The Masterpiece

The Masterpiece

The Masterpiece

The Masterpiece

Synopsis

The Masterpiece is the tragic story of Claude Lantier, an ambitious and talented young artist who has come from the provinces to conquer Paris but is conquered instead by the flaws of his own genius. Set in the 1860s and 1870s, it is the most autobiographical of the twenty novels in Zola's Rougon-Macquart series. It provides a unique insight into Zola's career as a writer and his relationship with Cezanne, a friend since their schooldays in Aix-en-Provence. It also presents a well-documented account of the turbulent Bohemian world in which the Impressionists came to prominence despite the conservatism of the Academy and the ridicule of the general public.

Excerpt

Writing in November 1879 Henry James commented that 'Zola's naturalism is ugly and dirty, but he seems to me to be doing something'--which, in James's view, was more than could be said for most, if not all, other novelists of the day. the prospective reader of The Masterpiece may be heartened to learn that in this particular novel Zola's Naturalism is not especially ugly or dirty but that its author is indeed most definitely 'doing something'.

Quite what he is 'doing', however, has been the subject of some debate. Many early readers, inevitably more vulnerable to the impact of topicality, were aghast. Paul Cézanne (1839-1906), Zola's childhood friend of over thirty years' standing, wrote briefly to thank him for his complimentary copy and never spoke to him again. Claude Monet (1840-1926), too, politely acknowledged his gift but professed himself 'troubled and uneasy', fearing that those opposed to the new school of painting would exploit the novel to portray Edouard Manet (1832-83) and the Impressionists as no less of a failure than Zola's doomed hero, Claude Lantier. These being what have been dubbed 'the Banquet Years', Monet further organized a 'dinner of protest' to which the likes of Camille Pissarro (1830-1903) and Stéphane Mallarmé (1842-98) came to share their chagrin on a filling stomach. the landscape painter Antoine Guillemet (1843-1918), who had kindly supplied Zola with technical information and asked to have this now famous writer's latest work dedicated to him, thought he could see himself in the meretricious figure of Fagerolles. All thoughts of a flattering dedication gone, he complained bitterly to the author--who promptly spread the word that actually it was the successful artist Henri Gervex (1852-1929) whom he had had in mind. Gervex himself, on the other hand, seems to have been rather flattered by this and blithely bade his . . .

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