“The fate of animals is of greater importance to me than the fear
of appearing ridiculous; it is indissolubly connected with the fate
of men.” Emile Zola (1840–1902)
Emile Zola was one of the best known French novelists of the 1800’s,
and a leader of the naturalist movement. In his search for truth, he
chose to write about the unpleasant side of life and use the slums and
the underworld for the background of his stories. Nana,
perhaps one of his best-known novels, is the story of a woman of the
streets. In The Dream-Shop, Zola shows the evils of
drunkenness, while in Germinal he calls for social reform
by portraying the wretched conditions in the coal mines. Critics
attacked his novels for the ugliness and brutality that he exposed, but
the public bought them as fast as they came off the press.
The son of an Italian engineer, he was born in Paris and was educated
in Paris and Marseilles. At twenty-two he became a clerk in a publishing
house in Paris. Two years later, in 1864, Zola wrote his first book
Tales for Ninon, but it had little success. After quitting
his job in 1866, he devoted his entire time to writing. The book he
wrote the following year made him famous almost overnight. It was a
novel of crime and passion titled Therese Raquin.
In 1898 Zola’s search for truth led him to defend Captain Alfred
Dreyfus who was falsely accused of selling military secrets to Germany.
He published an open letter, I Accuse, in which he accused
the army officials who had brought Dreyfus to trial of being the actual
traitors. Zola was charged with libel, and was forced to flee to
England. But the letter’s accusations caused such an uproar that Dreyfus
was given a new trial and his name was finally cleared. Returning to
Paris, Zola continued with his work; but three years later, he died as a
result of gas fumes from a broken flue in his bedroom. The French
government gave him a public funeral, and in 1908 his body was
transferred to the Pantheon.
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