Emile Zola

About the Author

Emile Zola was born in April 1840 and grew up in Aix-en-Provence, where he befriended the artist, Paul Cézanne. In 1858, Zola moved to Paris with his mother. Despite her hopes that he would become a lawyer, he in fact failed his baccalaureate, and went on to work for the publisher Hachette, and to write literary columns and art reviews.

He lost his job at Hachette on publication of his autobiographical novel, La Confession de Claude (1865), before his earliest venture into naturalistic fiction, Thérèse Raquin (1867). His series of over twenty volumes, Les Rougon-Macquart (1871–93) is a natural and social history of one family under the Second Empire in France, individual volumes exploring social ills and the influence of nature and nurture on human behaviour. L'Assommoir (1877) concerned drunkenness and the Parisian working-classes, Nana (1880) addressed sexual exploitation, and Germinal (1885) considered labour conditions. Other novel sequences followed, always entailing vast amounts of research.

Zola's later life as a writer was famously punctuated by his involvement in the Dreyfus affair, in which a Jewish army officer was falsely accused of selling military secrets to the Germans. In a newspaper letter entitled 'J'Accuse' (1898), Zola challenged the establishment and invited his own trial for libel, the author later removing briefly to England to escape the subsequent prison sentence. Emile Zola died in 1902, apparently asphyxiated by carbon monoxide fumes when asleep. Naturalism declined after his death, but his depictions of 'Nature seen through a temperament' were an important influence on writers such as Theodore Dreiser and August Strindberg.

Books by the author