Slovenska recepcija Émila Zolaja (1880–1945)

Author: Tone Smolej
Year: 2007

The book deals with the Slovene reception of Emile Zola in the period 1880-1945.

Chapter 1, which is centred upon readers' reception of his texts, reveals that in private letters evidence can be found that they were read at least as early as the second half of the 1880s. Interesting reports of Zola’s reception in other parts of the world were also published in Slovene dailies. For example, Slovenski narod welcomed in particular the high press-runs of his novels, whereas Slovenec reported only on the legal bans imposed on them. Reading Zola' s novels is also a motif which appears in Slovene literature (Pavel Turner, Marica Nadlišek, Fran Govekar, Lojz Kraigher) and through which significant features of the characters who read them may be presented.

Chapter II is concerned with critics' reception of Zola, which can be subdivided into four periods. In the first period, Zola' s name is most frequently mentioned in Ljubljanski zvon, the principal literary journal of the time. In this periodical, one can find, for example, Fran Celestin's programmatic essay “Naše obzorje” (“Our horizon”), in which some ideas from Zola's Lettres parisiennes are quoted, and an article by Karel Štrekelj, who, following Eugen Zabel's book, compares Zola to Ivan S. Turgenev. Important pieces of criticism began to be published in Ljubljanski zvon only in the second half of the 1880s. For instance, in his “Pogovori” (“Conversations”), Josip Stritar presented a number of views on Zola and praised him as a great talent, although, like Richard Kaufmann, he was critical of Zola's character conception. In Stritar's text, there is even a pastiche of Zola' s descriptive style. Also interesting are Stritar's ideas about the departures from the original which can be detected in Ernest Ziegler' s translation of Germinal A considerably less original critic was Fran Svetič, whose ideas were to a large extent copied from Theophil Zolling's article “Zola und der Naturalismus”. Like the German critic, Svetič too believed that among a thousand of Zola's characters there are less than five righteous ones. The second period is marked by early Catholic criticism; Anton Mahnič derived the majority of ideas about Naturalism from Athanas Wolf or Karl Goldmann, and Ignacij Kralj knew Zola only through Evgenij Kumičić. In the third period, i.e. in the 1890s, Slovene critics showed a keen interest in Zola; for instance, Slovenski narod published an extremely favourable report on the tri10gy Les Trois Villes, whereas Aleš Ušeničnik wrote a moralistic critique of Lourdes, in which Zola' s Bernardette is considered as “an immoral creature”. Liberal newspapers also welcomed Zola' s Fécondité. On Zola's death, liberal and socialist press did not hesitate to pay their respects to the writer (fourth period).

Chapter III is centred upon the productive reception of Zola’s work, which stretches over four different periods:

The first one is the “affirmative period”, in which Zola's influence upon Govekar's early pro se texts is of particular significance. The writer did not agree with Zola' s presentation of the human instinct, but nonetheless in his novel V krvi (1896; In Blood) Zola' s female characters from L 'Assommoir are taken as a model; a parallel to the alcohol-addicted and decaying Gervaise is Urška, whereas the young Nana, who begins to discover the world of sexuality, serves as an inspiration for his portrait of Tončka. As a portrayer of two generations of the same family (a mother and her daughter), Govekar was the first Slovene writer to touch upon the subject of genetic laws; his view s of genetics, however, are closer to Neolamarckism than to Zola' s ideas. Nana represented the basis upon which his ftmme-fettale motif is modelled; in comparison to Zola, Govekar's treatment of it is more moderate; it is, however, not limited to the above-mentioned novel, but can also be found in some of his short stories in the collection O te ženske (1897; Ah, these women). It is worth pointing out that the two authors also have certain writing techniques in common; under the influence of Zola’s novel s La Faute de I'abbi Mouret and Nana, Govekar used the sun-ray image, and L'Assommoirinspired his (less successful) introduction of an observer watching the movement of a crowd of workers. Govekar was undoubtedly highly instrumental in making Zola' s work known in Slovenia, providing, as editor of Slovenski narod, an early publication of some of his short stories, mainly from the cycle Comment on meurt. One of them exerted a fundamental influence upon his own short story “'Socijalist!'“ (“'Socialist!'“); in both of these short stories we read about a gifted working-class child who suddenly dies. Given his attitude towards Zola, it is not surprising that in the Dreyfus Affair Govekar (and thus Slovenski narod) took a pro-Dreyfusian stance.

In the second, “affirmative-negative period” it is Ivan Cankar’s works which are of central significance. The novel Tujci (1901; (Strangers) share a number of motifs with Zola’s L’Œuvre. In both texts one can find motifs of the artist’s poor companion, of a dead child, and of the artist' s suicide. Although in Cankar' s work the motif of a dead child is less prominent, and the motif of the artist' s suicide is treated in a different way (the reasons for the suicide are to be sought in the society), the combination and the sequence of motifs is still the same as the one in L'Oeuvre. On the other hand, in Cankar' s novel Na klancu (1902; On the Hill), which was influenced by L 'Assommoir, the sequence of motifs is not the same as in Zola' s text. Both novels have in common in particular the motif of the leaving partner and the motif of the two sons, while the other motifs which originate from Zola' s text (the daughter's baptism, death, and funeral) are usually weakened. Clearly, Cankar did not imitate Zola' s detailed descriptions of folk scenes. In contrast with Tujci in Na klancu, in which the motifs taken from Zola' s single novel s are either combined in similar ways as in the French originals or appear to be merely touched up on, in his Hiša Marije Pomočnice (1904; The Ward of Our Lady of Mercy) various motifs from three novel s by the French writer can be found, i.e. from L'Assommoir, Nana, and La Rêve. The latter may have inspired Cankar's character of an orphan girl who becomes entranced in an imaginary love triangle (Tina) as a well as the character of a girl who would like to be Christ's bride (Malči). The motif of a popular feast from L'Assommoir is matched in Cankar's descriptions of parties in Birgita's family. Lesbian characters from Nana influenced the conception of homosexual characters in Hiša Marije Pomočnice. Apart from that, Cankar al so follows Zola's narrative procedures; in the novel Na klancu, he creates a dynamic opening reminiscent of the one in L 'Assommoir, and in Tujci his dynamic descriptions are similar to those in L'(Oeuvre. An explicit influence from Zola is also the so-called forbidden look, when the girl is observing her mother' s intercourse with a person who is not her father or the mother's husband. Cankar makes use of Zola' s motifs and descriptive procedures, but he rejects the concept of genetically tainted heroes.

Also the third, “social period” of Zola’s productive reception in Slovenia is quite extensive, in which his novel Germinal proved to be far the most influential. Some allusions to motifs typical of Germinal can already be perceived in Josip Vošnjak's play Premogar (1894; The Coalman) and in Anton Aškerc' s “Delavčeva pesem o premogu” (1897; “A Worker's Song about Coal”). Under the influence of Germinal, Fran Saleški Finžgar wrote the novel Iz modernega sveta (1904; From the Modern World), in which he, similarly to Zola, dealt with contradictions of a given environment and presented the spiritual development of a character who was to become a strike leader, paying particular attention to a political speech of his. The two novel s also have in common abundant use of animal metaphors. Thirty years later, Anton Tank wrote the first Slovene “miner novel” (Slučaj Kumberger, 1933-35; The Kumberger Case), in which he polemically referred to Zola' s Germinal. In both novels one can find a vivid presentation of a mine descent, a reflection on its mythological dimensions (Minotaur; the black man), and a mining accident. Among the novels influenced by Germinal, there is also Prežih's Požganica (1939) in which Zola's text is brought into play in the scene of the confrontation with the merchant and in the descriptions of the workforce as well as of the factory owners' comfortable lives. In general, Slovene writers seem to have most frequently availed themselves of Zola 's motif of workers' confrontation with the principal negative character on the one hand (Finžgar, Prežih) and of the motif of the window through which a capitalist observes crowds of workers on the other (Finžgar, Tank). Another novel of the “social period” is La Dibâcle. It has been found out that in Požganica Prežihov Voranc made use of fictional (man's individual destiny), narrative (historical facts) and didactic elements (ideology) of the war novel, which can also be found in Zola. The third and last novel of the “social period” is La Terre. As early as 1933, Bratko Kreft stressed that in Slovene literature no one had yet written a novel dealing with rural life in an unprejudiced way. But in 1939 in Soseska (Neighborhood) Anton Ingolič portyed the despised father Koren, perhaps under the influence of the figure of father Fouan, whereas in Jamnica (1945) Prežihov Voranc offered a presentation of a “Lear-like” division of property between three heirs. La Terre also inspired Voranc in his depiction of a village-council assembly and of his treatment of love issues in a rural environment. Voranc was also inspired by the opening lines of single chapters of Zola’s novel in which the different seasons are described.

In the last period, which could also be labelled “psychological”, it is principally the influence of Zola’s short story “Pour une nuit d'amour” upon Slavko Grum that attracted our attention. The motif of looking through the window could already be found in Grum's short texts like “Mansarda” (“The Attic”), whereas in his play Dogodek v mestu Gogi (1927; An Event in the Town of Goga) one can notice the use of Zola' s (as well as Casanova's) motif of the exploitation of a lover as well as the motif of the fulfillment of a wish, which is here presented in a slightly parodic way.

Table of content


Slovenska pasivna recepcija Zolaja

Slovenska reproduktivna recepcija Zolaja

I. faza: »Drugi Zola« v Ljubljanskem zvonu

Prve omembe

Fran Celestin

Karel Štrekelj

Josip Stritar

Fran Svetič

Janko Kersnik


II. faza: Zola v Rimskem katoliku

III. faza: »Tretji Zola« v slovenski kritiki

Tri mesta

Štirje evangeliji


IV. faza: Nekrologi, končni obračun

Slovenska produktivna recepcija Zolaja

I. Afirmacijska faza: Fran Govekar

Govekarjeva literarna afirmacija Zolaja

objavljanje Zolajevih del

Govekar, dreyfus in zola

II. Afirmacijsko-negacijska faza: ivan cankar

Umetnina in Tujci

Beznica in Na klancu

Zolajevi zgledi v Hiši Marije Pomočnice

III. Socialna faza




IV. Psihološka faza: Slavko Grum

»Za noč ljubezni« in Grum



Imensko kazalo



literary reception
Slovenian literature
Zola, Emil


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