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cr88's picture

The Novel as Experiment


I know it's almost the end of the semester, but I recently read an essay while doing my thesis research that I wanted to share with the rest of the class. The essay was called "Le Roman Expérimental" or "The Experimental Novel" and was written by the famed Naturalist author Émile Zola. Zola believed that there was in fact a way in which literature could be used to carry out experiments in a fashion after, and in some respects surpassing, that of the sciences. “[The aim of] the experimental novel," wrote Zola "[is] to possess a knowledge of the mechanism of the phenomena inherent in man, to show the machinery of his intellectual and sensory manifestations, under the influences of heredity and environment, such as physiology shall give them to us.” Zola believed that novels could be used to serve as a "experiments" in evaluating how an individual with a certain genetic background having been raised within a certain environment would behave within varying social settings. Zola believed this could be done by having everything within a novel have a specific cause, and that the chain of these causes could be traced back to the hereditary/environmental influences that shaped an individual. He argued that such "experimentation" could be used to discern truths about the way in which the human psyche functions. While I disagree with Zola's more extreme belief that all literature should conform to this model, I do think his argument is interesting both in the way in which it applies a scientific approach not only to the study but to the very creation of literature.





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