I have been reading The Journals of Arnold Bennett. Made up of excerpts selected and edited by Frank Swinnerton, the journals represent over 30 years of Bennett’s opinions on a range of literary subjects. Bennett respected Zola as a fellow realist. In 1905, he commented:
I have just finished reading L’Oeuvre. It has taken me a long time, because I left in the middle to read Wells’s Kipps. What a colossal affair it seems by the side of Kipps, so serious, tremendous, and imposing. The middle parts seem rather carelessly done; the detail piled up without sufficient attention to the form. But the final scene between Calude and Christine — the fight between love and art — is simply magnificent; it moved me; it is one of the finest things in Zola. It is overdone, it goes farther than the truth; but purposely; Zola has stepped into the heroic in this scene, as he does now and then. All the close of the book is most affecting.
Kipps, by Wells, is a worthy book, also realist in tone but devoted to the life and problems of a rather shallow young man who unexpectedly inherits some money. In depicting the struggles of an artist, Zola was developing a much more significant theme. Some people would say that Bennett was closer to Wells than to Zola in his own writing, so it is striking that he can appreciate what Zola was doing in L’Oeuvre.