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This report is taken from PN Review 62, Volume 14 Number 6, July - August 1988.

Zola and the Lost Hairpins David Arkell
In the winter of 1898-9 the nursemaids of Upper Norwood became conscious of being watched a little too closely by a bearded gentleman wearing pincenez and a bowler hat. Little did they know that the bowler was a mere disguise: they were being subjected to the acute gaze of the leading exponent of literary realism. And the reason for his deep interest in the nannies was purely professional: he was gathering notes for his new novel Fécondité, later to be translated by his English friend E. A. Vizetelly as Fruitfulness.

Earlier that year Zola had made his heroic stand in support of Dreyfus, culminating in the famous 'J'Accuse' letter for L'Aurore. Convicted of libelling the General Staff, he had been sentenced to a year's imprisonment but had escaped to England, where he arrived on 19 July. From the Grosvenor Hotel, Victoria, he sent urgent word to the faithful Vizetelly, who spirited him away, first to Wimbledon and then to the Thames Valley. He spent three happy months cycling round Walton, Weybridge and Addlestone, his only disguise the bowler but changing his surname every other week. As winter approached a more permanent residence was needed and this was found at the Queen's Hotel, Church Road, Crystal Palace, a popular haven for distinguished foreign guests travelling incognito. Situated on high ground away from the winter fogs, it was also (and still is) a noted venue for South Bank wedding-breakfasts. This suited Zola well enough: from wedding-breakfasts to fruitfulness being but a ...


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