A brief history of the Emile Zola Society

Early in 1990 Graham King, author of The Garden of Zola: Emile Zola and his novels for English readers was contacted by Chantal Morel, librarian at the Institut Français in South Kensington, London, who was researching English translations of Zola’s works, and they agreed to form a society to encourage interest in the work of the French writer. With the patronage of the then French Ambassador, the Society was launched with an inaugural meeting at the French Institute on 31 May, 1990.

The new Society attracted people from all walks of life, academics, bibliophiles and general readers. It was agreed that its proceedings should be accessible to a wide audience, keeping a balance between academic interest and a more general appeal, and keeping mainly, though not exclusively, to English in its programmes.

The meetings of the new Society were soon considering all aspects of Zola, including his novels, journalism, plays and theatrical collaborations, his defence of the Impressionists, his photography, and his intervention in the Dreyfus case.

To mark the centenary of Zola’s first visit to London in 1893, and the completion of Zola’s Rougon-Macquart novels, the Society organised an International Colloquium in September 1993. A week-long series of events, including lectures from leading academics, round-table discussions, and performances of music and films, culminated in a well-attended celebratory dinner at the Savoy Hotel, London. In 1998, the society celebrated the centenary of the publication of J’accuse, Zola’s famous open letter to the President of France.

The Society’s journal, Bulletin of the Emile Zola Society, was launched in October 1993, initially with two issues a year, and more recently, as a double volume each September. The Bulletin provides a vital link between UK members of the Society and those overseas. It is a forum for articles, from both members and external contributors, on all aspects of Zola’s life and work, and the work of some of his contemporaries. The Bulletin was edited until 2014 by David Baguley. It is currently being edited by Valerie Minogue and Patrick Pollard.

Recent articles have included: Zola’s works for the musical stage; Zola’s circle of friends at Médan (by Martine le Blond-Zola, the author’s great-grand-daughter, who has also addressed one of the Society’s meetings); French caricature in Zola’s time; the serialisation of Travail in the American magazine, Harper’s Weekly; Zola as depicted in the Savoy magazine; American editions of Zola’s works; the stage version of Nana; and many other diverse aspects of Zola’s life and work.

The Society first ventured into publishing — apart from the Bulletin — in 1995, with the publication of papers from the 1993 Colloquium, Emile Zola, Centenary Colloquium, edited by Patrick Pollard. This was followed in 2000 by the publication of various essays by Henri Mitterand, the distinguished Zola scholar, who has participated in some of the Society’s events. The essays were translated and edited by Monica Lebron and David Baguley, and published under the title, Emile Zola: Fiction and Modernity.

2002 was the centenary of Zola’s death in Paris, and in 2003 the Society published selected papers from a Cambridge Centenary Colloquium, under the title New Approaches to Zola, edited by Hannah Thompson.

In 2007 the Society held a very successful International Colloquium in Aix-en-Provence: selected papers from this were published as Visages de la Provence, edited by Valerie Minogue and Patrick Pollard in 2008.

In 2011, the Society set up its web-site. The Émile Zola Society continues to have regular meetings, outings and talks, and holds a very popular, informal dinner every year, in the spring.

In 2013 The Society held another successsful International Colloquium in London, Papers from this were published as Rethinking the Real, edited by Valerie Minogue and Patrick Pollard, in 2014.

In recent years, the Society has organised annual half-day Saturday Seminars, which have proved popular with both members and the general public, who were able to hear talks from experts in their fields, and take part in the subsequent open discussions. The wide-ranging nature of the topics on offer can be seen in the Saturday Seminar programmes listed below.

Saturday Seminars:


Zola’s Paris: the spaces of proto-modernism (Professor Susan Harrow);

Some pictures of Paris (Professor Patrick Pollard);

Capital ventures and venture capital: the hedonistic Paris of speculation and decadence in La Curée and L’Argent (Dr Russell Cousins);

Zola, the Dreyfus Affair and the intellectuals (Professor Jeremy Jennings).


Zola’s role in the 19th century war on ‘taste’ (Professor Alison Finch);

Blond Venus/Black Venus: Zola’s Nana and other primitive displays in the Parisian Variety Theatre (Professor Rae Beth Gordon);

Tasting the Second Empire (Professor Anne Green);

Flaubert’s Bad Taste (Professor Tim Unwin).


Dreyfus, Vérité, and Zola’s fin-de-siècle Sexual Politics (Dr A J Counter);

Passive criminals, Absent convicts: Zola’s break with traditional criminal characterization (Cécilia Falgas-Ravry);

Seeing Ghosts with Zola: La Curée in the shadow of the Commune (Dr Jann Matlock);

Saints, Sinners, Pigs and Ordure. Emile Zola through the eyes of others (Keith Howell).

There was no Saturday Seminar in 2013, because of the International Colloquium of that year.


Translating Zola's L'Argent (Professor Valerie Minogue);

Regeneration, from Death to Life in the Rougon-Macquart (Kit Yee Wong);

Shaping Vice: Flaubert's Sous Napoléon III (Professor Anne Green);

Plague, sewer, cesspool: fin de siècle mirrors of the mass press. Zola, Maupassant and The Hornet’s Life (Dr Kate Rees).


Atheism, joie de vivre and Zola's women (Professor Alison Finch);

Zola, the priest and the flower (Dr Aude Campmas);

Zola and his priests (John Hackett);

Zola's Perverted Priests (Professor Patrick Pollard).

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