Émile Zola, 1840-1902

Biographical notes

Influential French novelist, the most important example of the literary school of naturalism and a major figure in the political liberalization of France.

During his early years, Émile Zola wrote several short stories and essays, four plays and three novels. Among his early books was Contes à Ninon, published in 1864. With the publication of his sordid autobiographical novel La Confession de Claude [1865] attracting police attention, Hachette fired him. His novel Les Mystères de Marseille appeared as a serialized story in 1867.

After his first major novel, Thérèse Raquin [1867], Zola started the long series called Les Rougon Macquart, about a family under the Second Empire. Set in France's Second Empire, the series traces the "environmental" influences of violence, alcohol, and prostitution which became more prevalent during the second wave of the industrial revolution. The series examines two branches of a single family: the respectable (that is, legitimate) Rougons and the disreputable (illegitimate) Macquarts, for five generations. As he described his plans for the series, "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."

From 1877 onwards with the publication of l'Assommoir, Émile Zola became wealthy–he was better paid than Victor Hugo, for example. He became a figurehead among the literary bourgeoisie and organized cultural dinners with Guy de Maupassant, Joris-Karl Huysmans and other writers at his luxurious villa in Medan near Paris after 1880. Germinal in 1885, then the three 'cities', Lourdes in 1894, Rome in 1896 and Paris in 1897, established Zola as a successful author.

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Works in English translation:

Works in French

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