Oscar Wilde and Émile Zola are conventionally opposed as the figureheads of, respectively, the aestheticist and the naturalist literary trends. Yet they exhibit a number of uncanny similarities—not least the turn both made in their last years toward religious themes and imagery, and especially those of martyrdom and the Passion. This article explores such images in the later life, work, and public persona of each writer and sets them within the context of the dizzying proliferation of references to Christ and martyrdom in fin de siècle culture. It examines the “entailments”—the unexpected consequences, meanings, and echoes—that these overdetermined themes brought in their train from the wider literary field and shows how those entailments were exacerbated by the massive politicization of “martyr” discourse around the time of the Dreyfus affair, when the theme acquired its fullest significance.
Wilde, Zola, Dreyfus, Christ: Fin de Siècle Passions
Andrew J. Counter is Associate Professor of French at the University of Oxford and the author of Inheritance in Nineteenth-Century French Culture: Wealth, Knowledge and the Family (Legenda, 2010) and The Amorous Restoration: Love, Sex and Politics in Early Nineteenth-Century France (Oxford, 2016). His current book project is provisionally entitled Thinking Sexual Ethics with Modern French Literature.
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Andrew J. Counter; Wilde, Zola, Dreyfus, Christ: Fin de Siècle Passions. Representations 1 February 2020; 149 (1): 103–133. doi: https://doi.org/10.1525/rep.2020.149.1.103
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