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Our knowledge was bound to lead us back again to doubt
on 29 October 2013
According to the introduction, upon publication of `The Masterpiece', Zola sent a copy to his boyhood friend, Cezanne, who responded with a thank-you letter and then never spoke to Zola again. After reading it myself, I can kind of understand; if the protagonist, Claude Lantier, is based on Cezanne, (along with Manet apparently), then it seems to me to be a pretty unflattering portrait, not just of the artist, but of the `Open-Air', i.e. Impressionist, movement itself. Zola thought the movement had failed; failed to break the closed-shop of the French art-world, and failed to change art to something `more true'.
Lantier, the son of the protagonists from 'L'Assomoir', is a deeply flawed and tragic figure; he knows great art, he can see it at the end of his brush, but just can't get what's in his head onto the canvas. Even love, sex, family and friendship can't save him from himself.
The last 50 pages or so are pretty damn heavy, but anyone who looks to Zola for laughs and a happy ending is barking up the wrong author - try some Dickens.
Masterpiece? Oh yes.