. Tsur 2013. Nissan – Review of Zola ed Sestili, La verità in cammino p. 1 of 2
Émile Zola, L’affaire Dreyfus. La verità in cammino. Edited by Massimo Sestili. With a preface by Roberto Saviano. Florence: Giuntina, 2011. XIII+229 pages. €9.90. ISBN: 978-88-8057-423-1.
Reviewed by Ephraim Nissan
Émile Zola’s paper collection L’affaire Dreyfus: La vérité en marche was first published in Paris in 1901 by Eugène Fasquelle Éditeur, in their series Bibliothèque Charpentier. Sestili traces the history of French and Italian editions in his “Nota del curatore” (221–224). Such editions used to be proteiform, in that they eliminated “articles n’étant pas indispensables à la comprehension de l’affaire Dreyfus”, as explained by way of a justification in the edition edited by Colette Becker for Flammarion, Paris, 1969. Sestili disagrees with such an approach. His own edition has the great merit of doing justice to Zola’s book the way he had published it. It is the very first time that the integral text appears in Italian.
For example, how telling it is that Émile Zola had to stand by his father’s memory: his papers defending the reputation of his father, an important and meritorious engineer — but also, to Émile Zola’s enemies, a bloody foreigner, one they charged with corruption. Émile had to point out that even though his father François had been a Venetian by birth, Émile’s maternal grandparents had been peasants in France’s countryside. François Zola (1796–1847) was born Francesco Antonio Giuseppe Maria Zolla.
Il s’est trouvé des âmes basses, d’immondes insulteurs, dans la guerre effroyable des guet-apens qui m’est faite, parce que j’ai simplement voulu la vérité et la justice, il s’est trouvé des violateurs de sépulture pour aller arracher mon père à la tombe honorée, où il dormait depuis plus de cinquante ans. On me hurle, parmi un flot de boue: «Votre père est un voleur». Et l’on trouve un vieillard de quatre-vingt ans passés, qui cherche des injures et des outrages dans les tremblants souvenirs de sa treizième année, pour raconter que mon père était un parasite et qu’il avait commis toutes les fautes. Ce vieillard n’a qu’une excuse: il croit défendre le drapeau, il aide sa mémoire pour terrasser en moi le traître. Ah! le pauvre homme! Ah la mauvaise action dont on lui a fait salir sa vieillesse.
Sestili is proficient at rendering such poignant texts into excellent Italian.
Émile had to trace the records of his father’s military career, and discovered that they had been recently tampered with. It was claimed that around 1830, his father had unduly appropriated money of the army, while in North Africa. Émile was able to argue that had François Zola been guilty as so belatedly charged (and for the very reason that Émile had become the champion defending Alfred Dreyfus), then for sure under the July Monarchy François would have been given by the King no opportunity to meet his heir apparent in order to discuss a public project. Just as a crucial document in the charges against Alfred Dreyfus had been forged, likewise the folder of the long dead François Zola had recently ended up in the hands of the same forger, and important documents supposed to be in the folder appeared to have disappeared.
Previously, Émile Zola had met with obstacles in trying to access his father’s folder. An onomastic coincidence enabled the priceless sarcastic sentence: “J’ai voulu savoir s’il avait fallu des prodiges d’intelligence pour retrouver le dossier judiciaire, et j’ai demandé à M. le contrôleur général Cretin, si les recherches avaient donné beaucoup de peine.” Of course, Sestili translates that much into Italian.
One can see, then, that in order to better understand the situation the way Émile Zola experienced it, Sestili’s criteria in preparing the edition under review are the right ones. He provides a translation of the integral edition of L’affaire Dreyfus: La vérité en marche, and deserves our applause for that.Even before Émile Zola’s authorised French edition had appeared in 1901, three volumes had appeared in Italy — Sestili remarks — that included part of those writings, as well as other material (222). Sestili’s Italian text is based upon the 1901 French edition, and upon all previous Italian translations of the individual articles; he tried to impose uniformity on the language.