Realist fiction—a vague term—at the end of the 19th century would turn its attention to the very origin of conditions whose consequences help to define the world we occupy a century later. Emile Zola, in France, explores life underground in the hunt for fossil fuel—that is, coal—in Germinal (1885; English tr. 1894), a novel that would have enormous impact across Europe and the English-speaking world. Thomas Hardy, in Tess of the D’Urbervilles (1890) examines agricultural life at the very moment when it, like mining, had begun to be mechanized in a way that would feed the new mega-cities and, incidentally, de-populate the countryside. Joseph Conrad, in Heart of Darkness (1902) focuses on imperial adventure in central Africa at a time when he was part of the project in 1890 just after the European “scramble for Africa” began. Each of these novels—along with supplementary texts—translates these vast transformations of the planet into the human and intimate terms of fiction. A study of the response of novelists to that crucial period may help us to understand our own. Lecture, discussion, short essays.
Emile Zola, Germinal, tr. Roger Pearson, Penguin Classics ISBN 9780140447422
Thomas Hardy, Tess of the D’Urbervilles, Penguin Classics ISBN 9780141439594
Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness, Dover Thrift Editions, ISBN 9780486264646