The Beast Within by Emile Zola
(Penguin Classics)

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La Bete humaine (1890), the seventeenth novel in the Rougon-Macquart series, is one of Zola's most violent and explicit works. On one level a tale of murder, passion, and possession, it is also a compassionate study of individuals derailed by atavistic forces beyond their control. Zola considered this his 'most finely worked' novel, and in it he powerfully evokes life at the end of the Second Empire in France, where society seemed to be hurtling into the future like the new locomotives and railways it was building. While expressing the hope that human nature evolves through education and gradually frees itself of the burden of inherited evil, he is constantly reminding us that under the veneer of technological progress there remains, always, the beast within.

About Emile Zola

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Zola was the spokesperson for the naturalist novel in France and the leader of a school that championed the infusion of literature with new scientific theories of human development drawn from Charles Darwin (see Vol. 5) and various social philosophers. The theoretical claims for such an approach, which are considered simplistic today, were outlined by Zola in his Le Roman Experimental (The Experimental Novel, 1880). He was the author of the series of 20 novels called The Rougon-Macquart, in which he attempted to trace scientifically the effects of heredity through five generations of the Rougon and Macquart families. Three of the outstanding volumes are L'Assommoir (1877), a study of alcoholism and the working class; Nana (1880), a story of a prostitute who is a femme fatale; and Germinal (1885), a study of a strike at a coal mine. All gave scope to Zola's gift for portraying crowds in turmoil. Today Zola's novels have been appreciated by critics for their epic scope and their visionary and mythical qualities. He continues to be immensely popular with French readers. His newspaper article "J'Accuse," written in defense of Alfred Dreyfus, launched Zola into the public limelight and made him the political conscience of his country.
Published November 29, 2007 by Penguin. 458 pages
Genres: Literature & Fiction. Fiction

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