ZOLA, EMILE ( 1840-1902), journalist, art critic, and naturalist novelist; born at Paris, 2 April 1840, of a French mother and a Venetian-born soldier and civil engineer, Francesco Zola. Shortly after his birth, the family moved to Aix-enProvence where Francesco planned to build a municipal dam and a canal to distribute the water. On 28 March 1847, before the project was completed, Zola's father died suddenly, leaving Emile to be raised by his mother and grandmother. The family began a gradual but steady descent into poverty. Neither this nor frail health seems, however, to have prevented Zola from having a happy childhood at Aix. In February 1858 he joined his mother at Paris where she had gone to seek help from friends of her husband. Although Zola received a scholarship at the Lycée Saint Louis, he felt out of place and in the summer of 1859 twice failed his baccalaureate examination. This academic failure meant early and severe difficulties for the young provincial at Paris, since he had neither training nor connections for a good job. In order to support himself and his mother, Zola took a series of low-paying jobs and for a short time was a customs clerk. Quitting the latter job to be a writer, he lived in a Paris slum during 1861- 1862. Then in early 1862, after eighteen months of unemployment, Zola's fortunes took a turn for the better when he became a clerk (in the shipping department) and subsequently director of advertising (chef de publicité) at the publishing house of Louis Hachette. That same year (31 October) he became a naturalized Frenchman.
The Hachette position was a turning point in Zola's life. There he came to know prominent writers and critics, including Edmond Duranty, Edmond About, and Hippolyte Taine. Taine's writings would soon have a profound influence on the development of Zola's thinking and on his literary values, shaping his naturalist philosophy and style, with its scientific empiricism and its search for the causes of events. From Zola's Hachette contacts also dates his career as a journalist. In 1864 and 1865 he contributed to Le petit journal, the Revue française, La vie parisienne, and Hippolyte de Villemessant Le Figaro. In December 1864 Jules Hetzel ( 1814-1886) published Zola first book, Contes à Ninon, a collection of romantic short stories. A first novel, La confession de Claude, appeared at the end of November 1865 and created so much notoriety
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Publication information: Book title: Historical Dictionary of the French Second Empire, 1852-1870. Contributors: William E. Echard - Editor. Publisher: Greenwood Press. Place of publication: Westport, CT. Publication year: 1985. Page number: 707.
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