Choose another writer in this calendar:
by birthday from the calendar.
||Emile Zola (1840-1902)|
French novelist and critic, the founder of the Naturalist movement in literature. Zola redefined Naturalism as "Nature seen through a temperament." Among Zola's most important works is his famous Rougon-Macquart cycle (1871-1893), which included such novels as L'Assommoir (1877), about the suffering of the Parisian working-class, Nana (1880), dealing with prostitution, and Germinal (1885), depicting the mining industry. Zola's open letter 'J'accuse,' on January 13, 1898, reopened the case of the Jewish Captain, Alfred Dreyfus, sentenced to Devil's Island.
"I am little concerned with beauty or perfection. I don't care for the great centuries. All I care about is life, struggle, intensity. I am at ease in my generation." (from My Hates, 1866)
Emile Zola was born in Paris. His father, François Zola, was an Italian engineer, who acquired French citizenship. Zola spent his childhood in Aix-en-Provence, southeast France, where the family moved in 1843. When Zola was seven, his father died, leaving the family with money problems – Emilie Aubert, his mother, was largely dependent on a tiny pension. In 1858 Zola moved with her to Paris. In his youth he became friends with the painter Paul Cézanne, who was his class-mate. Zola's widowed mother had planned a career in law for him. Zola, however, failed his baccalaureate examination – as later did the writer Anatole France, who failed several times but finally passed. According to one story, Zola was sometimes so broke that he ate sparrows that he trapped on his window sill.
Zola began to write under the influence of the romantics. Before his breakthrough, Zola worked as a clerk in a shipping firm and then in the sales department of the publishing house of Louis-Christophe-Francois-Hachette. He also contributed literary columns and art reviews to the Cartier de Villemessant's newspapers. Zola supported the struggle of Edouard Manet and the Impressionists; Manet thanked him with a portrait. As a political journalist Zola did not hide his antipathy toward the French Emperor Napoleon III, who used the Second Republic as a springboard to become Emperor.
During his formative years Zola wrote several short stories and essays, 4 plays and 3 novels. Zola's name is not usually connected with horror and fantasy, but in 'Le sang' (1864, 'Blood'; 'Veri,' suom. Anti Oja, Länsisuomen Työmies, 1904) he stepped into that realm of writing. In the eerie tale four soldiers give up their weapons after having visions of blood and suffering. This story was collected in Contes à Ninon (1864, Stories for Ninon), which the author himself reviewed under the cover of anonymity. When Zola's sordid autobiographical novel La Confession de Claude (1865) was published and attracted the attention of the police, Zola was fired from Hachette.
Zola did not much believe in the possibility of individual
but emphasized that "events arise fatally, implacably, and men, either
with or against their wills, are involved in them. Such is the absolute
law of human progress." Inspired by Claude Bernard's Introduction à
la médecine expérimentale
(1865) Zola tried to adjust scientific principles in the process of
observing society and interpreting it in fiction. Thus a novelist, who
gathers and analyzes documents and other material, becomes a part of
the scientific research. His treatise, Le Roman Experimental
(1880), manifested the author's faith in science and acceptance of
scientific determinism. Zola was obsessed with counting, counting
lamp-posts, trees, doorways, and sought to take all of the
“unpredictable” out of life.
After his first major novel, Thérèse Raquin (1867),
Zola began the long series called Les Rougon Macquart,
the natural and social history of a family under the Second Empire. "I
want to portray, at the outset of a century of liberty and truth, a
family that cannot restrain itself in its rush to possess all the good
things that progress is making available and is derailed by its own
momentum, the fatal convulsions that accompany the birth of a new
world." The family had two branches – the Rougons were small
shopkeepers and petty bourgeois, and the Marquarts were poachers and
smugglers who had problems with alcohol. Some members of the family
would rise during the story to the highest levels of the society, some
would fall as victims of social evils and heredity.
Zola presented the idea to his publisher in 1868. "The Rougon-Macquart – the group, the family, whom I propose to study – has as its prime characteristic the overflow of appetite, the broad upthrust of our age, which flings itself into enjoyments. Physiologically the members of this family are the slow working-out of accidents to the blood and nervous system which occur in a race after a first organic lesion, according to the environment determining in each of the individuals of this race sentiments, desires, passions, all the natural and instinctive human manifestations whose products take on the conventional names of virtues and vices."
At first the plan was limited to 10 books, but ultimately the
comprised 20 volumes, ranging in subject from the world of peasants and
workers to the imperial court. Zola prepared his novels carefully. The
result was a combination of precise documentation, accurate portrayals,
and dramatic imagination; the last had actually little to do with his
Naturalist theories. Zola interviewed experts, prepared thick dossiers,
made thoughtful portraits of his protagonists, and outlined the action
of each chapter. He rode in the cab of a locomotive when he was
preparing La Bête humaine (1890, The Beast in Man), and for Germinal
he visited coal mines. This was something very different from Balzac's
volcanic creative writing process, which produced La Comédie humaine,
a social saga of nearly 100 novels.
The Beast in Man
was adapted for screen for the first time in 1938. The director, Jean
Renoir wrote the screenplay with Zola's daughter, Denise Leblond-Zola.
In the film Séverine (Simone Simon) wants her lover, the locomotive
engineer Jacques Lantier (Jean Gabin), to kill her stationmaster
Lantier, an honest and proud man, cannot do it, but in a fit of anger
and frustration he strangles his beloved instead and commits suicide by
throwing himself off a fast moving train. In a letter to his friend
Paul Alexis in 1880 Zola explained that he
would like to see the novel "to be like a train journey strarting from
one end of the line and arriving at the final platform with slowdown
and stops at each station, that is to say in each chapter." There is a
strict order behind the structure of the narrative; the text imitates
the energy and movements of a steam engine.
Lantier's locomotive "La Lison" is female, not only because "locomotive" and "machine" are feminine terms in French, but she is also the object of his affection. The railway line is more than a background; with it Zola brings to the story a certain fatality. From the beginning, Lantier has no choise but to submit to his fate. At the end, the uncontrolled steam engine travels without a driver, carrying soldiers to war. "What mattered the victims crushed by the machine upon its way? Was it not going toward the future anyhow, careless of the blood expended?"
With L'Assommoir (1877, Drunkard), a depiction of
Zola became the best-known writer in France, who attracted crowds
imitators and disciples, to his great annoyance: "I want to shout out
from the housetops that I am not a chef d'ecole, and that I don't want
any disciples," Zola once said. His personal appearance – once somebody
said that he had the head of a philosopher and the body of an athlete –
was known to everybody.
Following the publication of Les Soirées
de Médan (1880),
Guy de Maupassant jokingly suggested that Zola's country house at Médan
should be visited with the same interest as the Palace of Versailles
and other historical places. Zola lived there eight months in the year,
and the other four month in Paris. Since his childhood, he had been
very fond of animals. At Médan, he kept several cats and monkeys.
Nana, about a young Parisian prostitute, took the
the world of sexual exploitation. In general, sex was a central element
in Zola's novels. The book was a huge success in France but in Britain
it was attacked by moralists. Henry Vizetelly, who had published
Zola translations from the Rougon-Macquart series, was
imprisoned on charges of obscenity. The translation of La Terre
(1887) practically ruined Vizetelly & Company. Germinal,
one of Zola's finest novels, came out in 1885. It was the first major
work on a strike, based on his research notes on labor conditions in
the coal mines. Germinal was criticized by right-wing
political groups as a call to revolution. Zola's tetralogy, Les
Quatre Evangiles, which started with Fécondité
(1899), was left unfinished. Some critics have cited La Débâcle (1892, The Downfall: A Story of the Horrors of War) as an influence of Stephen Crane's masterpiece The Red Badge of Courage (1895), but Crane's first biographer claimed that the author threw Zola's story aside after reading the first few pages. ('The Red Badge of Courage and a Review of Zola's La Débâcle' by James B. Colvert, in Modern Language Notes, Vol. 71, No. 2, Feb., 1956)
Also notable in Zola's career was his involvement in the
Dreyfus affair with his open letter J'accuse...! The title was suggested by Georges Clemenceau, the editor of L'Aurore, where the letter was published.
"In making these accusations, I am fully aware that my action comes
under Articles 30 and 31 of the law of 29 July 1881 on the press, which
makes libel a punishable offence," Zola declared. Clemenceau himself wrote 655 articles on the affair. Alfred
Dreyfus (1859-1935) was a French Jewish army officer, who was falsely
charged with giving military secrets to the Germans. The trials quickly
developed into a ideological struggle, or as Anatole France wrote,
"rendered an inestimable service to the country by bringing out and
little by little revealing the forces of past and the forces of future:
on the one side bourgeois authoritarianism and Catholic theocracy; on
the other side socialism and free thought."
Dreyfus was transported to Devil's Island in French Guiana.
The case was tried again in 1899 and he was found first guilty and
pardoned, but later the verdict was reversed. "The truth is on the
march, and nothing shall stop it," Zola announced, but during the
process he was sentenced in 1898 to imprisonment and removed from the
roll of the Legion of Honor. He escaped to England, where he settled in
Essex as 'M. Jacques Beauchamp'. Zola's plan to publish an album of
English anecdotes illustrated by photographs was never realized. While
not writing, he read the Daily
Telegraph with the help of an English dictionary and watched a
bit of cricket.
It was not until 1906 that the French appeal court quashed Dreyfus's sentence, but Zola did not see his campaing vindicated. After being pardoned he returned to France as a hero. Zola died on September 28, 1902, in Paris, under mysterious circumstances, overcome by carbon monoxide fumes in his sleep. He never woke up, but strangely, his wife did not die, nor the pets. However, it could have been an accident, too: before going to bed, Zola had the habit of lighting a small coal fire, and keep the windows locked tight. (The Dreyfus Affair and the Rise of the French Public Intellectual by Tom Conner, 2014, p. 219) According to some speculations, Zola's enemies, the agents of the anti-Dreyfusard faction, blocked the chimney of his apartment, causing poisonous fumes to build up and kill him. At Zola's funeral Anatole France declared, "He was a moment of the human conscience." When Zola's remains were transported to the Panthéon in 1908, Dreyfus was openly attacked in the street. A Paris court acquitted his assailant. Naturalism as a literary movement fell gradually out of favor, but Zola's integrity had a profound influence on such writers as Theodore Dreiser, August Strindberg and Emilia Pardo-Bazan.
For further reading: Emile Zola by Angus Wilson (1952); Emile Zola by F.W.J. Hemmings (1953); Zola's 'Germinal' by Elliott M. Grant (1962); A Zola Dictionary by I.G. Patterson (1969); Emile Zola: A Selective Analytical Bibliography, ed. by Brian Nelson (1982); Critical Essays on Emile Zola, ed. by David Baguley (1986); A Bourgeois Rebel by Alan Schom (1987); Emile Zola: A Biography by Alan Schom (1988); Zola by Marc Bernard (1988); Zola and the Craft of Fiction, ed. by Robert Lethbridge (1990); Emile Zola: 'L'Assommir' by David Baguley (1992); Emile Zola Revisited by William J. Berg and Laurey K. Martin (1992); Thresholds of Desire by Ilona Chessid (1993); The Cambridge Companion to Emile Zola by Brian Nelson (2007); Emile Zola: A Life by Stephen R. Pastore and Felice Dumont (2014) - Note: The American writer Henry James was not enthusiastic about naturalism and wrote that the "only business of naturalism is to be - natural, and therefore, instead of saying of Nana that it contains a great deal of filth, we should simple say of it that it contains a great deal of nature." Film: The Life of Emile Zola (1937), dir. by William Dieterle, screenplay Norman Reilly Raine, Heinz Herald, Geza Herczed, from a story by Heiz Herald and Geza Herczeg, starring Paul Muni, Gale Sondergarrd, Joseph Schildkraut, Gloria Holden. Source material, Matthew Josephson's Zola and His Time. - "Rich, dignified, honest and strong, it is at once the finest historical film ever made and the greatest screen biography, greater even than The Story of Louis Pasteur with which Warners squared their conscience last year." (Frank S. Nugent in the New York Times) - Negotiations were carried out with Dreyfus' widow, Lucie, to ensure that she would find the film acceptable. Other film adaptations: Thérèse Raquin, 1953, dir.by Marcel Carne; Gervaise, 1955, dir. by René Clément; Pot-Bouille, 1957, dir. by Julien Duvivier; La curée, 1966, dir. by Roger Vadim; La faute de Abbe Mouret, 1970, dir. by Georges Franju. See also: Wladyslaw Reymont, Guy de Maupassant, Gore Vidal. Museum: Maison d'Emile Zola, 26 rue Pasteur, 78670, Medan, Yvelines - Zola's home from 1878