This article considers the figures of the anarchist and the homosexual in Oscar Wilde's play Vera, or the Nihilists (1880) and Émile Zola's novel Paris (1898) and argues that the two are ideologically associated and structurally analogous. In Zola's novel and French and English responses to the Wilde trials, the article identifies a peculiarly fin-de-siècle form of homophobia that denigrates an abstract notion of male homosexuality while denying the authenticity of homosexual tastes as they are professed by real individuals. Both this understanding of homosexuality and the politics of Paris are complicated by the structural and lexical associations the novel sets up between the homosexual and the anarchist, the latter of whom Zola treats sympathetically, if critically. The article goes on to consider how both Vera and Paris situate anarchism and, implicitly or explicitly, homosexuality in opposition to the idea of the family, which represents for Zola the only conceivable foundation of human happiness and social progress, and for Wilde's Nihilists an oppressive structure to be resisted or destroyed. Wilde's play is shown to offer an exploration of the tension between family and politics, sexual or otherwise, and of the possibilities and risks involved in “coming out” as anything other than normal; it thus provides a critique of the heteronormativity and familialism of Zola's ideological project.
Andrew J. Counter; One of Them: Homosexuality and Anarchism in Wilde and Zola. Comparative Literature 1 December 2011; 63 (4): 345–365. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/00104124-1444419
Download citation file: