to: Always the famous psychology. The reasons that make you that I am not a psychologist, that I am a rude writer. But he does not want to insist and ends by apologizing for his outburst: Pardon me for writing this to you for your study. The part that you give me is so great, so beautiful, that I should simply have thanked you, told you the artist's joy and the confusion of pride into which you threw me.
This draft contains numerous erasures and corrections which show the importance that this declaration of principles had for the writer. The final letter sent by Zola can be found at the Brown University Library, USA.
Correspondence, ed. under the dir. by BH Bakker, University of Montreal Press and National Center for Scientific Research, t. V, p. 244-245.