Famous nineteenth century French novelist, Émile Zola (1840-1902) is known for his political involvment and his masterpiece, les Rougon-Macquart, a cycle of 20 novels about the social history of a family under the second empire.

The Youth

Émile Zola was born April 2, 1840 in Paris. His father François Zola, an italian engineer died seven years later and he was raised by his mother Émilie Aubert. He spent his childhood in Aix-en-Provence, studying at the Collège Bourbon highschool where he met his close friends Paul Cézanne and Jean-Baptiste Baille. He came back in Paris in 1858, at the lycée Saint-Louis, but failed to pass the Baccalauréat, the french highschool grade.

After two years of inactivity, he entered the Librairie Hachette in 1860, the famous publisher, and became head of the advertising departement in 1862. His job made him discover writers like Honoré de Balzac, Stendhal and Gustave Flaubert, who presumably influenced him inhis early career. He started to write bedtime stories, and was published for the first time in 1964 (Contes à Ninon). His first novel La Confession de Claude came out in 1865, and he decided to become a writer. He resigned from Hachette on January 31, 1866.

The Naturalist Movement : Les Rougon-Macquart

After Le vœu d'une morte in 1866, he published Thérèse Raquin in 1867, which became the starting point of the naturalist movement, soon followed by Les Mystères de Marseille (1867) and Madeleine Férat (1868).

He married Alexandrine Meley in 1870 and became parliamentary correspondent. In 1872 he started his career as a writer with a contract with the publisher Georges Charpentier. He began to write his masterpiece : les Rougon-Macquart (1871-1893), the natural and social history of a family under the Second Empire :

He became the best-known writer in France. He bought an estate at Médan and attracted every thursday imitators and disciplines, among them Guy de Maupassant. He published :

In 1888, Jeanne Rozerot, a young woman who was hired as a linen maid became his mistress. His wife, first jealous, finally approved their relationship which induced a menage a trois. His wife being infertile, Jeanne gave him two children Denise in 1889 and Jacques in 1891. In the meantime, he finished the cycle with :

The Dreyfus affair

The end of his life between 1895 and 1902, is marked with his political involvement during the Dreyfus affair (Albert Dreyfus was a jewish french officer, falsely accused of treason and espionage for the Germans), with the high point being an open letter to the president published in L'Aurore in 1898 : "J'accuse!" (I accuse), in which he claimed Dreyfus' innocence. He didn't hesitate to challenge his social position with this standpoint, and was sentenced to one year of imprisonment and the removal from the roll of the Legion d'Honneur. The very same evening, he exiled himself to London.

During this period, he wrote two smaller cycles :

Zola died on September 28, in 1902 during his sleep, due to carbon monoxide fumes coming from his blocked chimney. It is said that it was his enemies who obstructed the chimney which made him suffocate

6 years later, his remains were transported to the Panthéon, on top of the montagne Sainte-Geneviève, in Paris 5th district, a memorial to the Great Men, next to Voltaire and Rousseau.

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