Emily Zola

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  • Topic: Émile Zola, Les Rougon-Macquart, Dreyfus affair
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EMILY 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 and started to write under the influence of the romantics. 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. Before his breakthrough as a writer, 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 wrote literary columns and art reviews for the Cartier de Villemessant's newspapers. 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. Among his early books was CONTES Á NINON, which was published in 1864. When his sordid autobiographical novel LA CONFESSION DE CLAUDE (1865) was published and attracted the attention of the police, Zola was fired from Hachette. After his first major novel, THÉRÈSE RAQUIN (1867), Zola started 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 series 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...
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