Henri Mitterand, the distinguished and indeed revered Zola specialist died on October 8 this year, as a result of a brain haemorrhage. On behalf of all our members we send our heartfelt, deepest sympathy and condolences to his wife, Hélène, and his family. He was so full of life, even at the age of 93, that it seemed he must live for many more years, but that, alas, was not to be and his loss is cruelly felt.

A great friend of the Emile Zola Society, Henri Mitterand contributed to our Bulletin and to our Colloquium publications, as well as allowing the publication of his essays, Emile Zola: Fiction and Modernity, translated by David Baguley and Monica Lebron, in 2000. He taught in many universities in France (Besançon, Rheims, Vincennes, and Paris 3, Sorbonne), and abroad with visiting professorships in Canada (Toronto, 1970-1993, and in Montreal, 1970). While in Canada, he set up the huge collaborative venture that produced the Correspondance de Zola in ten (later eleven) volumes. After retiring at the statutory age from the Sorbonne, he moved to a new post at Columbia University, New York (1989-2004). Emeritus Professor of the Sorbonne Nouvelle and the University of Columbia, he was a Knight of the Legion of Honour and a Commander of the Order of Arts and Letters.

Helped initially by a scholarship, and thereafter by hard work and brilliance, Henri Mitterand made his way up the steep ladder of the French educational system, from primary school to lycée and on to the heights of the prestigious École Normale Supérieure and the agrégation, to reach his final eminence. It was Zola’s son, Dr Jacques Emile-Zola, who, giving him access to an amazing treasure-trove of material, set him decisively on his literary path. It was Dr Zola’s recommendation that helped him to his appointment as editor of the Pléíade Rougon-Macquart. Henri Mitterand later edited the Œuvres Complètes for the Cercle du livre précieux.

Some members of the Society may have had the pleasure of meeting him at one of our International Colloquia, to which he unfailingly agreed to travel as our Guest of Honour. His presence contributed greatly to their success. His lectures were admirably clear and punctuated with humour, while his crisp and pertinent interventions from the floor always raised the level of discussion several notches. Celebrated as he was, Henri was always approachable, mingling amicably with students and colleagues.

I met Henri Mitterand for the first time at the Society’s Colloquium,‘Visages de la Provence’, in 2007 in Aix-en-Provence, though it seemed as if I had known him long before, having relied on him for so many years for his incomparable understanding of Zola. Henri Mitterand talked to me at that first meeting with his characteristic generosity and kindness; it was a fantastic privilege to be able to share his enthusiasms and opinions about Zola. The next meeting was when Henri and Hélène came to our London Colloquium in 2013, and we met again at the Colloquium on ‘Translating Zola’ in April 2017 in Rome, where I took the attached photo. We met for what has turned out, alas, to be the last time, at the Lille Colloquium in 2018.

Henri Mitterand’s work on Zola is monumental, from his huge biography of Zola to his vast array of critical works, among which very recently, his interviews with Clive Thomson, On croit comprendre le monde avec ca!: Entretiens memoriels avec Henri Mitterand (2021), and Zola, la mort du père (2021). His influential articles and lectures greatly helped to liberate Zola from the shackles of naturalism, and reveal the great imaginative and surprisingly modern writer he always was beneath that disfiguring carapace.

A man of incredible achievement and incurable modesty, Henri Mitterand’s clear-sighted passion for literature brought a special dimension not only to Zola studies, but more widely to the understanding and appreciation of literature. His loss will be hugely felt both at an academic level and at a personal level by all who knew him and his work.

Valerie Minogue

Return to top of page

* * *


Geoff Woollen, a Founding member of the Emile Zola Society and former Editor of the Bulletin, was an important contributor to the life and activities of this Society over a very long period. Geoff was Reader in French at the University of Glasgow, after completing his studies in Leicester. He published a great deal on Zola, as well as working more widely on 19th-century literature, including Balzac and others.

As Geoff lived in Scotland, most members will have seen him only on those occasions when he managed to be with us in London, but many members will remember Geoff with affection. We all send our very sincere sympathy and condolences to his wife Vicki, and his daughter Rosy.

Geoff did such a lot for the Emile Zola Society with his talks, his articles, his editorship of the Bulletin, and above all, his generosity of mind and spirit. He made a long, wide-ranging and valuable contribution to French culture in this country and abroad, as is well illustrated by his long-running and meticulous editorship of the University of Glasgow Publications series.

His robust humour sometimes annoyed people, but it was always a generous humour, sometimes less than delicate, but never malevolent; often mischievous, never nasty. He was a man of integrity. Disagreements sometimes occurred, but friendship always prevailed. Many will remember him with a smile and a sigh, and warm affection.

I should like to quote here the words of others, who highlight some of Geoff's qualities : first, Laurence Grove, announcing Geoff Woollen's death in the pages of Francofil:

'...for those who knew Geoff his marker was surely the iconoclastic sense of humour. I remember him concluding one paper at a bande dessinée conference by theatrically taking a set of cutting pliers to his USB stick, making the point that he would not be cornered by draconian copyright infringement measures for the images he had shown. Others will have other memories. His humour and ways were not to the taste of all, indeed he was very much a Marmite person, but never was he bland.'

And the words of Tim Unwin, reflecting on the 25th anniversary of that wonderfully useful invention - Francofil - and recalling some amusing memories:

'Some delightful moments along the way were also provided by our colleague Geoff Woollen at the University of Glasgow, who sadly passed away earlier this week. Some years ago, in response to a question about the pronunciation of IKEA in French, Geoff opined that, far from being a proper noun, IKEA was in fact 'the third-person past historic singular of the verb "ikéer", meaning: to flood the world with chipboard furniture and incomprehensible self-assembly sheets'. Rest in peace, Geoff: you will be sadly missed here.' - Here too.

And a personal message from Chantal Morel, our Secretary and Co-founder of the Society:

'Founding Member of the Emile Zola Society ever since its creation in May 1990, Geoff planned and directed the first Colloquium of the Society in 1990, "Colloque du Centenaire à Glasgow: La Bête humaine". Contributors included the late Sarah Capitanio, Nelly Wilson, Pauline McLynn, Alain Pagès, Claude Schumacher, Jaccques Noray and Thea van Til Rusthoven. Geoff edited the articles singlehandedly and published them with the University of Glasgow French & German Publications in the same year.

'Thank you, Geoff, for your sustained work and friendship over the past 30 years. You were a stalwart collaborator. I am grateful our paths crossed and it was a real pleasure meeting Vicki and Rosy. You will be greatly missed. In loving memory. Chantal '

Return to top of page

* * *


Members of the Society will be saddened to learn that on 30 June the distinguished Zola scholar Sarah Capitanio collapsed on the boulevard de Verdun in the Avignon suburb of Les Angles, and could not subsequently be revived. She will be remembered for her lifelong devotion to nineteenth-century French fiction, in particular her demonstrations of how Naturalism drew on the storytelling strategies of the popular novel. Those of us who listened to the paper she gave at the centenary colloquium organised by Chantal in September 1993 might have been surprised to hear Zola’s works mentioned alongside bestsellers by Bernard Clavel, Robert Sabatier and Régine Deforges, but would soon be convinced of the validity of the comparisons. Collectors of the Bulletin will recall her short piece ‘The Centenary of J’Accuse...!’.

Sarah came to further education at Wolverhampton Polytechnic, in its pre-university days, via secondary schoolteaching,  a career path that equips academics with the greatest degree of empathy with the needs and capabilities of the student population. These skills came to the fore in the Graduate School when the traditional cull in Modern Languages prompted a timely sideways move. It was a shared endeavour, since her husband John Macmillan also taught there. She held high office in the Association for the Study of Modern and Contemporary France, where she served as reviews editor for the journal, and was one of the founding members of the Society of Dix-Neuviémistes, which came into being around the turn of the millennium.

Sarah’s Ph.D. thesis, awarded by the University of Manchester in 1991, was entitled ‘An Examination of Critical Approaches to Zola’s La Curée’, and it was a privilege and a treat to conduct her viva. If the neutral-sounding title of an 1987 article in the Cahiers naturalistes, ‘Les Mécanismes métaphoriques dans La Curée’, had hinted at the promise of what was to come, the following years of critical reflection, in which rich narratological strategies were compared and contrasted in their applicability to Zola, proved to be considerably more fruitful. One remembers the discussion of the relevance to La Curée of Vladimir Propp’s theories on the morphology of folk tales, and the exemplification in Zola’s novel of the sumptuous analyses of narrative hierarchisation and temporality developed by Gérard Genette in Figures III. The second of her three articles for the Cahiers naturalistes (1994) foregrounds ideas on hypertextuality, the way a text is begotten by another, as outlined in Genette’s Palimpsestes. Her clarity of critical vision enabled Sarah to make narratology, often a tough nut to crack, clear and comprehensible to the reader.

A favourite memory of the communication skills of this charismatic speaker is that of her tour de force at another Zola centenary conference, on La Bête humaine (Glasgow, 1990). One of those attending happened to mention that he struggled with the target language in which it was to be delivered, whereupon Sarah threw away her script and launched into an impromptu English version! A noble sacrifice indeed, though some of us felt a little cheated that we would not hear her perform in her most polished French.

It is sad to think that we shall hear no more the throaty, pomp-deflating chuckle of one who was renowned for her kind hospitality during a decade of great elegance spent in Sauveterre, and whose devotion to teaching and mentoring in the humanities will not soon be forgotten.

Geoff Woollen

Return to top of page

* * *

NELLY WILSON (née Jussem) 1930-2017

We are very sad to have to announce the death of Nelly Wilson, the celebrated researcher and writer on late French nineteenth-century cultural and political life, whose expert knowledge of the Dreyfus affair was widely acknowledged and admired.  A steadfast member of the Émile Zola Society from its very beginnings, Nelly was born in Vienna and came to England when she was 15, in 1945,  as one of 150 former concentration-camp children, invited by the British Government to settle in this country. She later went on to Bristol University, where she graduated with a BA Honours degree. This was followed by many years of research in France, preparing her doctoral thesis for the doctorat d'état, presented at the University of Paris. She then returned to Bristol University where she taught in the French department as Senior Lecturer.

Her longstanding interest in the Dreyfus Affair and its background led to the publication of her two excellent books – Charles Péguy (London, 1965) and Bernard Lazare. Antisemitism and the problems of Jewish identity in late nineteenth-century France, first published by CUP 1978 and now in paperback (2010). The second of these was awarded the Jewish Chronicle non-fiction prize.

We remember Nelly as a very warm-hearted person, with a ready, sometimes impish, wit and an enthusiastic interest in Zola, the Dreyfus case and that whole period which she had researched in depth and knew so very well.  She seemed always to have something new and interesting to offer to any discussion of Zola and his work, from his views on politics, to his writings on art,  on society or on life in general. Always good-humoured, she was a very welcome member and participant in the Emile Zola Society; her contributions to our Society will be long remembered, and her friendly and lively presence will be greatly missed. 

Valerie Minogue

Return to top of page

* * *


This tribute is written in grateful memory of David Baguley, President of this Society from 1997 until 2006, and Editor of the Bulletin for the last eight years. Internationally renowned for his work on Zola and Naturalism, David was made a Chevalier dans l'Ordre des Palmes Académiques by the French government in 2006.

David died in London, Ontario on Sunday, August 17th 2014, aged 75. Emeritus Professor and Adjunct Professor in the University of Western Ontario, David taught in the French department of that University from 1968 to 1995. He was also Emeritus Professor and Honorary Research Fellow of the School of Modern Languages and Cultures at Durham University, having held the Chair of French at Durham University from 1993 to 2005. David was still teaching part-time to Canadian students at the Bader International Study Centre of Queen’s University at Herstmonceux Castle, East Sussex. He was also a member of the research team of the Centre for Research on Zola and Naturalism, at the University of Toronto. For many years David played an important role as intermediary on both sides of the Atlantic, in Canada and in Britain, for the study of Zola and Naturalism in French and in English.

With his work on 19th-century French literature and particularly on Zola and Naturalism, David had established a world-wide reputation. He had recently completed work on an edition of La Fortune des Rougon for the Classiques Garnier collection, and was still at work on his monumental Bibliography of Zola and Naturalism, when illness and death intervened.

David’s first major publication in 1990, Naturalist Fiction, The Entropic Vision immediately established him as a foremost scholar in the field, and this was followed by a long series of authored books, edited volumes and articles in both French and English. David was awarded the Gapper Prize for 2001 by the Society for French Studies for his Napoleon III and his Régime: an Extravaganza, a work which gave a wonderfully wide-ranging and lively picture of the period, combining literary scholarship, history and biography in a brilliant fusion of erudition, insight and wit.

David made a huge and deeply appreciated contribution to our Society. We have lost not only a most distinguished scholar, writer and critic, but also a colleague and very good friend.  Despite his imposing international reputation as an eminent specialist in the study of Zola and Naturalism, David remained unassuming and approachable, always willing to share his scholarship and wide-ranging knowledge. We shall greatly miss David’s personal warmth, generosity and humour, while his contribution, in the wider world, to the study of Zola’s works and the times he lived in, is simply immense, and will not be forgotten. He will be much missed.

Return to top of page

* * *


It is with great sadness that we report the death of Kenneth Robin Caron Buss, a member of the Zola Society for many years. Robin Buss died very suddenly of a brain haemorrhage, at the age of 67, on the 16th of December last year. This was all the more shocking and saddening to us as he had, the very day before, attended the Society’s festive pre-Christmas evening of wine and readings from Zola.

Born in Hendon in May 1939, Robin was drawn to all things French even as a schoolboy. Educated at Westminster School, he took a course at the University of Lausanne, and went on in 1958 to read for a degree and doctorate in French literature at the Sorbonne. His childhood was mainly spent in Tilford, with many happy holidays in Wales, where he learned Welsh — showing already the passion for languages which would play a large part in his life as a devoted francophile, fluent not only in French, but in Italian, Spanish, Swedish and Russian.

In the course of his life, he undertook various jobs, working on data from Arab countries and the Soviet press for the Foreign Office, doing clerical work at the British Museum, and for just over fifteen years, teaching English at Woolwich College. But his main occupation was writing, whether poetry (a short collection, The one-way glass, was published by Outposts in 1971), articles, books, or translations.

A routine medical check-up in 2000 discovered a cancerous tumour in one of Robin’s kidneys. The kidney was successfully removed and the cancer did not reappear, so he was able to get on with his very productive life as writer, translator and journalist.He had already published critical studies of Vigny and Cocteau in the Grant & Cutler ‘Critical Guides’ series; he wrote film and television reviews in the national press. His well-crafted articles covered a wide range of cultural subjects and he wrote four influential books on European cinema and translated Cocteau’s Art of Cinema in 1994. He was a leading translator of classic French fiction, ranging from Madame de Lafayette’s La Princesse de Clèves, to three Alexandre Dumas novels, works by Balzac, Stendhal, and a number of major twentieth-century authors including Camus and Sartre. His most recent translation, Alain-Fournier’s Le Grand Meaulnes (The Lost Estate) was published on May 3, five months after his death...

Zola was one of his special interests, and he translated three of Zola’s novels: Thérèse Raquin (2004), L’Assommoir (The Drinking Den, 2004), and Au bonheur des dames (The Ladies’ Delight, 2001). Robin felt an intuitive sympathy for the deep-rooted idealism and social concern inherent in Zola’s realism, and he was sensitive to Zola’s fundamentally poetic imagination.

In an article for The Guardian, in September 2002, Robin recalled the Victorian condemnation of Zola’s work as ‘demoralising’, and ‘sheer beastliness’ — a view that led to the arrest, conviction, and ultimate imprisonment of Henry Vizetelly, the publisher of the first English translations, and father of the translator, Ernest Vizetelly. Robin went on to take issue with later critics who continued to undervalue a novelist who had deeply influenced the literature of his time. Robin mentions in particular Martin Turnell’s The Novel in France, published in 1950, which totally excludes Zola from the history of the French novel, mentioning his name only to refer to ‘the dreary realism of novelists like Zola’. Robin was very right to comment that this work became ‘a standard work for British students’. As a student in Cambridge in the fifties, I too read my Martin Turnell (who, it must be admitted, did later modify his views). Zola in those days had no place at all in the French literature programme; he was generally not regarded as a serious novelist worthy of academic attention. Things have fortunately, substantially changed, and Zola’s reputation now stands high, as indeed it should. Robin puts his view of Zola very persuasively when he comments:

The novels of Les Rougon-Macquart are a huge imaginative achievement, encompassing a whole society and built around the symbolic importance of material objects that assume mythical dimensions: the railway engine in La Bête Humaine, for example, the coal mine in Germinal or the distilling apparatus in L'Assommoir. Few other writers have had such a powerful sense of the impersonal forces beneath the surface of human lives.

And few translators have succeeded in entering into their subject with not only such expertise but so much empathy and understanding. He will be much missed in the Emile Zola Society, in the literary world, and by all who knew and appreciated the kindness, sensitivity and humour of this gentle and unassuming scholar.

* * *

Return to top of page