Jonathan Keates at Literary Review:
At half past one in the morning of Tuesday 19 July 1898, passengers on the cross-Channel steamer from Calais to Dover might have observed a solitary middle-aged man standing on the deck, gazing steadfastly at the sleeping port as the boat pulled out into open water. He was visibly moved and after a few minutes his eyes began filling with tears. The breeze got up, under a covering of cloud across a calm sea, but though he had brought no overcoat with him he stayed where he was until the glimmer of dawn dimmed the gas lamps along Dover’s harbour front. The traveller was singularly unprepared for the landfall he was about to make. He knew almost no English and had embarked on the journey without a change of clothes or toilet articles. Managing to reach Victoria by train, he asked a cabby to take him to the Grosvenor Hotel. The man was pardonably surprised, given that the hotel was a matter of metres from the station, but deposited his fare at the front steps anyway.
Things had been different on Emile Zola’s first visit to England five years previously, when he arrived as the honoured guest of the Institute of Journalists, whose annual conference was taking place at the Crystal Palace. Although some of his novels, such as Nana andThérèse Raquin, had been excoriated by the British press for their nauseating obscenity and dangerous influence on impressionable readers, the doyen of the French naturalist school was on that occasion whisked from a Guildhall banquet, lunch at the Athenaeum and oysters at the Café Royal to Drury Lane Theatre, the French Hospital and the Greenwich Observatory.