Birthday: April 2, 1840
Died At Age: 62
Sun Sign: Aries
Also Known As: Emile Edouard Charles Antoine Zola
Born in: Paris
Famous as: French novelist
political ideology: liberal
Spouse/Ex-: Alexandrine-Gabrielle Meley (m. 1870–1902)
father: François Zola
mother: Émilie Aurélie Aubert
children: Denise Zola, Jacques Zola
Died on: September 29, 1902
place of death: Paris
education: Lycée Saint-Louis
Emile Edouard Charles Antoine Zola was a notable French writer of the nineteenth century. He was the founder and propagator of the theory of naturalism and worked for the political liberalization of France. He was known for his strong and lifelike creation of main characters of his novels. His portrayal of down to earth characters in his stories got an acclaim from all over the world. He was also a theorist, a poet, a scientist and an optimist. He was a self-confessed positivist. His memorable contribution to the society during the time of Franco-German War is commendable. He worked towards making a society with less disparities and instant justice. His open letter J’accuse got him into trouble with the French military and government, yet he stood strong on his ground claiming to be the supporter of justice and righteousness. His literary contribution of a collection of 20 novellas called ‘Les Rougon-Macquart’ studied the influence of alcohol, violence and prostitution as an aftermath of the Industrial Revolution. It became one of his most notable literary works representing the extensive version of the Second French Empire.
Childhood & Early Life
Born in Paris in 1840, Emile Zola spent most of his youth in Aix-en-Provence in south of France. His father was a civil engineer there, working in the construction of a municipal water system.
Zola did his schooling from Lycee Saint-Louis, Paris. He failed the Baccalaureat exam twice, which was a must to get an opportunity to pursue further studies.
In 1862, Zola got a job as a clerk in the publishing firm called L.-C.-F. Hachette and was promoted to the advertising department in no time.
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Along with his job as a clerk in a publishing firm, Zola started writing articles on current affairs for numerous periodicals.
In 1865, he came up with his first novella called ‘La Confession de Claude’ (also known in English as Claude’s Confession). It was a controversial piece of work with grim, semiautobiographical details from his life. It drew the unnecessary attention of the public, police and his employers also disapproved of it.
After leaving his job at the publishing firm, Zola worked as a freelancer while working on his individual work. This is the time when he got two of his novels published. ‘Therese Raquin’ was published in 1867, it was a gruesome story of a murder and its repercussions and ‘Madeleine Ferat’ was published in 1868.
During the 1860s and 70s, Zola used to constantly attend the meetings of painters where art and its interrelationship with the other theories and ideologies was enthusiastically discussed. He supported the art of Cezanne Manet, Claude Monet, Edgar Degas, Pierre-Auguste Renoir in his newspaper articles.
His interest in science led him to make an attempt to write large-scale series of novellas. His project comprised 20 volumes of the Rougon-Macquart series.’ La Fortune des Rougon’ was first published in series but then took the form of a book in the year of 1871. He published one novel each year from there on, completing the series of 20 novels in 1893.
He published treatises explaining his naturalist movement and various other theories on art. Some of these treatises include: ‘La Roman experimental’ (The Experimental Novel) in 1880 and ‘Le Romanciers naturalistes’ (The Naturalist Novelists) in 1881.
Zola’s novel, ‘L’oeuvre’ (The Masterpiece), 1886, ruined his relationship with Cezanne and the other artists because the novel illustrated the life of a painter who ends up killing himself. Cezanne related himself a lot with the main character of the novel and took an offence, which impaired their friendship.
He published ‘La Terr'e’ in 1887, a gloomy portrayal of peasants’ lives, which led a group of 5 disciples from his naturalist movement to disclaim him in a policy published in La Figaro.
He was much disclaimed for his work called La Debacle, published in 1892, for its negative criticism of French army and the policies of government during the Franco-German war. It attracted rejection from French and Germans.
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He is known for the publication of his open letter ‘J’accuse’ (I accuse) in the newspaper L’Aurore, in which he accused the French general staff for the wrongful conviction of a Jewish French army officer, Alfred Dreyfus, for subversion in 1894. In his letter, he accused many high ranking military officers and the War Office for obscuring the truth about Dreyfus’s surveillance.
Personal Life & Legacy
Zola married his lover of 5 years, Gabrielle-Alexandrine Meley, in 1870. Both of them took care of Zola’s mother.
They lived in Zola home in Medan, on the Seine River near Paris, which was also known to be a famous gathering place for his disciples like Guy de Maupassant and Joris-Karl Huysmans.
He was married to Alexandrine until his death but he was also in affair with their housemaid Jeanne Rozerot for 14 years. After his death, Alexandrine recognized Jeanne and Zola’s children Denise and Jacques.
Zola died in 1902 of Carbon monoxide poisoning, said to have been caused by the faulty ventilation in the chimney.
When Zola died, he, alongside being recognized as one of the acclaimed novelists in Europe, was also defined to be a warden of truth and righteousness. He was recognized for his contribution in trying to change the attitude of the society for the poor and the persecuted.
In 1908, French government transferred his remains to the Pantheon and he was placed alongside great French authors like Victor Hugo, Voltaire, Rousseau, etc.
Zola was a political apprentice to the acclaimed French writer, Victor Hugo. He supported him in his stand against the corruption caused by Napoleon III’s monarchy.
Gustave Flaubert, a French realist writer, was his literary mentor and a close friend.
Zola’s enemies were held responsible for his accidental death but nothing could be legally proved. It was decade later that a roofer from Paris said on his deathbed that he faulted the chimney in Zola’s house for political reasons.