AbstractThe study examines the literary programme of Émile Zola, drawing primarily on the French author's critical, theoretical and programmatic essays published under the title Le Roman expérimental in 1880. In doing so, the article explores in detail the reasoning behind Zola's proposal to bring literature into line with science, discussing the author's main sources of inspiration and primary targets. The article argues that although within the mimetic theory of artistic representation Zola's concept of the roman expérimental advocates a hypermimeticism (S. Halliway), literary naturalism, as conceived by its founding father, does not propose to indiscriminately reproduce reality in its full complexity, but aspires to a synthetic and coherent vision of a specific sector of society with the aim of identifying the factors that determine the social phenomenon under investigation. Here, the success of a writer depends largely on his perceptiveness at the point of setting up the experiment alias novel. A close look at Zola’s essays further reveals that, contrary to the accusations raised by many of his contemporaries, Zola did not subscribe to a fatalistic worldview; rather, the naturalist doctrine displays a profound optimism with regard to the possibility of bringing about social change.