Zola is famous, of course, for his immensely detailed descriptions of the
material world and these were underpinned by a large amount of
research and firsthand observation. But the power of Zola's work derives, I think
not so much from its documentary qualities, as from its metaphoric
dimensions. What Zola does is magnify the material world, creating
an almost hallucinatory effect. For example, we
think of Saccard, the protagonist of 'The Kill', swimming in a sea of gold coins. A
perfect image to express his role as a speculator exploiting the rebuilding of
Paris by Haussmann. We think of the fantastic visions of food in 'The Belly of Paris'.
A symbol of bourgeois greed. The devouring pithead
in 'Germinal'. We think of the distilling machine in 'L'Assommoir'. Machines play a
central role in Zola's imaginary world, either actual machines or entities that
function as machines. The great markets Les Halles in 'The Belly of Paris'. The stock
exchange in L'Argent'. All of these great symbols of industrial modernity and of
the forces and conflicts circulating within it.